John Cho was 'Searching' for movie making answers
By RICK BENTLEY | Tribune News Service | Published: August 24, 2018
There was a very big reason John Cho initially balked at the offer to star in “Searching,” the story of a father forced to dive deep into the online world to search for clues to the disappearance of his teenage daughter. He liked the story and even the fact that that first-time director, Aneesh Chaganty, shared a deep connection to the Bay area. The character was interesting and really touched him on a personal level.
But, there was just one thing gnawing at him.
It was the unique concept of how the film would be put together that caused Cho’s trepidation. After David Kim’s (Cho) daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective (Debra Messing) is assigned to the case. After no leads surface after 37 hours, Kim decides to search the one place no one has looked yet - his daughter’s laptop.
Chaganty’s design puts the moviegoer in the room with Kim by construction the movie using technology from conversations done through Skype to television news footage. He fills each frame with numerous computer screens and any type of footage that a person could collect in the real world. The image on the screen can be as simple as a screensaver with a cursor being moved around the desktop.
“I was just not enamored with the ideas of doing a movie with screens,” Cho says. “I didn’t want to make a YouTube video. I wanted to make a movie. The process of filming was so unfamiliar to me, I would say to Aneesh that we should shoot the scene with more cameras. I kept wanting to tell the story from different angles but we only had the one.
“I was really out of my element. Most of my time was spent feeling out of sorts.”
Cho has never felt so dependent on a director as he did while making “Searching.” Most of the time Cho was working in extreme close-ups where there were missing visual details that would be added later. Chaganty had to talk Cho through where Kim was looking so that eyeline movements were in sync with the details to be added later.
While Cho was finding his footing with the way the film was being constructed, he just fell back on the acting elements that he has used in past projects that include the three “Harold & Kumar” movies and his appearance in three “Star Trek” productions. He knew if he focused on the job of pretending he was someone else and in a situation with dire possibilities, the rest would come together.
Much of the film is Cho’s character clicking around the internet and that meant there often was no one in the scene with him. It was very important for him to stage himself in each shot because the camera was directly in his face.
The one area that came easy to Cho was playing a horrified parent because all the father of two had to do was think about his own family.
“I’ve always said that the moment you find out your wife is pregnant, you develop this very new, unfamiliar, worry muscle,” Cho says. “It is very specific to that part of your life and very different to any other type of worry you have.
“It never stops flexing. Sometimes it’s worse and sometimes it’s better but it’s always there. It is not hard to put yourself in that place.”
The main concern Cho has now that the movie is being released is that too much attention will be put on the method used to putting “Searching” together and that will overshadow what he considers a wonderful script full of unexpected twists. The final promise Cho wanted from Chaganty before he would sign on to the project was that the lion’s share of energy and time would be put into making the characters and story feel real than in dealing with the unusual film design.
Cho knew Chaganty had kept his promise when they filmed the movie’s opening sequence that documents years in the lives of the family members through photos, videos and online elements that show good and bad moments. Cho knew if that opening segment didn’t make the viewer feel a connection to the family, then the rest of the movie would not have the same emotional impact.
“Personally, I loved shooting those memories more than anything else in the movie,” Cho says. “It was great getting to improvise with the kids and perfuming it with my own family life.
“The other thing that is interesting from a technical standpoint is how much those cues mean. We are so far into the digital age, we have nostalgia about our devices. The laptop has become the dusty photo album. Because of that, we couldn’t have made this movie 10 years ago.”
“Searching” opens in select markets Aug. 24 and wide on Aug. 31.
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