Computer hacking in film and TV has taken on many different forms over the years, from the more visual approach of “Hackers” to the narration-heavy “Mr. Robot.” A group of panelists gathered at Google in Venice, Calif. on Monday to discuss hacking and cyber security’s growing popularity in storylines.
“If the hack is not feasible in real life it doesn’t get into our script,” Kor Adana, a writer and technical producer on “Mr. Robot” said. “I spend my day breaking story in the writers’ room but I spend my night talking to my team of consultants and we’ll come up with an approach that’s feasible and works.”
If a hack gets written in, Adana said that he and his team will actually perform the hack to get screenshots or video of what the screen would look like. They then create a Flash program that they end up shooting with stars Rami Malek or Christian Slater or Carly Chaikin.
“I’m there on set practicing it with them, making sure it looks accurate so they hit the alt-tab at the right spot or they hit ‘enter’ at the right spot,” Adana said.
When creating shows that deal with the complexities of coding, however, it becomes a juggling act to negotiate those complexities with a main stream audience.
“There are characters on our show that are hackers by broad definition and we like to have them approach personal problems from that place,” Christopher C. Rogers, one of the showrunners on AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire, said. “I think it really helps for Chris [Cantwell] and I to be people that don’t really understand the deep tech because the process of having it explained to you by people intimately familiar with it gives you the metaphors and facilities to give it back to the general public.”
Adana agreed, saying that if the characters weren’t interesting then it wouldn’t matter if the tech was right.
“Story comes first for us,” Adana said. “The viewer may not understand the nuts and bolts of the technology but if they understand the stakes of the scene or the character’s motivation and what Elliot is going through, that is what’s most important to us.”
The panel, moderated by Reagan Gomez, also included Sarah Ullman, the executive producer of “Coin Heist,” Parisa Tabriz, the self-proclaimed Security Princess and Google Chrome Engineering Director, and Mark Abene, an infosec expert and entrepreneur.