Searching is the feature film debut of director Aneesh Chaganty, who also co-wrote the script.  The critically acclaimed thriller stars Star Trek’s John Cho and Will & Grace’s Debra Messing.  Chaganty discussed the difficulties of making the movie and his next project.

Director Aneesh Chaganty and Actor John Cho attend the World Premiere of Searching © 2018 Sundance Institute | photo by Weston Bury

The Film

Cho plays a father desperately looking for his missing daughter with the help of a police detective, played by Messing.  Searching is presented almost exclusively through computer screens and smartphones.  The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and received positive reviews, with critics praising Cho’s performance.  Like Crazy Rich Asians, Searching is notable for being a mainstream Hollywood film with an Asian-American lead.

Something Different

Searching is not the first film to use social media and smartphones for its point-of-view.  Talking about that, Chaganty said, “All of the other films that use technology to tell a story where originally the reason that we never wanted to make this movie.”  He continued, “Because they’d been done before. And it’s just such a concept driven story that we’re like, why would we do this if ours wasn’t new? If ours didn’t feel like the first one to do it.”

Director/writer Aneesh Chaganty and John Cho on the set of Screen Gems’ SEARCHING.

“Honestly, once we cracked the story and we realized that the best way to do this was by taking an unconventional filmmaking approach and marrying it with a very conventional classic structure. That marriage can be something very, very fresh, emotional, engaging, and honestly put the story first. Which was something that we felt like it had never been done. And if we were to execute that, maybe it would feel like the first time this has ever been accomplished. That’s what kind of got us attracted to the story.”

The Challenge

During filming, both Cho and Messing often had to be both actor and camera person.  Explaining the challenge, Chaganty said, “It’s… everybody is learning how to make this movie as we make the movie.  No one’s making this movie because they’ve done it before. And a lot of times John and Debra are literally interacting with the cameras, that are showing them, that will finally go in the product.”

Aneesh Chaganty, middle, with John Cho, left, and co-writer Sev Ohanian (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

“So, it’s really just a very, very interesting acting challenge. Because they’re often the cinematographer sometimes too. The cameraman and the camerawomen. It’s a lot of working with them and understanding how to make this movie and learning what does work and what doesn’t work. Because at the end of the day, I’ve never done this before either.  I told them I did, but I really didn’t. We’re all kind of figuring it out together and everybody was very, very game to sort of like to play a new game, which is fun.”

Director/writer Aneesh Chaganty and Debra Messing on the set of Screen Gems’ SEARCHING. from Sony Pictures press site

What’s Next?

Already looking to the future, Chaganty talked about his next film. “We’re shooting it in the fall actually. We spent about a year and a half on the script, Sev Ohanian [Searching’s co-writer] and myself. And Natalie Qasabian, who produced this film, is also going to be joining, producing. So, it’s another thriller and it definitively does not have anything to do with technology. In fact, one character, at one point, logs onto a computer in the house, the Internet’s disconnected, and no more Internet in the entire film. And we’re like, yeah, we’re not putting ourselves in a box. We’re going to do something new.”