Searching tells a pretty conventional story – a father goes looking for his college-aged daughter after she goes missing – in an unconventional way. David Kim (John Cho) will do whatever he can to find his daughter Margot (Michelle La), starting with looking for clues on her social media profiles. He contacts her friends, roommates and fellow students but they offer no help when it comes to tracking her down.
Where it gets unusual is that director Aneesh Chaganty is telling the entire story through the screens Kim uses to do his research and conduct his investigation. So we see him and everyone he encounters through the cameras that are part of the computer, mobile devices and so on that he interacts with.
The first poster did a decent job of communicating the basic idea of the film within the constraints offered by the premise. It’s dark image, with a computer keyboard just barely visible in the center. All the keys are blank except those of the letters used in the movie’s title. “No one is lost without a trace” reads the copy at the top, which when combined with the image promises a movie about an online hunt for someone.
That same copy is used on the second poster, which this time shows a phone whose cracked screen is still displaying several missed messages and calls.
More posters continued to hit the technology theme of the story, showing cell phones, computer screens and more while different copy made slightly different appeals. One says “David Kim just missed his daughter’s final call” while others offer longer and more detailed plot explanations.
The movie being sold in the first trailer is essentially the social media equivalent of Taken, only with a father who’s not a former spy. When Margot goes missing her father tries to retrace her steps, talking to friends and monitoring her online activity, all to little or no avail. We see lots of tension as he hits one roadblock after another, presented with conflicting information and unhelpful updates, all of which he catalogs on the off chance it proves useful at some point.
The nature of the movie, that we’re watching everything happen through the computer’s fisheye camera or some other screen, gives the trailer a decent sense of claustrophobic tension. It’s a conceit that could prove tiresome stretched out over an entire feature film, but here it seems promising and pulse-pounding.
Another short trailer skips most of the story setup to just get to the tense search for Margo, selling it less as a drama of a distraught father and more like a thriller with screeching sound effects and disturbing visuals.
Online and Social
When you load the official website you’re greeted with full-screen video that displays some of the positive reviews the movie has accumulated so far. Along with that, a series of text messages appear that seem to be sent by David, frantically trying to get in touch with Margot. After that finishes there’s a big button encouraging you to watch the trailer again.
The first item in the content menu in the upper left is “Director’s Lab Entries,” which collects some of the short films Chaganty oversaw as part of a partnership with YouTube (more on that below). There’s another “Trailer” prompt followed by an “About” section followed by “Partners.” Over in the opposite corner are links to the film’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter profiles.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
There don’t appear to have been any TV spots run for the movie, but social advertising was done in conjunction with the release of the trailer.
There were also two partnerships with other companies, both of which are nicely contextual to the subject matter and themes of the movie:
- Adobe, which played up the technological aspects of the story and allowed Chaganty to talk about how he used Adobe products during the film’s production.
- Dashlane, which touted itself as the movie’s “official security partner” and emphasized how the app allows you to manage your online identity.
Media and Publicity
The movie debuted to decent buzz at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was quickly picked up by Sony. A few weeks out from release Cho stopped by “Kimmel” to promote the movie. Later on the writers and director talked about how they worked to keep the storytelling conceit of the movie from feeling too corny and achieve some real emotional depth.
There was an extensive feature on Cho that covered his career to date as well as the movie itself that followed. A bit later producer Timur Bekmambetov was interviewed about how his involvement with this movie fits into an overall passion of his regarding technology.
Director/cowriter Aneesh Chaganty filmed a video at YouTube’s LA space showing him working with aspiring filmmakers to help them fine tune their story, shoot their film and more. Chaganty and cowriter Sev Ohanian both talked about how they wanted to break many of the conventional storytelling rules.
One advantage the movie had was that it was able to draft off the “representation of Asian Americans on film” conversation begun with last week’s Crazy Rich Asians, a topic Cho once more commented on while also mentioning how the story is neutral as to the ethnicity of the characters, treating a Korean-American family as if it’s no big deal, which is also a good approach.
Cho and costar Debra Messing made a few other appearances on TV as well and participated in a couple social Q&A sessions with fans.
I think what I like most about the campaign is that it doesn’t try too hard to be overly technical, something that almost always comes off as ill-concerned and slightly embarrassing. Yes, there’s plenty of the movie’s tech elements here, but they didn’t try to do anything like create a fake app experience or anything that would have seemed out of touch.
Cho is certainly no stranger to audiences, but if this gets people’s interest it could help catapult him to another level. Based on what’s seen in the campaign, he’s asked to command the screen in a very unusual way for much of the movie’s running time, which can’t be easy. Given the positive word of mouth it already has it looks like he pulls it off. With not much new in theaters this week that’s geared toward mainstream audiences, this movie could have a chance to pull off a decent showing.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
As part of the #GoldOpen campaign – meant to encourage Asian-American audiences to turn out for movies featuring people like them – the star and director of Crazy Rich Asians bought out a showing of this movie.
Director Aneesh Chaganty hits on an important point here regarding representation, that volume and the freedom to be mediocre without negative repercussions is what truly marks progress on that front. He also talks about making the movie on iMacs and other tools as well as about how the movie took on the life and perception it did.
Sony Pictures sponsored a hackathon in conjunction with Disrupt SF, encouraging participants to create a Google Chrome extension that would help people of all ages better manage their online activities and personas.
More from Cho on the story of the movie here and in a new featurette released by Sony.