'Halt and Catch Fire' Co-Creators Chris Rogers and Chris Cantwell: How We Made It in Hollywood

The duo discuss heir desire to write for TV, and how 'Halt and Catch Fire' went from spec script to series.
AP Images/Invision

Chris Rogers and Chris Cantwell, co-creators of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, have had an incredibly lucrative partnership. It took writing one Black Listed feature script to get them in the door of the best cable networks on television and one innovative script to get their show on AMC. That script was the pilot for Halt and Catch Fire. Perhaps their high-functioning partnership is the reason for their early success in television. Rogers and Cantwell spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about how they got their start in Hollywood.

Chris Cantwell

I started in film school at University of Southern California’s screenwriting program as an undergrad and did a little television writing at school. I had written a Monk spec script and that was basically the extent of my television writing. It was Chris Rogers, who, when we decided to start writing together in August of 2010, said that the best movies he had seen over the last five years had all been television shows. I think there’s some honest truth in that given what was on at the time. Mad Men was in its prime, so was Breaking Bad. Chris gave me the Breaking Bad script and I was just amazed by it.

Chris Rogers

I came out of magazines originally. I started at The Atlantic out of Washington D.C., then came to Los Angeles to work for Conde Naste. The Wire was the first thing I watched. It was beautiful, well done, and entertaining. I think TV was coming into its own in a fresh and easy way. Chris and I are both in our early 30s and so we’re second-generation writers to a lot of the difficult men genre shows. We were working together at Disney, him as the creative director for social media online marketing, and he hired me to organize and manage content on Facebook.

Chris Cantwell

I read something he was working on and one, fell in love with the writing and thought, 'Wow, this guy is super good and I can’t beat him, so I should join him.' And two, I think we brought different things to that partnership at the time. We worked together for about a year before we both realized we were writers.

So, Chris Rogers and I started to talk about what we wanted to do and my childhood in Texas really informed it. My father moved us down to Texas from Chicago when I was about six years old. There were so many opportunities to work in computers and he was a salesman, which had a big impact on me. I worked on computers when I was very little and I still remember a time before computers.

We’re both research guys and Chris Rogers is a history major, so we dug deep on computing and tried to find a story we hadn’t heard and wasn’t informed by the Bill Gates /Steve Jobs, Microsoft/Apple narrative. So we discovered that Texas was the place where people reverse engineered the IBM PC for the first time. A lot of the stuff happening was really unexplored thematically, so that was our jumping off point.

I know when we wrote it, I sat with my dad for two hours and just talked to him about his work and the different vernacular used and loosened him up with a couple of beers. It was the first time I’d written anything close to real life experience. He called me after he read it and I was really nervous to see what he thought of it. He told me that it was the best thing of mine he had ever read, which meant a lot to me.

Believe it or not, our first job for television was Halt and Catch Fire. Chris Rogers and I just sat down in 2010 and we wrote one script [The Knoll] that had gotten some attention because it was put on the Black List and then we were told to write something else so we could be staffed and that’s when we wrote Halt and Catch Fire.

Chris and I had said initially upon creating our partnership, what’s the end game of writing together? What do we ultimately want? Well, maybe in five-10 years we can have our own show on a prestige cable network. And as tremendous good fortune would have it, that was the first thing we ended up getting because AMC was so interested in the script that they ended up acquiring it. They picked up the pilot and it went to series. It was a little crazy.

We wrote Halt and Catch Fire on spec. Our agents who were trying to staff us told us to write something that we love because we’ll never be able to sell it. We still have the email from our agents, who we love, which said sounds great, interesting, but we probably can’t sell it. They ended up sending it to HBO, Showtime, and AMC. We had general meetings with HBO and Showtime where we went in, got our bottle of water, were told to send them the next thing we wrote and we thought it would be the same at AMC, but it wasn’t.

We weren’t parking on someone’s couch in an office; we were in a conference room! Not one, but three executives came in with copies of our script, which was very different for Chris and I. So we just went on as long as we could about why were passionate about the show and our personal connections to the story. We basically talked until they threw us out of there. They ended up being very interested, brought us back in, we laid out what we thought the series should be and soon after, it was picked up.

Chris Rogers

To get to do this is the dream. I hope we get to do this for a long, long time.

Personal: Both married. Rogers lives in L.A. Cantwell lives in Claremont, Calif.
Reps: Dan Erlij and Mickey Berman, UTA
Hot Project: Co-creators of Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)