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“Our Computers Were Crashing Roughly Six Times a Day”: Director Aneesh Chaganty | Search


As you made your film during the increasingly chaotic backdrop of the last year, how did you as a filmmaker control, ignore, give in to or, conversely, perhaps creatively exploit the wild and unpredictable? What roles did chaos and order play in your work?

Our movie was supposed to be completed on March 3, 2018. On February 28, five days away from our deadline, we didn’t have a single finished frame. CUE FLASHBACK.

Search is a hyper-modern thriller that unfolds entirely on computer screens. We wanted it to be engaging, thrilling and most of all: cinematic. And we knew exactly how we’d pull it off, too. First, we’d start with a storyboard. Then, we’d turn the storyboard into a full-length animatic (I played every role in the first cut). Next, we’d shoot all the live-action footage and spend a week or two finding the best takes. Finally, we’d drop that footage back into the animatic, update the film with high-resolution graphics and voila: our movie would be done.

Things did no go that simply.

The first thing we realized was that, given our conceit, we were always met with an infinite amount of creative choices. We could frame shots differently, we could adjust dialogue if it was emailed or texted, we could create new plot points, replace pictures, or write new scenes entirely. Essentially: we could change everything in every frame at every single moment we worked on this movie.

From a logistical standpoint, no computer that exists on the consumer marketplace was designed to handle a project like ours. With most movies, a computer needs to process one layer of video and a few layers of audio. Search had 37 layers of video…at all times. With most movies, if you want to see how extending a shot works, you just extend the shot and immediately see if it works. With Search, every change we wanted to make (from dialogue adjustments to tiny re-frames to single-second shot extensions) would take around three minutes to render, shrinking the number of options we could see in a day to embarrassingly low numbers. And that’s all assuming the computers didn’t crash. By mid-February, our computers were crashing roughly six times a day, and causing us twice the stress.

Multiply the number of decisions we needed to make with that technical minefield, and you get a timeline you yourself can not see the end of.

Chaos was losing our minds at 11:55PM when the four things we tried that day didn’t work. Chaos was the rainbow wheel of death that told us the computer was about to crash and we were about to spend the next 20 minutes praying that our progress was saved (it usually wasn’t). Chaos was realizing that even when we finished all of the above, we still had to rewrite every Facebook status, URL, email, and line of text that appears in the film. Chaos was realizing that even when we finished all that, we would still have to graphic design every image and then animate every image for motion. Chaos was realizing that even when that was done, we would have to add camera shakes, lens blurs, and color correction. Chaos was February 28, 2018 when we were five days away from a deadline and nine months away from actually finishing.

But we did it.

Between a handful of people in a single edit room for almost 2 years, we held thousands of creative forums, fought thousands of creative wars and made thousands of creative decisions. We became great friends, advising each other, helping each other, keeping each other sane and encouraging one another to see the potential of what our little movie could be.

Chaos turned us into a team. And I’m so proud of what our team has made.

[PREMIERE SCREENING: Sunday, January 21 at 6:30pm — Ray]

Sundance 2018 Responses

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