Interview: ‘Searching’ Writer Sev Ohanian Talks Social Media and the Writing Process

Searching stars John Cho, who makes history as the first Asian-American actor leading a Hollywood thriller. The film is innovatively told purely through screens, as a desperate father attempts to find his missing daughter.

While it could be argued that having a film set through screens is extremely limiting and can create an emotional block, Aneesh Chaganty (co-writer, director) and Sev Ohanian (co-writer, producer) execute certain techniques successfully, that other movies filmed in a traditional format, couldn’t. David Kim (John Cho) often types messages and then deletes them, which successfully bridges the gap between appearance vs reality; what David truly wants to say vs what he actually says.

One thing that continued to surprise me throughout Searching was the extent to which Chaganty and Ohanian understand the relationship teenagers have with social media. I’m not referring to the general “social media is bad” sentiment other filmmakers instill in the audience, but a more nuanced message: social media allows people to be themselves (to an extent) but is also extremely isolating. Margot and David’s relationship from the onset is grounded in tension and unfamiliarity as they try and navigate life without Margot’s mother, Pam. Death brings people closer together, but the sad reality is that sometimes it does the exact opposite.

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Karlovy Vary 2018: ‘Profile’ Excellently Depicts the Dangers of the Internet

This piece is written by our guest writer Redmond Bacon.

We all know that being online is dangerous – with sexual predators, fraudsters, and racists on Twitter always waiting around the corner – but have you ever tried signing up to join ISIS? This is the conceit of Profile, which displays what happens when a journalist is willing to risk absolutely everything for the sake of getting a good story. Told entirely from the screen of a British reporter’s laptop, the resultant movie works both as a great thriller and a thematically rich investigation into the nature of ISIS, reporters, and the dangers of social media.

Amy (Valene Kane) is a journalist researching ISIS recruiters who have been known to find women to join their mission online. They look for Western converts as they are seen as sexually desirable by the death cult, and can be sold as sex slaves for a lot of money. To start with, she makes a new Facebook profile. She aptly names herself Melody Nelson after the famous Serge Gainsbourg song, which is famously about a predatory man seducing a young teenager. After sharing videos of ISIS footage on Facebook, she gets a friend request from a man named Abu Bilel Al-Britani (Shazed Letif). Ostensibly using him to get material for her article, she finds herself getting drawn in further and further, until there is a very real possibility she might head off to Syria herself.

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EIFF 2018 Review: John Cho is ‘Searching’ for Answers in the Macbook-set Mystery

Though Searching is thrillingly innovative with the way it uses the computer screen as a storytelling device, it cannot claim to be the first. That title goes to the horror film Unfriended (and by association its sequel coming next month). Perhaps no movie gimmick has earned more scoffs than the one Unfriended started. Imagine the grumbles of retrograde purists everywhere: kids these days are addicted to their computers, and now it has infiltrated into our cinemas yadda yadda yadda. While the computer screen format grew thin for producing jump scares, it may have found its niche in Searching as a tool for investigation.

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John Cho in ‘Searching’ © Sony Pictures

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