John Cho movie Searching stares at screens in search of secrets
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Did she mention anything unusual going on lately?
We're not really that close.
But you guys are friends.
She has friends, right.
She keeps to herself
[SOUND] How would you guys describe this film to people who haven't seen it?
Okay, so basically the way we like to describe it is that Searching is a very very very classic thriller, told in a very very unconventional way.
The classic part about it is that it's about a dad, played by this guy, whose daughter goes missing and he tries to find her.
And the very unconventional part about it is that the majority of the film takes place on his daughter's lap screen as his breaks in to look for clues to find her.
When I say majority, the rest of it takes places on other computers, and laptops, and tech devices.
So it's all told on the screens we use everyday to communicate.
Yeah and I think one small neat moment at the beginning was just how emotional like deleting a calendar event can be.
And how that like elicited a Pixar Up like reaction from the crowd last night.
How did John, how did you get involved in this film?
It was sent to me the traditional way
Can I do that, can I do the summation of the movie, but in a different voice?
It's about this Harrell right, Harrell is his dad and then Harrell's daughter goes missing right, and he's like.
Gotta find her on the computer.
That's exactly, that being said.
Luckily maybe there is a feak show?
laughing>> So I can't do it through the traditional way through my agents and my first imperession was that I really love this
The story, the genre I wanted to do I was very suspicious of telling it via screens.
And on that basis ended up saying, No.
In retrospect that I like to say I wonder if it was because.
Anish and I spoke via a device through the telephone instead of meeting face to face and he came back at me and we eventually sat down, and it was then that I was convinced that it was going to be a A movie, not a YouTube video, you know?
And he explained what his intentions were in the storytelling, and also I just developed a crush on Anish.
On the record.
And decided we, I think there's a path to doing this movie and if anyone could do it, I felt at the end of the meeting, that it was him.
And Seth, how would you describe as a co-writer?
Man, how would I describe John's crush on Anish, or the-
Yeah, yeah, let's go with the film.
Cuz I feel like describing it is tricky.
I mean no, I think the way Anish describes it is exactly how we always talk about it.
It is, first and foremost, it's a thriller.
It's a regular film, it has all the ups and downs and twists and turns and, as you mentioned like the emotion.
They go with any film, we just happen to make it in a really crazy, unconventional way.
To be honest with you, like when, you know, [UNKNOWN] writing partners, he directs and I produce.
When we first had.
The opportunity to make this film we also said no.
Actually, it seems to be a pattern.
We pitched it as a short film and the company who also produced Unfriended was like "Can you guys make that into a feature?" For the same exact reason as John, I think.
We were hesitant.
It wasn't until we came up with this opening montage for those of you guys who saw it.
It was an opportunity for us to use this crazy conceit but tell a really grounded, human and most of all emotional story in it.
We kind of called an opening montage like a Pixar's Up meets Google commercial montage.
That's really good, and I think it's also true cuz this is your first feature film.
So you have a background in short films and so I'm asking this for a friend, a friend who's intelligent, handsome, maybe a tech writer.
Who also does short films.
But how do you leap from doing shorts into in any film, and specifically this one.
Maybe another way of asking that is, how did you get to Sun Dance and win?
<< Carefully over a long period of time.
No, it's So basically, before I was making this film, I was at Google in New York City at the Google Creative Lab.
And I was sort of writing and developing and directing commercials, which was a gig that I had just kind of found my way into I am too, thank god.
But it was there where I really learned how to emote on computer screens.
My bosses had made some of the best Google commercials, actual commercials.
There's one, if you guys remember like on the Super Bowl a few years ago 2005, it was one called Parisian Love, where it's all told on Google search bar.
And it's about a kid who goes to Paris and meets the love of his life.
And it's just told through the searches on Google.
And there's another one that was just on Gmail about a dad writing letters to his kid called Dear Sophie.
And it kind of follows the growth of this kid.
