June (Storm Reid) uses her computer to find her missing mother in "Missing." Photo courtesy of Screen Gems
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- The creators of Missing, in theaters Friday, said the sequel to Searching benefits from the lessons learned in making the first film. Searching editors Will Merrick and Nick Johnson directed Missing.
"Editing that movie, we got to see what we needed," Johnson told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "That always was running in the back of our minds, as well, on set."
In Missing, June (Storm Reid) uses all her technology and social media to try to find her mother (Nia Long), who never returned from a vacation in Colombia with her boyfriend. Like Searching, June's pursuit unfolds entirely on her computer screen.
Merrick said one technique Searching already established was teaching actors how to appear that they are reading a computer screen. John Cho and Debra Messing perfected looking at a computer screen while a camera recorded them in Searching.
Searching premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Sony Pictures bought the film and released it theatrically in August that year.
Since Merrick and Johnson moved into the directors' chairs, they had to hire new editors. Austin Keeling and Ariel Zakowski edited Missing.
"We sort of showed them the ropes of how we made the first one," Merrick said.
While developing Searching, Johnson and Merrick studied other movies that took place on computer screens. They noticed films like Unfriended and Open Windows unfolded in real time over the course of the films' duration.
The searches in Searching and Missing take longer than two hours. To jump ahead in time, Merrick and Johnson figured out how to shift the viewer's focus on the screen, and cut in video from different events during the search.
"That was something we had to very organically develop through trial and error," Johnson said. "If you just take the normal language of cinema that has been developed over 100 years, and you just apply that to this format, you end up with something that's really theatrical, cinematic and immersive."
Merrick said he felt Searching and Missing update a tradition of movies unfolding over analog technology. He cited Blow Out, in which a movie sound recordist (John Travolta) solves a mystery with clues he recorded.
"It's full of scenes of him using film technology," Merrick said. "I was thinking if they made this movie today, it would all be on computer screens just organically, naturally."
Searching co-writer Sev Ohanian, co-writer/director Aneesh Chaganty and producer Natalie Qasabian also returned to produce Missing. Qasabian said producing Missing three years after Searching added new technologies to the film's toolbelt.
"We used to joke on Searching, 'I wish this app existed,'" Qasabian said. "It made our job easier because we got to just weave it all in."
June records one scene as a potential Tik Tok video and uses TaskRabbit to hire someone (Joaquim de Almeida) in Cartagena to investigate her mother's last whereabouts. A Ring doorbell camera also features prominently in Missing.
Ohanian said one scene used Zoom, the prolific video conferencing app that came to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic. June and her friends held a viewing party for a true crime show.
However, Chaganty said the scene was deleted because it made Missing feel like it was set during the pandemic.
"We didn't want the movie to have that feeling," Chaganty said. "So we took Zoom out. Sorry, Zoom."
The true crime show June and her friends watch does appear in Missing. Unfiction has an episode about the Margot Kim disappearance, the daughter for whom David Kim (Cho) was Searching.
"We always knew that we wanted this movie to engage with true crime obsession," Johnson said. "But also give a nice knowing wink to fans of Searching, as well."
June actually takes some advice from the episode of Unfiction, repeating some of the techniques David used to find Margot. In that way, Missing builds off of Searching, but allows June to learn from her predecessor.
"That was our way to tie the universes together -- but also keeping it on theme and trying to say something about the internet and the types of stories that we're all consuming," Qasabian said.
Missing also continues some of the Easter eggs from Searching. Fans who watched Searching repeatedly and paused the DVD or Blu-ray discovered a subplot during David's search.
Connecting news tickers and background pages in Searching reveals the story of an alien invasion, which, of course, David is too distraught to notice. Missing features a subplot about The Green Angel, details of which the producers won't spoil until viewers discover it.
"We have a massive document of Easter eggs that we've injected into the movie," Johnson said. "Anywhere you look, you're going to find something interesting, including the Green Angel."
Ohanian hinted that the Green Angel subplot continues the secret subplot from Searching. So, the subplot is a sequel to Searching just as Missing itself is.
"We obviously had to continue that storyline in Missing," Ohanian said. "We wanted to take it in a very unexpected direction."
Chaganty said those Easter eggs highlight the illusion that everything occurs on screen with just a click. During production, each scene is meticulously constructed with live-action and animated parts.
"Every frame is created with hours and hours and hours of work, creative thought and consideration," Chaganty said. "We're very glad that all that work is very visible to anyone who decides to pause this film."
When Sony first announced a sequel to Searching, it was called the Untitled Searching Follow-up. Merrick said "Searching 2.0" was suggested until they hit upon Missing late in post-production.
Ohanian added that they toyed with titles that highlighted the film's international disappearance.
"We were playing with this idea of maybe making it like Searching Abroad so you understand that it's part of the franchise, but this one's more international," Ohanian said. "It felt like that wasn't necessarily a word that conveyed the connotation of thrills that we wanted."
Missing conveyed the same tension as Searching. Ohanian said the title puts the pressure on them to find another word ending in "ing" for a third film.
"That leaves us open to making the movie, which is, of course, going to be Finding," Ohanian said. "We're just kidding, but that's what everyone has been saying to us. Is the third one going to be Finding?"