While it is true that every generation can claim its own revolution--some more revolutionary than others--none previous have had the far-reaching effects and reverberations as that of the computer generation of the '90s. Admittedly, computers aren't exactly a new phenomenon, but no other generation has grown up with them in their homes, in their schools and, most importantly, in their playrooms. In addition, never before has so much computing power been packed into such inexpensive machinery, allowing for an explosion of accessibility to every social and economic level, and making the computer an instrument of escape, expression and empowerment.
The last decade has seen the advent of the long-awaited information highway--an exponential increase of online and internet services that has made computer exploration virtually limitless...if you know the path.
Those who not only know the path, but can create new ones to gain access to even the most restricted information have added a new word to our lexicon--HACKERS.
"We're in a new era," director Iain Softley emphasizes. "This is uncharted territory, and I think hackers see themselves as modern-day explorers."
HACKERS was filmed on location in London and New York City, and Iain Softley collaborated with an outstanding creative team from both sides of the Atlantic to accomplish HACKERS' simultaneously contemporary and futuristic milieu. They include: director of photography Andrzej Sekula (Pulp Fiction); production designer John Beard (The Last Temptation of Christ); editors Christopher Blunden (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen) and Martin Walsh (Backbeat); Roger Burton, the legendary clothing collector, who makes his feature film debut as a costume designer; and composer Simon Boswell (Lord of Illusions).
Prominent European graphic designer Neville Brody contributed the unique computer screen art and the graphics that illustrate hackers' individual handles. Complimenting his work was that of visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang (Batman), who collaborated with Iain Softley to allow us into the mind's eye of these elite computer geniuses who see the world through its interconnecting circuits.
HACK THE PLANET
Screenwriter Rafael Moreu first encountered hacking during his freshman year in college. What instantly impressed him was the single-minded intensity of the participants, which was similar to that of dedicated artists, musicians or athletes. "I was immediately intrigued," Moreu states. "When people become so obsessed by a single activity, there has to be a story, and I wanted to investigate further."
He later made contact with some of the country's top hackers, many of whom were still in their teens and already under surveillance by the authorities. As he hung out with them and listened to their stories, he started to detect a political agenda that could easily be compared to the rebellion of the Sixties. He realized that here was a counterculture revolution; kids as young as 14 were fighting for freedom of access to information.
"These kids were beginning to realize that they'd been handed the keys to the kingdom," Moreu offers, "and now had to deal with the responsibilities that came with it."
Wanting to tell their story, Moreu reveals, "I wrote my own 'screenplay hack'--a kind of Trojan Horse program, where I could present these more serious issues in a script that also delivers the hackers' inherent sense of anarchic humor."
Co-producer Janet Graham recalls that Moreu's screenplay captured the imagination of the producers, who saw the potential of this extremely timely theme.
"We recognized that hacking has become a cultural phenomenon," Graham says. "Here are these very bright kids, who are multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and from every strata. They are neither nerds nor terrorists, but they have become proficient in something with ramifications most of us have only begun to comprehend. It raises a lot of questions about legality and morality."
Iain Softley, who had already proven his ability to capture the origins of a young counterculture with the critically acclaimed Backbeat, came on board to helm the film. The director was immediately attracted to the opportunity to explore a growing sub-culture that promises to have an equal or even greater impact on the world.
Softley notes, "It wasn't as much the computers as the idea that here was a phenomenon that today's generation has latched onto in the way that their predecessors latched onto rock 'n' roll. I think their agenda is simply to have fun, to do what they want to do and not allow anybody to tell them what not to do."
In fact, recent news stories corroborate that, from the government on down, those in authority are having a difficult time figuring out what exactly it is that hackers can and cannot do. Softley notes, "Laws are being passed that are trying to define a world that's changing so quickly, it's difficult to keep up. What is legal and what is illegal? Who is the criminal?