And I remember thinking like, wow, these are such unconventional Ways of telling this story.
But the story itself is so universal and something that we can all relate to.
And so really it was this whole project kind of came together after Sev met with this company that wanted to make a movie on a computer screen.
And Sev was like, "Hey, my boy works at Google.
You should meet with him too." And so it really felt like this movie was sort of like A very, very kind of seamless next step in it.
Although at no point did we ever feel like this was a homerun.
I quit my job at Google to make this movie.
And we made this movie with five people in a very, very small editing room with two iMac computers that were crashing every two hours.
And we would lose 15 to 20% progress.
And we were kind of going from 8 AM to 2 AM every single day for the course almost two years, and if this movie had failed- if this movie failed, if it had failed, no one would have batted an eye because no one believed in this movie from the beginning so to have that, you know we just kind of took a crazy leap of faith and sort of trusted that we had all done enough at that point to just Figure out how to do something absolutely new.
Somehow, we applied to Sundance, got in, and then like twelve hours after our premiere, it became a world wide distribution deal.
You know what's funny, I remember when we got the call about Sundance, if you guys would like to hear about that?
Because it's like a filmaker's dream come true.
They normally call the director, right?
I've been lucky to have a couple of movies in Sundance, and it's always a director would call me and give me the best news of my life.
And Neesh was I think travelling.
I was on the jetway from India to Bali.
He was trying to find himself.
I was trying to find myself, sort of flush my brain actually of every screen that I had seen for the last two years.
So check this out, we had strategically planned this out where I need you to change your voicemail message to be like "Hey I'm out of the country, blah blah blah, if you're Sundance leave a message.
I'm checking." So we did all the steps and then literally like, I happened to be at lunch with like my cruising partner, Nathalie, our editors and everyone else on the film.
Cuz we were like doing a technical tests to the movie like a month before in case we got into Sanends.
And I got the call from Sanends through my phone.
And I was like, I'm [SOUND], I'm acting like realy chill.
Cool, yeah, like we love to come.
And then when we hung up, we just stared going crazy in this restaurant like holy ****, Anish doesn't know.
So we called Anish and he's like hey man, I don't have good service, I'm about to take off on this flight.
And we told you the news right as you guys were taking off, right?
I turned off my data because my international data plan sucks, so I basically had to time it every 20 minutes to check.
If i got any message in the 20 minutes, i miss the call from sunday.
I was like " Damn ". But i will tell you one thing, sundance tells you the most important thing is that you cannot tell anybody your movies are on sunday because they are gonna announce it 2 or 3 weeks.
We told Vanish just don't tell anybody.
And you were trapped in a plane with how many people?
I was trapped in a jet way and every body knew that something major had just happened in my life.
But I don't think they knew if it was positive or negative because my reaction was just like, my God, you know.
So hopefully one day they'll piece it together, but I doubt it.
But just so you guys know, yeah.
Public video view online, like what's going on with this guy?
Yeah, this guy.
I wondered too, because, so John, I rewatched the Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle trailer.
And, no, no, no
And this links to the movie, I promise.
That last word.
And the voiceover in it for the original trailer describes you as that asian guy from American Pie.
Now watching the film last night I was struck by we are just basically watching a story about the father, searching for his daughter and losing his family who have to be Asian American.
And I'm wondering what are your thoughts as an actor and a performer of how like your careers changed that definition being like that Asian guy doing these leads movies like This in Columbus.
It's certainly an interesting journey.
For me, this movie is a bit of the future right now, and what I mean by that is, the race, and ethnicity, and culture of the family, and it is a whole family That's represented in this movie.
Those things are specific.
They're [UNKNOWN] to who the characters are.
And yet, it also doesn't matter.
And I think, and I've been saying that for a while, I used to take pride in the fact that I would be cast in White roles, that that was A point of pride because I had resisted what they had written for me, for Asian men.
But this is to me where, this is an example of the end game, which is to get to a place where the character was written on the page Asian, but it also is not a point in the plot.
