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Hi, I'm Michael.
This is Lessons from the Screenplay.
From the first frame of "Searching" to the last,
everything the audience sees happens on a
computer or phone screen.

This is the film's designing principle—
the internal logic that describes how the
story will be told:

Tell a conventional thriller story entirely
via screens.

While the plot of "Searching" is fairly conventional,
this storytelling approach is used to enhance
the mystery

and elevates the film to a nail-biting thriller.
"It could have been a live action movie,
but nobody would have seen it.
There's nothing special about it.
And us taking this normal story
and putting a very unconventional conceit
on it

is what made it work."
To take this constraint and turn it into a
compelling film

required the use of many clever techniques—
and the screenwriters, Aneesh Chaganty and
Sev Ohanian,

discussed their entire process in great detail
when they came on our podcast.

Because—by the way—
Lessons from the Screenplay is launching a
podcast...

today!
"Beyond the Screenplay"
And you can hear our entire conversation
with Aneesh and Sev in our episode on "Searching."
I'll have more details on the podcast at
the end of the video,

but for now, I want to dissect how they made
the film

emotionally compelling by ensuring
the designing principle, theme, and story
were perfectly in sync...

To investigate how they adjusted traditional
screenplay format

to convey a plot that takes place entirely
on screens...

And explore how they took something as simple
as typing a text message

and used it to reveal character.
Let's take a look at "Searching."
When writing "Searching," it would have been
easy

to let the designing principle become a gimmick
by thinking only in terms of what is happening
on the computer screens.

But Chaganty and Ohanian wanted to avoid that,
and instead took a different approach.
"It would fail if we were writing the movie
that took place on screens.

What we needed to write was the movie...
And our entire process was just a matter of
adapting that story to take place on screens."

But it couldn't be just any story.
The proper cohesion of theme, designing principle,
and story

is often what elevates a film.
"If you're telling a story about something,
every page of your script should be unique
to that central core.

If it's going to be about a father searching
for his

teenage daughter by using a computer,
what are the revelations that can come only
from that thing?

It can't just be a phone call that happens
to take place on a computer,

but rather the internet has to be wholly complicit
in how she went missing."

So as they began writing, they found a theme
that resonated with them

and connected to the designing principle.
"It was very early on we realized it's
about connectivity.

And in a world where everyone is so connected
with all these devices and all these apps
and programs and software,

what's a story about a father and daughter
who live in the same house but are disconnected?"
The film opens with a montage introducing
us to the Kim family.

As young Margot grows up,
we see how close she is to her father, David.
But after a family tragedy, they've grown
very distant—

each hiding their emotional pain from each
other,

and in the process becoming strangers.
Once Margot goes missing,
the only way for David to find out what happened
to her

is to search her computer for clues,
and in doing so he learns surprising things
about the person his daughter has become.
In this way, the story inherently explores
the theme of disconnection,

which resonates with the designing principle
of telling the story via the technologies
that are supposed to connect us.

Now that Chaganty and Ohanian had a great
foundation for a film,

the question became:
"How do you write a screenplay about a story
told entirely on screens?"

To communicate this unconventional story
required some unconventional formatting.
Contemporary screenplays are written
in what's called “Master Scene” script
format

and it has remained largely unchanged over
the last fifty years of filmmaking.

The formatting rules are very specific.
From the typeface and font size, to the margins,
to the scene headers elements,
a screenplay is a document meant to convey
the story clearly

and aide production.
But this format became solidified
before we had computers and smart phones.
So how did they write a screenplay for a movie that takes place entirely on screens?
They didn't—at least, not at first.
"We actually wrote what we call a 'scriptment,'
which was written much more like prose."
"It was 41 pages. It was a really short read,
but it was the whole movie written almost
like a short story..."

This “scriptment” was used to secure the
actors

and get the movie into pre-production, but...
"...it was actually our producer Natalie Qasabian
who was like,

'we can't make a movie off of a 41 page word
document'

and she forced us to go and write the Final
Draft.

I remember we spent our first four days
of writing

purely trying to figure out form.
What should the screenplay look like?"
What they arrived at was a variation on the
Master Scene script format.

