Megan Is Missing director on the viral movie's deeper meaning and why he turned down a remake
Michael Goi never meant for kids to find his film. And yet, over the years as Megan Is Missing popped up in "waves" online, it was "always the kids who discover it," the filmmaker tells EW.
This fall, TikTokers and Twitter users pounced on the 2011 horror movie and documented their reactions in droves, for reasons Goi still can't quite wrap his head around. Last weekend, more than 55,000 tweets were sent about the found-footage-style film, which centers on two teenage best friends (played by Rachel Quinn and Amber Perkins) who go missing. Many people on social media have called it traumatizing and terrifying, while others have dubbed it exploitative or flimsy.
Goi says the film was born out of his experience working with a forensics investigator on another project, and his dissatisfaction with programs like To Catch a Predator for their "sensationalistic" portrayal of internet predators. The filmmaker, who's gone on to shoot shows like American Horror Story, wanted to make something "raw" to capture what really could go down if kids trust the wrong people online.
Nearly 10 years after the film was released (and 14 after it was shot), Goi — who ironically is now working on his first comedy feature — revisits his divisive horror flick and talks to EW about what he would've done differently, a deeper meaning audiences might've missed, and why he turned down a remake.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: A lot of TikTokers and people who are just now seeing the movie have described it as traumatizing. You even filmed a video warning people about it. Did you anticipate the strong reaction when you were making the film?
MICHAEL GOI: Well, sure. When we made the movie, we self-financed it. A, because I didn't think anybody was going to finance it, because it was such a relentlessly grim script to begin with. And B, I knew we had to do it on a fairly tight budget, which motivated part of the decision to do it in a found-footage format. But also, that format seemed to lend itself a lot to the type of movie that I wanted to make. And the casting of unknown actors was part of that as well, because if it were known actors or faces who were recognizable, it wouldn't have that air of reality that I wanted it to have.
We shot the movie in eight and a half days, the total production budget was $35,000 and a crew of five people. With no motion picture lighting equipment, no grip equipment, no professional sound recording equipment, because I wanted the aesthetics to be very raw, and at the time that I made the movie I had more than 30 years professionally in the business. When we made the movie, I knew that it was going to be controversial. So I wasn't surprised by the reaction, really.
Is that why you think the movie went viral, because it’s marketed as found-footage and about real events?
We never set out to deceive people into thinking that it's real. I understand people's emotional reactions to the material, that they want to believe or feel like that supposedly it's real. But it is a movie, it’s a motion picture. Everything that's in the movie is based on real cases, there's nothing in the movie that I made up. Everything came from documents, court transcripts, surveillance videos, file photos, all of that from seven different cases. And so in that sense, it's entirely accurate to what actually happened in these individual cases, just the seven cases were melded into one story line.
And as I said in the second video that I recorded for the audience out there, the dialogue was entirely transcribed from audio and video recordings I've made of friends’ children. There were two sets of children that I interviewed just to get a sense of what they talk about, how they talk. And that became the dialogue and that changed the script that I thought I had in mind, because the frankness of those conversations really surprised me.
So you've talked about how you made this movie to educate and warn parents and kids about the dangers of not being careful online —
Well, not kids. I never made the movie for kids. I made the movie for adults. Kids found it.
Right. After more than a decade of this movie being out, do you feel like you've accomplished that mission?
To a degree. The movie is too extreme for some people to either take seriously or to not be judgmental of the motives behind making it. In retrospect, the message may have been clearer if the movie hadn't been so frank and brutal. But on the other hand, if the movie weren't so frank and brutal, then it would be basically a lie to what I originally had set out to do or to show. So in that way, there's a no-win situation. The kids who discovered the movie — and it's always the kids who discover it, in every wave of activity that the movie has gotten over the last 14 years or whatever. I remember the first time that it started trending up on YouTube years ago, an 11-year-old contacted me, and she says, “Wow, now I understand what my mom has been telling me about being on the internet. I didn't understand it until I watched your movie." And I said, “What are you doing watching my movie?” There's no way an 11-year-old should be watching this movie.
Was Megan Is Missing unrated or R?
It's unrated. I forget if it was actually ever officially submitted when Anchor Bay/Starz picked it up. My vague recollection is that it was submitted, but then the submission was sent back with a note saying, "Let's pretend that you've never sent us this movie." [Laughs] But we always knew that it was going to be an unrated film.
If you were to kind of revisit this movie now, would you do anything different?
I don't know that I could make this movie now. It was probably like eight or nine years ago, there was a production company in Mexico that wanted to do a Spanish version of Megan Is Missing, they contacted us and asked if I would go to Mexico City and remake the whole movie with Mexican children in Spanish. And I said, "No, I just don't want to make the movie again. I don't want to go there again." But if I were inclined to make it, I don't know that I would change them much. I mean, I remember when we were casting, casting took a long time just to get the right combination of kids, and to make sure all the parents were on board, because I refused to shoot if a parent wasn't there with their child on set every day.
I've tried to make the point in the movie subtly — maybe not too subtly — about the fact that the cute white girls get all the airplay on television. There's a boy that's missing in Crenshaw [in the movie] and it's just a passing mention, but then you don't hear from him again. And that was my acknowledgement of the fact that underprivileged or minority, diverse kids do not get that much airplay when they go missing, it is the cute white girls that make for good television. And that's why in casting, even though I'm on the board of several diversity coalitions in the industry, I said that the leads of this are going to be two white girls. And they said, "Well, why would you do that? Why wouldn't you open the casting to all races and stuff when you're in a position to do that?" And I said, because it's part of the point. I need to have the audience when they watch this immediately associate those missing children or reports with what they actually see on television every night, in order to take them where I want them to go.
Does that mean a sequel or a follow-up is out of the question?
I wouldn't say no — you know, never say never. I thought about it a couple of times, but there was really no angle that I could see that I would want to to pursue yet. My friend Marc Klaas, who runs the KlaasKids Foundation, is much more in tune with what's happening in the missing-children's world than I am. His daughter Polly was abducted and murdered. Maybe if I have a chance to get together with Mark and he shares with me different perspectives on what he does. If I approach this subject again, I would need to have some perspective on the people who actually conduct searches to find these kids and the emotional toll it takes on them.