So this is in some ways a combination of that journey in an auspicious start.
I want to follow up with that as we see other movies coming out right now, another Asian movie out, it's in the title, Crazy Rich Asians, I'm wondering what does that future look like continuing moving forward?
You know some of the, what I've been reading ,kind of in the media of the crazy rich agent's press, and I wholly support the idea that no one film should have to carry the banner for a culture.
Because we are diverse, we're deep.
I mean, that's the trap of representation, is to have to say, this person, this story represents all of us.
And I think where wanna go to is moving towards plurality.
And only then can it represent us, because no one story, no one person, no one narrative, no one culture, can represent us.
And really, representation starts with being absolutely specific, and you know.
When you foist the yoke of representation on any one project or person, you're going to have to be general.
And that is not authentic, it is false, and it will not work.
So, going back to the [UNKNOWN] of the film again.
The unusualness of the screens added this beautiful tension within moments that you waited for that start screen to happen in David's bedroom and to see the lava, whatever that is, lava screensaver.
Just to release that tension sometimes.
How is this like to make?
Because it's a great story, but I imagine making this seems really unusual.
Just thinking of all the details on the screen, the shots, how you're acting.
May I say something, I don't know if everyone knows its
I'm just gonna pay these guys a compliment.
Which is that when I first saw the movie I tested them and said, this is contributing to the vocabulary of cinema, which is incredibly difficult to do.
And I think for many years now storytellers in my business have been struggling with how to dramatize
What's happening in our culture, which is that more and more human beings are having exchanges through technological devices.
Scenes that would have happened face-to-face, now if we film them sometimes face-to-face, we're not being authentic because people are texting those Those exchanges.
People are emailing those exchanges.
They're having thos eexchanges on Facebook or Facetime.
And so how do you dramatize that and I think traditional way has been to film a person typing and shoot from behind their back.
And if you recall like Meg Ryan
Sort of mouthing her instant messages out loud while she's typing.
And it's been false.
We haven't gotten it right.
And it was the first thing that I read that offered a solution to that problem.
As a story teller would just to go inside the device.
And it was quite thrilling when I saw it, one of my impressions was that I was shocked at how much it made sense.
We are on seventh and eighth generation of devices and we have.
Nostalgia for devices.
And so we have a shared history and I think it's the first year that we could have made this film, you know?
Because our collective understanding and history with these devices has arrived.
Yeah, I mean I'll talk a bit.
You know you mentioned the movie is tense and part of what makes it tense for those that saw it, as you're watching you're just waiting for things to happen on the screen.
I think that also kind of reflects how we felt making the movie in post-production specifically.
Like Anish mentioned, we were working on two computers.
Probably like the computers you guys used to write articles on, are stronger than the computers we use to edit and we all became really religious during the making of this film.
We became followers of the rainbow god.
You guys know the spinning rainbow god?
Like everytime we'd be editing, it would pop up and we'd be praying, like, "Please.
" Don't delete everything we just did for the last three hours and it usually did.
It was crazy because we were trying to come up with a path that hadn't really existed before.
Yeah, and speaking of a path that didn't exist.
One of the first things that we did with this film So basically for those of you guys who don't know like how exactly we shot it.
You know in the film, there is all the footage that is on a computer screen, there's the skype camera, there's like youtube videos, there's news fotage, there's every website just for your computer.
And then there's the way that we're seeing it which is our additional camera that we're adding to all of that.
So basically in order to make this movie, and this Seb's idea, seven weeks before we even shot a frame of the after we had written the script, the first people we hired weren't the actors or anybody who comes on set.
They are aready editors who traditionally work after the film is shot.
So in this case they came 7 weeks before and they just basically opened up these two computers that would be thier home for the next few years and basically started screen capturing the internet and taking screen messages, photos of.
of text messages and taking a bunch of photos of me, and basically what we ended up with after the course of seven weeks, is an hour and forty minute cut of the entire film starring me playing every single role like the dad, the brother, the mother, all of her friends Just talking to myself.