Anything that took place in the digital world
of the screen

would have a simple, descriptive Scene Heading,
like: “Google Maps - Google Chrome”...
...while anything that required
actual on-set shooting would have a numbered,
classic scene header,

with an added parenthetical
to convey where on the screen the audience
is seeing it.

"Hold on. You just gave me an idea.
To convey text message conversations,
Chaganty and Ohanian dropped the text size
from 12 points to 9 points,
and adjusted the margins to be in between
that

of the action lines and dialogue.
Together, these formatting changes make it
clear to the reader

who is speaking and where the interactions
are taking place,

without dramatically deviating from the classic
screenplay format.

But while clearly conveying how the story
is told on screens is important,

it is pointless if it is not also revealing
character.

So Chaganty and Ohanian had to find on-screen
ways of

expressing the inner life of the characters.
In a normal film, a character's behavior
is used to betray their inner life.

They may avoid eye contact, discard a precious
object,

or begin to say something, but change their
mind.

For "Searching," Chaganty and Ohanian had
to find ways

of translating this emotional behavior to
a computer screen.

"And we looked on our laptops
and we saw buttons that said 'share.'
Ok what does share mean?
We saw 'close window.' What does close window mean?
What does it mean to empty your trash? What it does it mean to delete something?
What does it mean to hide something? Search something?
These all have emotionality behind it."
"Searching" is filled with moments where the
characters'

interactions with the computer convey their
inner life.

When David is reporting his daughter missing,
he is Googling statistics on missing persons
cases.

We know he is thinking about how serious the
situation has become.

At his lowest point,
David comes across an old video of Margot giving him a father's day present.
Overwhelmed with guilt, he takes an extreme
action.

Margot holds up a drawing to the CAMERA.
Written below: “Happy Father's Day to
the BEST DAD EVER.”

PAUSE.
DESKTOP
On Finder, David DELETES the video.
Then EMPTIES the trash.
But my favorite screen technique
is when characters type out a text message
and then decide not to send it,
because it is both true-to-life and revealing
of character.

"It allows us to have subtext.
You know the characters saying one thing but
means something else.

And that allows us to have it."
This is used several times in "Searching,"
and in the screenplay is represented by a strikethrough in the text.
Early in the film, when David is talking to his brother,
trying to figure out how concerned he should
be that Margot hasn't responded all day,

we feel how worried he is through the messages
he almost sends.

The inner life of the character is clearly
communicated,

simply through text on a screen.
"Searching" is a great example of how to marry
a classic narrative with contemporary storytelling.
It could have lazily applied a gimmick to
a random plot,

but instead, the orchestration of the theme,
designing principle, and story
elevate it to a thrilling, cinematic experience.
"In our minds, we wanted to tell a story that
would be engaging,

and cinematic, and moving,
and to do that we wanted to use all the hundred
years

of cinematic techniques that have been developed by all these great filmmakers..."
"We wanted to make a screen movie to end all
screen movies..."

"You really covered all the bases."
"You did all of it."
This shows that you can find fresh ways of telling familiar stories
if you don't mind doing
a little searching.
Hey guys, Michael here—
and today we're launching a podcast!
It's called “Beyond the Screenplay”
and it's available pretty much wherever
you get your podcasts!

In the show, it'll be myself and the Lessons from the Screenplay team
doing deeper dives into the storytelling of each film we talk about here on the channel.
We'll also be chatting with guests—
from other YouTube filmmakers
to people like Sev and Aneesh—
the creative teams behind the films we're
discussing.

So head to wherever you listen—Apple Podcasts, Spotify—
to check out our first three episodes
including our full conversation with Sev and
Aneesh on "Searching."

There's going to be more episodes coming in the coming weeks,
and I'm really, really excited to see where this
goes.

So, thank you to Sev and Aneesh for coming
on the podcast,

thank you to the patrons for helping us workshop and develop the podcast,
and thank you for watching!
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Searching - Reformatting a Thriller

215 Folder Collection
張博然 published on February 13, 2019
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