Rules of the Screenmovie: The Unfriended Manifesto for the Digital Age

The digital world is rapidly taking over as the predominant environment for our waking lives, and this sudden shift in human activity presents major challenges for moviemakers.

Virtual communication, virtual transactions and behavior, are undeniably as impactful—fraught with drama, emotion and suspense—as physical ones. But how does a film show these narrative movements in a visually dynamic way within the static, two-dimensional frame of a computer screen? Russian producer Timur Bekmambetov’s new film, Unfriended, takes this problem by the horns, presenting a group of teenagers under the attack of a spooky cyberbullying-come-haunting. Directed by Levan Gabriadze, and co-produced by Jason Blum, the story unfolds on the screens of its protagonists—which meant the filmmakers had to come up with a workable approach to creatively and realistically inject horror into a digital landscape.

Bekmambetov wrote the following manifesto for making what he calls a “screenmovie.” As he sees it, these are the rules of conceiving a new virtual space in which to tell contemporary stories.

The term “screenmovie” is derived from the term “screencast,” meaning the digital recording of information from a computer screen. A screenmovie is a new format of cinema in which all the action takes place on the protagonist’s computer screen. The format has its rules. Like Aristotle’s three unities of drama, they must be observed, until the author is able to create a convincing art form while violating them.

1. Unity of Place

The setting is virtual reality in general and one specific computer screen, belonging to one character. The action never moves outside of the screen, unraveling on the display of one character’s gadget. The size of the screen (i.e. the frame boundaries) remain a constant. The appearance of new visual elements has a rational explanation and corresponds with the formats of life in a virtual space: The viewer must constantly be aware of where exactly the action occurring at any given moment originated. The camerawork is stylized to resemble the behavior of a digital gadget’s camera…

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