Especially the daughter.
Especially the daughter, yeah, my best performance.
And this was honestly to teach us, and teach ourselves how to make the movie, but on a very practical level, John, when he's on set, you're looking at his face the entire time shot on a GoPro.
So every single time Tiny eye motion is extremely exagerrated so he needs to know basically or every single course or over the course of every single point, or every pop out windows happening wherever your webpage is popping up whatever you like, text messages just popping up.
So everything has to be match perfectly, he needs to know everything and his always doing.
So we needed like make the movie first so we could make the movie, so I could take at footage, put it back on the movie that we made first, and we continue to make the movie again.
So if you are talking about like Youtube windows and Facebook probably plays a prominent role.
How did you get like do you need to get permission to use that stuff on screen?
Or how did that go about?
Yeah so, i mean for us, one of the most important things.
I think historically one of the big kind of ideas that we wanted to do in this movie was get the Internet right and i feel like no hollywood movie or Television show or anything for that matter never goes technology right.
Like, they always cut to a phone and the text messages are massive.
Its just like, shows you want you need to see or you cut to a website and totally made up and they never show you logos.
Are we're like no, no for this movie to work it needs to feel like this is your computer, nothing here is made up.
You know, everything is totally real.
So from day one our biggest kind of like philosophy was, and this is something we backed with basically a legal team that had made unfriended which is another movie that came out before, and also represented Family Guy, was just basically like if we're Showing these applications the way billions of people use every single day in a way that isn't lying or isn't betraying them in a negatively [INAUDIBLE] on purpose.
Why not use them?
And we're not doing that.
This really isn't an indictment on technology.
It's just in a wierd way showing that we live our lives on screens.
But a pure fact that we're able to tell a story that has.
About a dad looking for his kid on screens.
Yes, but it adds a layer of comfort too when you're first watching it.
The first few minutes yeah, I get this or like you hear the windows chime and it's like yeah, that.
But I think also The cause of that that allows you to get to know the family ( laughing)
ASMR is the witness.
But, it allows you to get to know the family and set the plot up so when later things happen, you're just losing your mind.
I don't want to see it, but I want to see kind of thing.
As you're going back a bit here with, there's all these details on the screen.
There's like All these side details and one that popped out was like a news scroll and it said something like Hollywood producer [LAUGH] is suspected in film editor.
It says Hollywood producer prime suspect in murder of film editors.
So that could be so many people.
It could be a lot of people.
Yeah, it could be a lot of people.
It could possibly be Sev the producer sitting right next to us.
The editors are fine.
Yeah, they're fine.
We have not seen them, we have not seen them guys.
Basically this film on the script, we're always talking about the plot.
But if you pause this movie you can always see other things.
Once you see this film, the majority of you guys, try and Look at anywhere apart from the main action.
The second time you see the movie.
The second time you see the movie, or the first time if you want to pay attention for clues.
But every single line of text in this movie whether its the side text messages if you open up iMessage or every single email or every single.
Description of every finder file, what date that was added, the size of the file, the type of the file everytime, every single website.
It all was written by us for this movie.
So, every single line sort of like had to have added significance and there's a lot of clues side stories, subplots going on.
So, we had a lot of time for fun.>> I mean my favorite one that [INAUDIBLE] was earlier on when we see David texting with his daughter, one of the side text is from a woman in Hanna.
Who I guess, he'd gone on like a eHarmony date the week before.
And she's like, hey, had a great dinner.
Would love to get a second drink-
Let's have a drink, yeah.
And then a couple days into the movie, she follows up.
And then like, when his daughter's missing, everyone knows about it, she was like, your daughter's missing
Maybe next week.
So the movie's so tense.
There's all these really fun subplots and huge Easter eggs that people haven't caught yet.
