Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers, co-creators and executive producers of Halt and Catch Fire, talk moving the show to Silicon Vallery, Joe’s latest transformation, and the underlying theme of security in Season 3.
Q: We’re heading to Silicon Valley this season! What are you most looking forward to?
Christopher C. Rogers: One of the things we’re very excited about is seeing if Mutiny, the little startup that could, can make the jump to the big leagues in California and take its place among the tech giants. Seeing our Texan characters in this shark tank of a new world will be a source of a lot of conflict and drama.
Q: How much will the culture of San Francisco during the ’80s play a part in the story?
CR: One new element of our show this year was the idea of venture capital, the money behind ideas and what changes a startup into a tech superstar. You’ll be seeing a lot of companies whose names you recognize now – companies like CompuServe and America Online – that are part of the conversation this season. Silicon Valley will be creeping in in that way, and California’s always been a place for reinvention and second chances. In the stories of Joe MacMillan, Mutiny and the Clark marriage, we’re going to be seeing if those Californian ideals can be made real for them.
Q: What kind of research did you do to prepare for this season in particular?
Christopher Cantwell: This year, we did a lot of research into the dawn of the internet, and we looked at a lot of texts dealing with Silicon Valley and how it came about. We also looked into what companies and technologies were up to in 1986, which is where we pick up after Season 2. What were the new big ideas on the horizon? We’re going to see our characters flirt with and engage with those [ideas] as they move into the next phase of their company’s lifespan.
Q: Who are your biggest inspirations in the tech field? Has their work influenced the show in any way?
CR: A lot of times, our characters are combinations of people. With Donna and Cameron, we’ve tried to emulate people like Donna Bailey, Roberta Williams or who we feel are the unsung female heroes of tech during this time. You wouldn’t be wrong to think that Joe MacMillan has shades of Steve Jobs in him this year, but we try not to draw too much from any one source or historical figure.
Q: Season 2 shifted focus from building a personal computer to the early days of the Internet. What’s it like to be transported back in time considering how technologically advanced we are today?
CC: I think it’s pretty surreal because it wasn’t that long ago that the world was completely different. Our story takes place precisely 30 years ago and this world has yet to happen upon or really implement the major concepts that completely revolutionized the way humans live their lives [today]. As excited as our characters are to change the world, build something new and become the insurgents in their industry, I think even they have no idea of the scope of how much their work at that time is about to completely upend every single aspect of life. Even while walking on set, we see the way people had their desk organized – Rolodexes, corded phones, handwritten notes and a completely analog sensibility – even as they were redefining the digital landscape. It’s such a trip and so much fun.
Q: What’s one piece of technology from the ‘80s you’d love to see make a comeback?
CR: I wish we went back to house phones and the limited availability but incredible new mobility provided by a cordless phone where you could take it as far as your bedroom, but you’d lose reception if you went out in your driveway. I think it was good for our culture, in a way. That kind of Zack Morris and Gordon Gekko phone was a thing of beauty and you felt very important using it, like you were a jungle explorer with a really cool satellite walkie-talkie. [Laughs]
CC: I loved 8-bit RPG video games. You could assign your imagination to most of the stuff going on in the graphics, and it wasn’t completely presented to you in perfect HD resolution. There was something wonderful about that.
Q: This story isn’t just about the computers. What can we expect as we continue to watch Joe’s journey now that he’s divorced Sara and unveiled his million-dollar anti-virus software company?
CC: I think we’re going to see Joe wielding a level of success and power that we haven’t seen him have. We’re going to see how that troubles him, and makes him at ease at the top of a new empire but also restless in search of the true big idea. We’ll see a guy who no longer feels the need to impress people above him because there really aren’t any at this point. We’ll feel a little bit of Joe’s loneliness at the top and see a guy who, despite having massive success, is still missing a key component in his life because of the professional and emotional damage of what happened in Season 2.
Q: What about Cameron, who has fully devoted herself to Mutiny?
CR: Cameron got on that plane to Silicon Valley fully expecting Tom to come take that seat next to her. When he didn’t, it left a big hole in her and made her double down on the work she’s doing. Cameron is someone who’s always needed to live in the middle of things. She’s not alone in a crowd, but takes comfort in anonymity and being able to get lost. Mutiny’s success means everything to Cameron. Season 3 is very much about if she can make a partnership with Donna work and take Mutiny to the next level. That path is lined with road mines because the competition is fiercer and the next big idea is going to be necessary to sustain the company – and that’s a mystery to our characters.
Q: How does the move west impact Gordon and Donna, both as a couple and as individuals?
CC: I think Gordon is looking for an identity. He’s a guy that was in a profoundly isolating place in Season 2 and now he’s decided to work at his wife’s company for his wife. He’s also upended his entire life to move to California, and he’s trying to save his marriage after what happened in Season 2. Donna is also invested in saving her marriage, but she’s also invested in making sure her company is successful. She’s already sacrificed a lot to get to where she is and she’s not ready to give up anytime soon.
Q: Which character do you identify with the most?
CR: I’ve always identified with Cameron and she’s fun to write. There’s a disruptive brattiness about the character that speaks to everything I thought was super awesome when I was 13, and that’s a wonderful excuse to sneak punk rock onto the show. I think Joe is who we all wish we could be in terms of how he articulates himself and moves through the world.
CC: I most identify with Gordon because I feel like I’m somebody who got into doing what we’re doing because of a real love for it and an obsession with the minutiae of it. I don’t feel as cool sometimes as one might need to be to maneuver so well. [Laughs] Joe illustrates that so starkly in Gordon’s life in a way that can be quite painful for Gordon. I also like to put my Texan roots into John Bosworth.
Q: What would you say the theme of Season 3 is? What can’t you wait for fans to see?
CC: We have this question in how we framed Season 3, which is: “Are you safe?” and “How sure is your footing?” The question we’re asking throughout Season 3 is about technology, relationships with other people and what it means to be vulnerable. I think our characters are asking that question a lot. There’s a big theme of security this season.
CR: I’m very excited for people to meet this Joe MacMillan. We think he jumps off the screen and the same is true of this version of Mutiny. I think there’s a real sense of maturity we’re going to see in the third season, which is the fruition of two years of backstory. Hopefully, fans of the show will be just as excited!