Making coding sexy sounds like a brain freeze of a writing prompt. Deservedly, Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail is earning praise for the “best hacking show yet.” It's likely because, as Esmail puts it, the show dropped the green screen computers and cut out all the “bullshit that doesn’t make any sense anyway.”
It’s a minor detail that some fans might not pick up on, but Mr. Robot is the first show centered on computer hacking that doesn’t make real coders and cyber security workers cringe. So when star Rami Malek starts typing away, he’s actually looking up at real code created by the show’s tech consultants. “Rami had to put the code into it,” Esmail joked to the audience at Mr. Robot’s SXSW 2016 panel.
The series debuted in Austin last year, winning the SXSW audience award, on the way to becoming a breakout hit for USA. Coming full circle, Esmail, along with stars Malek and Christian Slater, returned to SXSW for a panel to discuss the convergence of tech authenticity and the narrative film world. Keeping the series as close to reality as possible while drumming up the dramatic intensity was a balance for Esmail. During season one, he’d lean on his tech consultants, an assistant from the cyber security realm (who was promoted to a writer), and FBI consultants fed his staff real world stories ideas.
“I wanted to tell a story about that culture,” Esmail said. “I found these people very interesting. I was watching all this cheesy crap. [Television] is not great at representing who these people are.”
Esmail was careful to stray into plots that seemed unrealistic. “I read a lot of tech blogs so I kind of knew what was plausible and what wasn’t,” he said. “It’s a slippery slope.”
When asked if he had a responsibility to portray the issues of the tech world in an accurate light, Esmail wanted to make the show approachable for casual viewers, but not at the sacrifice of authenticity.
“If you keep bringing it up and do it in a creditable way that shows both sides, people will be invested and will want to learn more about it,” he said.
As for whether that encouraged Esmail’s star to learn the languages of the tech world, Malek shot back a quick “no,” to audience laughter.
“It is enticing and appealing and I’m glad other people can do it,” Malek said.
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