So we're gonna be really excited to-
You can piece the movie together if you look to the left and right.
But for the first time we're trying to kind of distract you a little bit.
Well it's hard, I mean, because going back to it, having
Camera mostly centered on John's face.
His reactions, his eyes and eyebrows tell so much.
I'm wondering, John, as you're filming this, how did you link the emotionality of it, but also just the technical hurdle of kind of being between, like literally being wedged between two cameras, one in front and one kind of behind?
Yeah, I felt
Kind of a little lost or I was just struggle with my performance the whole movie.
It turned out okay.
Phenomenally yeah, yeah.
But yeah, this is so unlike anything I had ever done before.
That it was, I just didn't have anything to hold on to.
And also there were no people on set.
And so I was doing all of the, I was performing alone.
And that's really unnatural.
I always try to avoid Even blocking scenes.
Sometimes people like, blocking is like how you stage a scene and sometimes directors like people.
You know that shot of the guy talking, gazing out the window and ruminating to a person behind him?
and sometimes directors will like that kind of staging and I don't even like that, because I want to, if there's a person in the room I want to look at them and talk, because it always gets, it's the best way to a good performance, and so Not having a person on set was strange and difficult.
So it just really was about being super specific.
So even some of those, there's cats with other characters.
They're not even another room or a part of the studio?
Sometimes there were.
Debra Messing was on location.
She was in another room, and we communicated via an earpiece.
But that's also another weird thing for me, just having an ear piece in.
And she was on the screen, but we couldn't do a normal size, because-
This program wouldn't allow us to expand this video of Debra Messing in this other room.
Has like this size.
I like, we kept trying to open it up but it wouldn't let us.
To be clear, we were using software that you use to setup security systems in your homes.
It's not that there was supposed to be four cameras, we only had one.
Yeah, yeah, that's true.
So we have a unique thing here.
We have a gentleman with a first feature film, an indie film.
You've produced several wonderful independent films, especially Fruitvale Station.
But John, you've been in a lot of popular films, like the Star Trek series and Harold & Kumar.
And I'm wondering what you guys think of this proposal for the Academy Awards of having a popular film genre.
I don't know what those details are gonna be.
I certainly personally appreciate the focus on quality and I hope that, that doesn't obscure the overall goal of the Academy Awards which is to reward craftmanship.
What is it about you guys, like into you guys?
I think we went from having no shot at the Academy Awards to 100% shot at the Academy Awards.
Pretty excited about that.
They haven't released any details about how it's gonna work, what Best Popular Film means, like what is the definition of a popular film.
Is it box office?
Is it marketing spent We don't any of that so the just sort of announced it and I think it's part of a larger proposal to bring up the ownership and everything.
I love the Oscars so [INAUDIBLE]
I don't like to pass judgment until we have more information but I hate it.
I think, I think it's like
I feel like it takes-
All right, now we are on point five.
I think what I mean by hate it is I'm totally about it.
I mean, I just worry it might give films that would otherwise be offered Best Picture nominations.
If I'm an Academy voter Would I want to vote for Black Panther for Best Picture if it can get Most Popular Film?
That's why I'm not a fan of it, personally.
Black Panther award this year.
No I wondered, because you actually worked with Ryan Coogler.
And so if this had been around for something like Fruitvale Station, that might be different than the fact that his first major giant film, Black Panther, is probably Gonna benefit from this.
No, I can't speak for Ryan.
But, again, in my opinion Black Panther should be up for best picture.
Right, so pivoting a little bit here.
So, John another series associated with you is Star Trek and I notice that Star Wars have been doing these B-side movies where it's kinda off the main plot and there is There was Solo earlier this year.
I'm wondering is there room for a Sulu movie?
Has the same letters almost.
[LAUGHTER] It's a really good character.
If Solo why not Sulu?
[LAUGHTER] I love that.
He's on the computer the whole time, right?
You think he's the navigator?