"HACKERS presents a number of questions that are begging to be asked, let alone answered," Softley remarks. "The irony is that the biggest crime--one that could unravel the whole of modern society--could conceivably be perpetrated by a kid in his bedroom with some fairly basic equipment. It's funny, but there's an inescapably serious side to it."
A CAST OF HACKERS
In casting the eclectic band of elite hackers, Softley and casting director Dianne Crittenden screened over 1,000 actors from across the United States. In England, their efforts were supported by London casting director Michelle Guish (Four Weddings and a Funeral). The result is an ensemble of young actors who are not only talented, but reflect the diversity of the computer generation they represent. Newcomers Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie lead the group as Dade and Kate, who first square off before joining forces to defeat a common enemy.
Though he is English, Miller has a tremendous ear for dialects and worked with a coach to mask his accent perfectly. "Dade is a bit cocky and arrogant," he describes his character. "From the moment he and Kate meet, there's a lot of double meaning in their talk; they have a flirtation, but it's fueled by a complete dislike for each other. But Dade can't deny that he is fascinated by Kate, and when they find their common ground it becomes the playing field on which they can communicate their feelings for one another."
Angelina Jolie adds, "Kate has to respect Dade, and that adds to her attraction to him." Jolie soon learned that, as Kate, she was playing a true minority in the world of computers. "I talked to a lot of male hackers who told me that, even though it's changing, very few hackers are women, so it's difficult for them to fit in. I think that's why Kate is so strong-willed and disciplined: she knows she's good, but she feels she has to be tough to be accepted as an equal."
Rounding out the group of young, street-smart computer whizzes are: Jesse Bradford as Joey, the wannabee hacker who's in desperate search of a handle; Matthew Lillard as Cereal Killer, who Lillard describes as "the Renaissance Man of the group"; Laurence Mason as Lord Nikon, whose photographic memory gives him what Mason calls "a living computer in his brain"; and Renoly Santiago as Phantom Phreak, the telephone company's worst nightmare.
Providing a formidable foe to the elite hackers is Fisher Stevens as The Plague, a master hacker in his own right who has sold out for corporate greed. "A hacker's true quest is not materialistic; they're after knowledge and information," Stevens explains. "My character, Eugene, The Plague, has gone beyond that. He thinks he's gone as far as he can go, so he might as well get paid for it. He sees Dade as an obstacle, but he also understands him...he once was him. But now, he thinks he can destroy this kid; Dade ain't nothing compared to The Plague."
Academy Award nominee Lorraine Bracco stars as Margo, The Plague's accomplice, with whom the less computer-initiated are sure to identify. Though her executive post at Ellingson Mineral Corporation gives Plague the access he needs for their scheme, it is also her lack of computer savvy that opens the door for the hackers to jeopardize their plot.
"I wanted to do the role because I had met Iain and had seen Backbeat, which I thought was brilliant," Bracco says. "It was a different kind of role for me; I don't usually get to play the villainess, so this was fun."
The younger cast engaged in a two-part training program to achieve the skills necessary for their roles: one part treacherous, the other tedious. The filmmakers felt it was important that they be as dexterous with a computer keyboard as their characters would be, so each of them was enrolled in a crash-course of typing and computer classes, requiring hours of repetitive practice. Several scenes also called for the kids to zip through the streets of New York on rollerblades. Their training on rollerblades was, unfortunately, also something of a crash course, though they all came out none the worse for wear.
One of the most visually exciting aspects of HACKERS is the colorfully eclectic wardrobe of the title characters. In an inspired coup, the filmmakers secured legendary clothing collector Roger Burton as the film's costume designer. Remarkably, though Burton's knowledge of fashion has proven invaluable on such films as Julian Temple's Absolute Beginners and Franc Roddam's Quadrophenia, HACKERS marked his first project as a costume designer.
Working from the character descriptions in the original script, Burton pre-conceived a lot of their look long before casting had been completed. His costumes perfectly--and sometimes humorously--delineated the uniquely individual personalities and talents of the young hackers.
