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Aneesh Chaganty Interview: Searching

Aneesh Chaganty is a writer and director, who is making his feature film debut with the thriller Searching. Told mostly from the point-of-view of smartphones and computer screens, the movie stars Star Trek’s John Cho as a father whose daughter goes missing. Will & Grace’s Debra Messing plays the police detective in charge of the investigation.  She must deal with the young woman’s father getting more desperate and frantic as the film goes on.

Screen Rant: So, I got to ask you, there's been a lot of films that have done some things, not a lot, some films that have done some things like this. What makes this stand apart from those?

Aneesh Chaganty: All of the other films that use technology to tell a story where originally the reason that we never wanted to make this movie.

Screen Rant: Oh, really?

Aneesh Chaganty: Yeah. 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.  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.

Screen Rant: I'm a huge fan of Dateline and it felt like I was just living in a Dateline story.

Aneesh Chaganty: It was definitely a sequence in there with a brother that, or there's a sequence in the film with like kind of some security camera footage that always reminds me of a Dateline episode.

Screen Rant: Right? It totally does. So, sometimes in this film, John and Debra both play cameramen as well as actors. Can you talk to me about that process a little bit?

Aneesh Chaganty: Yeah. 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.

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.

John Cho as David Kim in Searching

Screen Rant: This is your first feature film project, that you have an eagerness to marry the real-world subjects along with entertainment. Are you already thinking about your next project? And will it be in the same kind of wheelhouse?

Aneesh Chaganty: We are already thinking about next project. We're shooting it in the fall actually. We spent about a year and a half on the script, Sev Ohanian 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.

Screen Rant: Interesting. Obviously editing plays a huge part in the way the story is told you. Can you talk to me about the editing process of this?

Aneesh Chaganty: Yeah, I mean the editing process. We had a joke that a normal movie is pre-production, production, and post-production. And our movie is pre-post, post, and post-post. The editors were involved at every single stage of it.  Not only every single stage, before every single stage. We hired them seven weeks before we even started shooting. And this was Sev’s idea, but we made a mock-up of the entire film before we even shot a frame of it to show the cast and crew. To show them what we were making in the first place. They needed to understand the context that we were shooting. And John needs to know where every button he's pressing is because we're recording his eyeline. So, he needs to always going to be dragging things the right way. It was an absolute technical forest to kind of go through it. I'm so glad to be never doing it again. But I love what we made.

Screen Rant: I love what you made too. And I have to know, did the story inform the way that you guys were going to do this stylistically or was it the other way around?

Aneesh Chaganty: This… We were presented with an opportunity to make something on screens and we kept saying no to it because it felt like the style was determining the story.  And the only reason we ever jumped on board, was by finding a story that felt like that was just informing the style. As opposed to the other way around.

MORE: Read Screen Rant's Searching Review

Key Release Dates
  • Searching (2018) release date: Aug 24, 2018
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