It's the screen version of Solo.
But yeah, what if you just did the screen, like the searching version of Star Trek where it's just all the computers?
I don't know that there is a day on shooting Star Trek that Chris Pine did not call me Solo.
What, did you have like a retort when he did?
No, no I answered to Solo.
You wouldn't do a wookie thing, like a [SOUND]?
I'm not walking into that.
[LAUGH] Fair enough.
John, this is a really weird question slash comment.
I love your hair.
You have the most amazing hair.
And I'm curious, do you use pomade?
Do you you use gel?
Is it like Like egg whites, I wish I had that hair, all my life.
Artisinal though, probably, right?
As we move, moving away from searching a little bit, what are some projects you guys are working on next or hoping to work on next?
Well, you know, one at a time.
It's hard for me to multitask on two major projects.
But our next project right now, and this has all been a result of this movie coming out at Sundance and now coming out, is that people actually care about what else we wanna make.
Which is, I never though that that would be what I wanted, but now that's all I want.
You know, and we basically got a chance to write another film that we've been developing for a long time, for about a year before in the editing room of search or searching.
It is basically another thriller.
All about parents and kids.
Everything that we've made so far has been about parents and kids.
This one's about a mom and a daughter.
It's very, very, very, very, very dark and twisted.
It'll probably be the only truly dark thing that we make, and it definitively does not take place on computer screens.
It's called Run, and we're shooting that, hopefully, in the fall.
I am doing a feature next that hasn't been aannounced.
So I don't think I should say anything.
[UNKNOWN] The Star Trek story.
[UNKNOWN] Star Trek yeah.
(laughing) And I'm with Enish.
So Seth and I wrote Run Together, Seth is produing it, I'm directing it, and then Natalie who also produced Searching is also going to be producing that one as well.
We actually have a shoutout to Searching and Run that we can probably talk about, so
In the movie Run, our next movie that's not on screen I won't point a character like desperately goes to a computer and tries to look online for information about something but the internet's disconnected and that's it.
So no computers, we're good.
So you mention you're doing a family- sticking with the family genre with the idea like a father looking for his daughter and wondering are any of you guys fathers here?
How does that...
When you see someone searching like that, how does that affect the way you look, the way your children interface with the internet or social media?
You know, my oldest is ten and he's not quite there
But it's tough.
What the film addresses is we used to tell our children watch out for the weirdos at the park.
But now all the weirdos in every park In the world have access to your child in his or her bedroom.
And so what do you do with that?
I don't know, partially because my kid is already more computer literate than me, and I know that that gap is only going to widen.
So I think it probably has to do with being an actual good parent.
But making sure that your children feel loved and safe, so that they protect themselves.
I don't know, this whole family thing I will say like, I'm gonna go back to Sunday which was.
Forgive me but it did remind me of this, one more political point which is that when we premiered the movie, and it was so interesting because we made this movie and it was wonderful to sort of have the The politics of it be absent, or the representation question largely be absent while we were making it.
We were so sort of focused on making a working thriller.
But it didn't hit me in an emotional way until we were at Sundance and saw a family.
And that's what really did it for me.
Because I've noticed that some of you are Asian, let me know if you agree with this.
But so much of Asian representation in film has been, or families is that generational story where an Asian person is running away from their family to find love.
So which implies that love is excluded from your nuclear family.
And that culture prohibits, Asian culture prohibits, love or even lust.
And I always thought that that was **** and hated it.
And it was at Sundance when I saw this Complete family, you know the film is premised upon my character's a widower, and her shadow, the mother's shadow is very long through the film because it's really about two people, me and my daughter, mourning separately for the same person in a different way.
So it's a family trying to be united, and it's a loving, complete
And it was not until we were at Sundance and I was watching the audience watch our film that it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Because Sundance, I guess, is to me the most important film festival in the world.
All right, makes sense.
So let's give a big hand to these guys for coming out today.
Thank you guys for coming out.