Producer Janet Graham notes, "The costumes reflected a 'found object' approach, with layers of accessories creating a heightened street look."
"None of the kids are particularly rich," Burton adds, "so it made sense that they would shop in thrift shops and such to customize their own look." With that in mind, the costumes for HACKERS became a combination of original designs and pieces purchased from second hand stores, thrift shops and even street vendors. This posed a particular problem for the production.
"On a film set, you need doubles, or even triples of costumes in case one is damaged or destroyed before you are finished with it," says Graham. "However, thrift shops and street vendors rarely carry two or three of any item. In some cases, we had to create duplicates...sometimes we just risked it."
To accessorize the costumes, Burton collaborated extensively with production designer John Beard, set decorator Joanne Woollard and the props department. Beard carried the "found object" theme from the costumes through to his motifs for the hackers' raucous hangouts, Robot's Revolt and Cyberdelia.
Part nightclub, part clubhouse, Cyberdelia is not unlike many of the cyberclubs discovered by the filmmakers in their research for the film. Iain Softley wanted it to be a multi-levelled cacophony of sights and sounds where the hackers could come to exchange information, check out the latest equipment and match their skills on state-of-the-art computer games.
To accomplish the multi-levelled concept, Cyberdelia was built from scratch in an abandoned indoor swimming pool on the outskirts of London, with the center of the club in the depths of what was the pool. Producer Ralph Winter notes, "We never knew why, but the pool was designated an historic landmark, so great care had to be taken not to damage anything and to return it to its original state."
Cyberdelia is also the place where Dade and Kate first officially square off on a computer game called WipeOut. The game was created by Sony Playstations who designed sequences specifically for HACKERS.
THE MIND'S EYE
Throughout the film, the director sought to blur the lines between reality and fantasy, to intermingle the worlds inside and outside of the computer. "I wanted to show how hackers have a sort of second sight, an X-ray view of the world," Softley explains.
"It's like walking down a street with an architect who knows how everything was built," Rafael Moreu adds. "Elite hackers see the world just under the skin, all computer systems and link-ups."
In HACKERS, the image of Dade's mind's eye is conveyed in an early scene when his plane flies into Manhattan. As he looks down at the buildings, they seem to transform into a giant computer circuit board, with information flashing from one building to the next. Later in the film, the inside labyrinth of Ellingson Mineral's giant computer takes on the appearance of towering buildings.
"We made the city look like a computer and the main computer look like a city," Softley says. "In the movie, the parallel world of computers appears just as real as the everyday world. The real and the imaginary are superimposed on one another. This visual treatment gave me the opportunity to create a fantastic, slightly hallucinogenic feel to the story. As Dade and the others begin to hack, we travel with them through an information vortex, composed of a rapid succession of images into an infinite inner space."
Softley worked with visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang to achieve his vision of a melding finite and cyber-world. Interestingly, in a film about computers, almost all of the special effects were achieved without computer animation. Softley explains, "We used the more conventional methods of motion control, animation, models and rotoscoping to create a real three-dimensional world, because, in my opinion, computer graphics alone can sometimes lend a more flat, sterile image."
The High School scenes were befittingly shot at Stuyvesant High School, which doubled in the film for Stanton High School. Located on the Hudson River in the financial district, Stuyvesant is a brand new, multi-million dollar facility, which is one of the most state-of-the-art education centers in the country.
The school, as it turned out, was an even more appropriate choice than the filmmakers could have imagined. A few months after HACKERS wrapped filming at the school, several of Stuyvesant's students were busted by the F.B.I. for...hacking.
Softley concludes, "In many ways, the backdrop, the thing that binds these characters together, isn't just the hacking; it's the shared interest in cyberculture as a whole. One of the things I tried to bring to the movie was the sense that here was a colorful, passionate, sexy, energetic, fast-paced, adrenaline-driven world that audiences would want to visit for a while."
For Movie Ticket Information, Click Here