How Do You Make Movies in a Pandemic? Ask Horror Directors

In 2018, Aneesh Chaganty released a little thriller called Searching . It was the writer-director’s debut feature, and it garnered him a bit of attention (and eventually $75 million at the box office). Centered on a young father trying to find his missing daughter by scouring social media, the movie relied on a novel narrative tool: The entire thing was set on computer screens. At the time, it was seen as a smart gimmick. Little did Chaganty know that his filmmaking strategy would be an invaluable model for making movies in the middle of a global pandemic .

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We Are All Livestreamers Now, and Zoom Is Our Stage Back in March, Hollywood effectively shut down. As fears over the new coronavirus spread, social-distancing necessities rendered work on TV and film sets nearly impossible. As a result, studios and filmmakers began looking for a way to keep working from home. That’s when Chaganty’s inbox started getting bombarded. Originally, the inquiries “felt very smart,” Chaganty says. Friends in the business would write saying they’d just ended a meeting where Searching had come up, and everyone was wondering if the team behind it had any similar tricks up their sleeves. Then it happened again. And again.
“It just felt like nobody was realizing that everybody was having this same realization, that you can make something on a computer screen, or at least make projects on it a little faster during this time,” he says. “It was a little funny and disarming. In March and April, we were just getting like, ‘Hey man, we just ended up thinking about Searching!’ and it was like, ‘OK cool, so is everybody.’”

Courtesy of Shudder
For the record, Chaganty does have a couple projects in the works. He has a movie called Run that got pulled from the release calendar when movie theaters closed due to Covid-19, and he’s working on a Searching sequel. Also, Searching wasn’t exactly made by recording Zoom calls; he filmed the actors in person and added the screen effects in postproduction. He’s not really trying to be the movies-on-computer-screens director, but he does see the kind of films he makes—mysteries, thrillers—as uniquely suited to these times. When all creative endeavors have to be accomplished remotely, over videoconference and email and Slack, you might as well turn the bug into a feature. “Ultimately, what computers are is information.” Chaganty says. “It’s just words; it’s information being conveyed to you and information you can send. No genre in the world has more reason for information than a mystery.”