‘Missing’ Crew Explains How They Told a Thriller With Computer Screens

SPOILER ALERT: This story contains major spoilers for the ending of “Missing,” currently playing in theaters.

“Missing,” the latest release from Sony Pictures Entertainment, is told entirely through computer screens and smartphones.

Storm Reid is June, a daughter using modern technology to track down her mom, played by Nia Long, who has gone missing thousands of miles away in Colombia.

Nicholas Johnson and Will Merrick’s follow-up to the 2018 thriller “Searching” posed a challenge for editors Austin Keeling and Arielle Zakowsk about how to tell the story and create tension as June races against the clock to find her mother.

Says Keeling, “Arielle and I took screenshots on our computers and put together the whole movie as a temp version. We were able to play around through the editing process and choose how to cover June’s laptop, how to tell it in the most effective way.”

While FaceTime, Ring and the iPhone were just some tech storytelling devices in the film, co-directors Johnson and Merrick didn’t actually shoot on iPhones. Says Merrick, “We built more advanced rigs that could simulate what that [footage] would look like. We could go as deep in the depth of field as we needed to.”

They approached the computer screen cinematically, holding a beat whenever June got a new message in her inbox or panning the camera slowly across her screen for the next reveal.

Zakowsk points out that a key factor in telling the story from June’s point of view was not just how she used technology, but the speed at which she used it. In the age of TikTok, teens move at a faster pace, and so that needed to be reflected in the storytelling. She says, “The speed of her mouse flying across the screen, how fast she types, how many different things she’s multitasking at the same time — that all stemmed from this idea of what does it look like when an 18-year-old is using the computer compared to a 40-year-old.”

And while the film is not a direct sequel to “Searching,” the creators were sure to put in easter eggs that call back to the 2018 film, including the true-crime show June watches with her friends, “Unfiction.” The episode they watch in “Missing” is about the disappearance of Margot Kim, the character who went missing in “Searching.”

As far as the twist Johnson says, “We were able to put all the clues in front of you. There’s a text from Sev Ohanian [who is the film’s producer] and it says, ‘It’s obvious your mom was lying. Your dad’s not dead.’ He’s spoiling the entire movie for you.”

Johnson also revealed further clues to the father’s character: “At the beginning of the movie there’s a song on Spotify that says ‘Never Dead,’ and there’s a reference to Darth Vader.”

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