Most people think Searching is just a movie about John Cho looking for his missing daughter that takes places completely on a computer. That’s true, but it’s also an alien invasion movie. Kind of.
As Cho’s character, David, searches for his missing daughter, Margot, through her emails, Facebook and more, something else is happening simultaneously. You see it in the related videos. The comments. The news stories. It’s the beginning of a full-on alien invasion.
The filmmakers put clues to this throughout the entire movie, which hits digital download November 13. And now, in the above video exclusive to io9, you can watch exactly how it all played out.
“Like most amazing ideas, it started off entirely as a joke,” Sev Ohanian, co-writer and producer of Searching, told io9. He explained that though the main script for Searching was only 117 pages, he and co-writer/director Aneesh Chaganty eventually realized if they wanted to do the whole movie on the computer, they’d have to create all those computer pages. And that meant writing a script that was basically 10 times as long.
“[The] joke was the idea that since we had to write a bunch of stuff anyway, maybe we could use the background of our movie to tell a completely separate plot from the main story,” Ohanian continues. “Maybe something REALLY crazy, ‘like aliens, how funny would that be?’ Aneesh laughed at the idea. After a beat, I said, ‘No, but seriously Aneesh, what if we did it for real?’ And then Aneesh laughed even harder. And then I said, ‘Yeah I think we should definitely do an alien plot in the background of Searching.’ And then Aneesh stopped laughing. I don’t think he’s laughed since.”
The biggest challenge of the whole thing was “trying to tell a massive Hollywood-style alien story using only snippets of news articles, or Facebook comments, or hashtags,” according to Ohanian. That, and make sure it fit into the timeline and main plot of Searching without taking away from it. And yet, the whole thing was handled with the same care as the rest of the movie.
Here’s an image Ohanian provided to io9 of a spreadsheet he created to track the alien plot during the film.
“You can see the chart indicates which scene each segment should go in, and what the copy should say,” he said. “The photographs were all photoshopped by me of photos from our filmmaking team. The shot of the White House was from our editor Nick Johnson’s trip to DC a few years ago.”
As the team edited the movie, the alien subplot changed slightly. Some pieces came out, others went back in and, eventually, even more was added. In the end though, it worked out not just how Ohanian and Chaganty wanted, but better than they expected.
The duo didn’t think anyone would pick up on the plot for quite some time and that it would be revealed in a video like this. And while that’s true for most of us, the day the film opened, people immediately began to catch it.
“I remember the comments on Reddit as people started to point this out. And that lead to quite a few people re-watching the film and posting all of their observations each time they saw it,” Ohanian said. “One particular person mentioned they were about to buy their fourth ticket, and I intervened and bought it for them because I was so touched.”
Though the main plot of Searching ends without a conclusion to the alien invasion, Ohanian is just happy the whole thing gives fans a reason to watch the film again and again. Plus, it’s set the bar for what’s to come.
“Our same filmmaking team is in production right now on our next film, Run,” he said. “And I can promise you that our commitment to fun easter eggs remains strong as ever. We got a cool reference to Searching planned, and there may actually be a reference to Run in Searching also.”
Just don’t expect alien invasions to play into what comes next. “[There were] no ulterior motives at all,” Ohanian said. “It was always intended to be purely a fun joke, and it definitely does not set up a sequel in any way. I swear.”
The above clip is just one of the many special features available when Searching comes to digital download November 13. It’ll be on Blu-ray and more November 27.