‘We were learning as we were making the movie’

Debarati Palit Singh
Friday, 24 August 2018

Aneesh Chaganty’s Hollywood film Searching is set to release on August 31. He tells us how he used a computer screen to tell the story and the challenges involved in making such a movie.

Indian origin director Aneesh Chaganty’s debut film Searching highlights a very relevant subject — social media havoc. The film, starring Star Trek’s John Cho and Will & Grace’s Debra Messing in lead roles, is about David Kim (played by John) whose 16-year-old daughter goes missing. A local investigation is opened but 37 hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the place where all secrets are kept — his daughter’s laptop.

The film, which is co-written by Aneesh and produced by Sev Ohanian, has already created a lot of buzz in the international film festival circuit including Sundance Film Festival, where it won the 2018 Alfred P Sloan Feature Film Prize.  Sev was awarded the Sundance Institute/ Amazon Studios Producers Award for Narrative Feature Producer. In fact, the film was picked up by Sony Entertainment Pictures after its premiere at Sundance.

“Getting so much appreciation at such a platform is very gratifying,” says Aneesh, adding, “People responding to you with so much positivity, is the ultimate goal of making such a film. As a first time director, it’s awesome because it means people care about what you are doing next. We have already started working on our next movie and will be shooting for it soon. It’s been an awesome journey.” The psychological mystery-thriller will be releasing in India on August 31.

But what makes the film interesting is the fact that Aneesh has used a computer screen as a medium to tell the story. So the whole film is shot through the screen. Aneesh, however, says that it was the casting company who came up with the idea and not him. “For a long time I kept saying ‘no’ because I felt it was very gimmicky. A couple of months after my co-writer and I started working on the story, we realised that while telling the story, gimmick was important for the film. It was a movie which was emotionally engaging and thrilling, so we had to tell the story in the right manner. Having said that, the gimmicks are second to the idea.”

Aneesh, who worked with Google before making the shift to movies, says that technology is an unexplored medium and hasn’t been cracked by Hollywood in terms of telling a story. “The concept is very new and it’s being appreciated that we have tried something new,” he quips.

But shooting the film on a computer screen wasn’t all that easy and Aneesh calls it a technical nightmare. “We were editing something that hasn’t been tried before. We were five people in the room for a course of two years and two IMAC computers. We were working for hours and had no idea about a lot of things. We were learning as we were making the movie. We were battling emotional and physical challenges, along with complex nightmares,” he says.

He says that the cinematography was equally challenging because the context is a computer. “We were thinking of it less as a final product and more as a piece of the final product. We were trying to find the best way to shoot and tell the story. We were using different cameras to capture every aspect of the film,” says Aneesh. 

The film is an emotional journey of a father in search of his daughter and the film relies heavily on technology. How did he balance between emotions and technology while shooting the film, we ask? “I think the idea was to always make sure that the story comes first. This movie is not about exploring different avenues of social media or apps attached to it. It’s about a father looking for his child and the more we focused on that aspect, the more we could talk about it socially and the society we live in,” he explains. 

Aneesh’s job at Google involved taking technology and framing it into emotional narrative by making commercials about technology. He says that his stint with Google helped him in making the film. “All the techniques and tips that I learnt helped me make the film,” he says. Expectations are high and people are now looking forward to Aneesh’s next project but he will not let the pressure affect him. 

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