It was 2016, and Aneesh Chaganty was fumbling through the most important phone call of his barely-begun career. The young filmmaker had been given 15 minutes to convince actor John Cho to star in Search, a mystery about a father trying to track down his missing teenage daughter. The characters’ ordeal—and their entire relationship—would be told via a series of screens, as its hero uses everything from Facebook to FaceTime to Reddit to solve his kid’s disappearance.
Other films have taken the same web-centered approach, like 2015’s horror hit Unfriended, but Chaganty wanted to do something different: “The Memento of screen movies,” he says. For Cho, however, the concept didn’t click. “It was the first time I’d spoken to a celebrity in my life, and I completely botched the call,” says Chaganty. “I didn’t tell him what we were trying to do something new. His hesitation was that this wouldn't be a movie movie—that it would just be a YouTube video.”