May 23, 2014 8:00am PT by Bryn Elise Sandberg
AMC's 'Halt and Catch Fire': Producers, Cast on the Tech Show Boom
AMC's period computing drama, Halt and Catch Fire, is the latest addition to a growing slate of tech programming.
It may be a new world for the network best known for zombies, meth dealers and advertising execs, but it's an increasingly familiar one, thanks to recent HBO entry Silicon Valley and a spate of films including The Social Network, Jobs and Aaron Sorkin's upcoming Steve Jobs movie. In a bid to differentiate itself in that crowded landscape, Halt has opted to enter the ring in an earlier era -- the 1980s.
When executive producers Chris Cantwell and Chris Rogers set out to pen their next project, they asked themselves a simple question: How did we end up in the world we're in today, where technology is completely interwoven into every facet of our lives? The duo identified the personal computing wave of the '80s as the particular milestone that set that technological movement in motion.
"As we examine our modern condition and consider whether we are actually drifting further apart in our connected world, this topic is on all of our minds, and it’s behind the rise of shows like Silicon Valley," Rogers tells The Hollywood Reporter, adding, "We wanted to tell the story of all these little Davids who took down the Goliath that was IBM."
Kerry Bishe, who plays Donna Clark, a former PC genius turned working mother, has her own theory about the rise in tech-themed entertainment. "There’s this idea that we’re investigating origin stories.... A lot people making content now were children when the beginning of this technological revolution that changed the world was going on," she posits. "We want to understand the world that we came into, and maybe that gives us some insight into who we are now and where we might be going forward."
Cantwell and Rogers, both in their early 30s, noted as much, acknowledging that they were particularly interested in examining the world they grew up in. At six weeks old, Cantwell moved to Dallas when his father took a computing job as a salesman in system software: "All that he brought home had an effect on me as a kid." (Pulling from personal experience has benefited Silicon Valley, too, with creator Mike Judge drawing from his engineer roots and exec producer Alec Berg lifting from his brother's experience as an electrical engineer in grad school at Stanford.)
The producers reached beyond their own experiences, too. The pair took numerous trips to the L.A. Central Public Library to gather whatever they could about the time period, reading books about companies from Electronic Data Systems and Texas Instruments to Exxon Mobile.
They also brought in technical consultants, including individuals who were at IBM, Apple and Lotus during the PC boom, and encouraged their actors to draw inspiration. Scoot McNairy, who plays Gordon Clark, the genius engineer who's lost his spunk, sat down with Microsoft's Carl Ledbetter, for instance, to learn about the personalities -- both their behaviors and their idiosyncrasies -- of the big industry players of that time.
Beyond offering technical advice, the advisors helped to elucidate the human struggle at the center of all the technological changes, which Cantwell and Rogers insist is at the heart of their drama. "It’s not really about computers," adds star Lee Pace, who plays Halt's Jobs-esque mercurial visionary, Joe MacMillan. "It’s about people. It’s about entrepreneurship. It’s about a new endeavor."
Halt and Catch Fire premieres on Sunday, June 1 at 10 p.m. on AMC.