The Fresh Faces Behind “Halt And Catch Fire”
BY: Marjorie Galas, Editor
“Halt and Catch Fire,” a dramatic series that follows the rise of the PC era in Texas during the 80s, has amassed a pedigree of some of the industry’s finest alumni both in front and behind the camera. A short list includes show runner Jonathan Lisco (NYPD Blue, Southland), producer Mark Johnson (Breaking Bad, Rectify), director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, The L Word), editor Kelley Dixon (Breaking Bad, Shameless) and cinematographer Nelson Cragg (CSI, Homeland). However, it is the first prime time series for creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers.
“We have a story I think that would probably infuriate most writers, in that this is the second thing that we ever wrote together, and here it is on TV, and on AMC no less,” said Rogers.
Aware that their lucky break may, at first glance, appear to be a fluke, both Cantwell and Rogers have been writing individually for over ten years. They met by happenstance at The Walt Disney Company: the online movie company Cantwell had been working for was brought by Disney and he was shifted into the marketing division. Rogers was hired by Cantwell’s team to run editorial program for Facebook, Twitter and other social networking platforms. A year after working together they discover each had graduated from a college screenwriting program (Cantwell at USC Undergrad screenwriting program, Rogers at UCLA Grad screenwriting program.) Cantwell shared an idea he had with Rogers over beers one night and the two collaborated on a script that earned them representation. Their second collaboration, “Halt and Catch Fire,” was an idea that emerged out of a staffing sample they were able to create without the concept of selling it or trying to predict the market. AMC loved the concept, and the script became the first thing they sold as writers.
In prepping their story, Cantwell and Rogers wanted to place a new spin on the Silicon Valley experience. Both research nuts, they investigated every angle and back story of the subject. They were looking for a hook that they felt they could deliver upon, and found it creating a wild west for the PC age, where people from all over the country were heading to the open range of Texas with the promise of finding new opportunities.
“We wanted to find the place you didn’t know. Silicon Valley, Boston , New York, IBM, Microsoft, all those stories and companies have been exploited dramatically to great effect,” said Cantwell. “Texas had so much going on, in fact, that locally it was known as the Silicon Prairie. You had companies like EDS, you had Michael Dell making computers in his dorm room, you had Texas Instruments, and Charles Tandy who brought Radio Shack and created the Tandy computer and marketed it to great success.”
With the setting in place, Cantwell and Rogers went about carefully constructing characters that would be compelling, well rounded and far from Texas stereotypes of “big hair and big hats.” Cantwell grew up in Texas during the 80s and wanted to explore the community he remembered – transplants from states as diverse as Missouri and New York who were entering Texas to explore new business opportunities.
“Texas is very much a character in the show, and it informs the decisions and the backdrop of it,” said Rogers. “It’s easy to make Texans into a cartoon; what’s been so wonderful working with a native Texan is that he helps us stear away from the stereotypes. We were able to focus on the humanity of the characters and keep them grounded in their realities, and show the ruthlessness of the tech industry.”
“We juxtapose old world Texas ranch style living with guys who are making major investments in the tech world and working on motherboards, Who are the white hats, and who are the black hats,” said Cantwell.
While a few shots in the pilot were conducted in Dallas, Atlanta, Georgia, is doubling for Texas in the 80s. While a number of off season “The Walking Dead” crew members help with the production of the show, AMC worked to round up a stellar team of producers, directors and department heads to execute all the details of creating an authentic period piece. Cantwell and Rogers feel incredibly amazed by the level of talent hat has put their idea into motion, and often find humor in the product staff coming to them to verify aesthetic choices that align with elements in the script.
“To see that manifested by people with credits like Mad Men, Homeland , Deadwood, Southland, the Sopranos, Boogie Nights,” said Cantwell. “To see that happen, and to put that full force of the talent and skill with the idea that we started with, has really been a dream come true.”
“There is a very deliberate lighting to our show that Nelson Cragg created that was derived from ‘The Parallax View’ and the cinematography work of Gordan Willis; a lot of harsh overhead lighting, warm and cool tones in the same frame, it looks like a movie for that reason, and we love that,” said Rogers.
“Halt and Catch Fire” had it’s world premiere at SXSW on March 8th, and will be premiering on AMC June 1st. To learn more please visit: