In apartments in Buenos Aires, different stories unfold before the viewer. Housing Unit (ARG), offers deeply intimate insight into the stories of its characters.

Co-directors and writers, Jorge Benjardino and Martín García, spoke with Melbourne WebFest about crafting these narratives and characters.

What inspired the voyeuristic nature of these stories?

At the end of 2014, Google enabled in Argentina a section called ‘Street View’ within its Maps platform. It is a virtual representation made up of millions of panoramic images that allow you to explore the streets and their surroundings. That was the trigger from which Martín started: what would happen if through the journey of these virtual scenarios we
could enter the homes we visualize? What characters would we meet? What stories do they have to tell within their intimacy, within their universes? If those stories were tales, would they be a movie, a short film, an installation, a song, or a photograph? Cinematographic references that marked our learning were later added to that search, such as David Lynch, Gaspar Noé and Bruno Stagnaro. The interactive productions of the National Film Board of Canada were also a source of inspiration. The symbiosis of all this led to the creation of the first story: “Cobain, the Rat”.

Housing Unit Trailer

What is the web series industry like in Argentina?

In Argentina it is difficult to talk about industry in this area because it is still developing. A few years ago, the term ‘webseries’ moved you to think of a comedy project, done on a low budget and without technical pretense that was going to be uploaded for free on YouTube. It is an area where a person fulfills many roles: the screenwriter is a director, he is an actor and he is also an editor. The formula of “a pulmón” which here means doing it free and with dedication is repeated a lot. There are also difficulties in financing the projects, which without the help of the national cultural funds is unfeasible. ‘Cobain, the Rat’, for example, used a war economy to perform, with a very small technical team, few actors and actresses and a single location. In our case it was positive because the story asked for that.

Today the situation is changing as streaming platforms take over the local scene. Cable operators are opening their own signals on demand. The ‘webseries’ are now called ‘short series’ and little by little they begin to have a different perspective and an interesting diversity of authors, added to a more comprehensive public reach. For example, the ‘Buenos Aires Series’, the most important festival in this market in Argentina, since 2020 decided to unite in the competition large productions that are for TV with low budget projects destined for the web. Little by little those two universes come together.

How important is the message/theme in your series?

We do not know if the importance of our project lies in the message. ‘Cobain, the Rat’ is a story that is more concerned with the viewer stimuli than maintaining a linear narrative. We wanted to experience more disruptive ways of narrating than usual. This project began to take shape before Black Mirror published Bandersnatch, and by then interactive was not very immersed in the market.

Starting from the premise that there are many ways to narrate, we also believe that there are many ways to experience sexuality. ‘Housing Unit’ portrays that. Behind the scenes, in our homes, that essence is really found. And there are thousands of these essences, that’s why we decided to propose several stories, by different authors, each with its own particularity, its characters, its genre, its theme and its format. We believe that therein lies the importance of the project: the diversity of narrative languages and views that the platform proposes.

What was your greatest challenge creating the series?

At first we believed that the challenge was going to be economic. As we recorded we found a look and a technical level that we did not want to resign, which forced us to extend the shooting days. We were able to solve that, but what really caused us
uncertainty was the platform. We write the script based on a structure similar to that used in video games. There were things that we knew could be done but not if we could do them on our site. Thousands of variables were taken into account: video servers, being able to make the interface the less invasive as possible so as not to stun the user and to be intuitive when navigating without having to give a manual on how to do it.

What prior experience did you have before you started the web-series?

We met at the university in 2012. There we filmed a short film and a documentary. A few years later we decided to meet again to form an audiovisual production company, and since then we have worked together. For the filming of ‘Cobain, the Rat’ we were already oiled and knew our tricks, although the project was a new and very ambitious experience in relation to everything we had been doing as designers.

What is your favourite part of the series?

We agree that all the erotic charge that the story carries is reflected in the meeting of the two protagonists at the end. It was a challenge for everyone. For us as filmmakers and for the actors too, who had never worked with sex scenes. The climate that was generated was an achievement of all crew, from lighting to the composition of the soundtrack. We do not want to spoil, but it is interesting because the sexual encounter that occurs surprises almost everyone.

How did you go about translating this series?

For the English translation we decided to hire a girl who is dedicated to the translation and subtitling of audiovisual pieces. We needed someone who knows the jargon (the series has many Argentine idioms) and at the same time who can translate the technical aspect that the platform required in terms of operation. So far we have only two languages, Spanish and English, but our idea is to continue adding languages so that it can be appreciated worldwide.