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James Minchin III/AMC

13 Explosive Facts About Halt and Catch Fire

James Minchin III/AMC
James Minchin III/AMC

Halt and Catch Fire is a period drama that has not gotten nearly the amount of publicity that its other AMC brethren—including Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead—have, but here it is, getting ready to start its third season and on a creative upswing.

The series began its run set in Texas's Silicon Prairie, circa 1983, and focused on Lee Pace as master computer huckster Joe MacMillan, who convinces programmers Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) and Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) to help him reverse-engineer the PC and become a major tech player. The second season's main drive was Gordon's wife, the equally accomplished programmer Donna Clark (Kerry Bishé), and Cameron's new business venture Mutiny, which eventually focused on chat rooms.

For the series' third season—which is set in 1986—the action is moving to San Francisco, with Joe now running an anti-virus company and plotting his next big move, while Donna and Cameron continue Mutiny with Gordon and their old Texas boss, John Bosworth (Toby Huss). Just in time for the new season's premiere, here are some facts about the Emmy-nominated series.

1. IT WAS CREATED BY DISNEY MARKETERS.

James Minchin/AMC

Christopher Cantwell was a marketing executive who came up with the viral Toy Story 3 promo of a fake Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear YouTube upload. Cantwell and his colleague, Christopher C. Rogers, wrote a movie script together before writing the Halt and Catch Fire pilot as a spec script, just as a way to get staffed on a writing show. "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," Cantwell said. "We still have the email from our agents, who we love, which said 'Sounds great, interesting, but we probably can’t sell it.'" Still, they sent it off to HBO, Showtime, and AMC; AMC bit.

2. THEY SET IT IN TEXAS BECAUSE THE AREA WASN'T "EXPLOITED."

“We wanted to find the place you didn’t know," Cantwell explained. "Silicon Valley, Boston, New York, IBM, Microsoft, all those stories and companies have been exploited dramatically to great effect.” But Texas, Cantwell pointed out, was also a pretty big tech player. "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," said Cantwell, whose father was also working there as a software salesman.

When they were writing the pilot, "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," Cantwell told The Hollywood Reporter. "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."

3. THE SHOW'S TITLE IS A PC COMMAND.

"Halt and Catch Fire," or "HCF," was originally a fictitious machine code that would make a machine's CPU self-destruct. Computer programmers later made real HCFs.

4. THE CAST AND CREW DID A LOT OF READING TO PREPARE.

The writing staff read Tracy Kidder's 1981 nonfiction book The Soul of a New Machine, which documented a computer engineering team's attempt to build a new computer, and watched documentaries like Triumph of the Nerds. Both Scoot McNairy and Lee Pace read Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography for research. Pace also read up on Ivan Boesky. Pace told The Guardian that he thinks his character has read the same books he did. "I think Joe is looking at Steve Jobs, [crooked stockbroker] Ivan Boesky, and everyone making a difference in tech and finance at that time and going, ‘God, what is that guy doing right? How can I do that?’"

5. STEVE WOZNIAK SAW A LITTLE STEVE JOBS IN JOE MACMILLAN, TOO.

James Minchin/AMC

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak hosted a panel with the cast and creators of Halt and Catch Fire after the pilot was screened at SXSW in 2014. Not only did Wozniak confirm that the show was realistic, but he also said that MacMillan reminded him of Jobs, describing him as "a little untrustworthy."

6. THE FEMALE CHARACTERS HAVE REAL-LIFE INSPIRATIONS, TOO.

Rogers said that, in creating Cameron and Donna, he and Cantwell were inspired by the likes of Roberta Williams, Donna Bailey, Grace Hopper, and Ada Lovelace. "Looking ahead, should we be so lucky as to do a third season," Rogers added in 2015, "the respective rises of [Facebook COO] Sheryl Sandberg and [Yahoo! CEO] Marissa Mayer are of great interest to us."

7. SCOOT MCNAIRY AND KERRY BISHÉ HAD PLAYED HUSBAND AND WIFE BEFORE.

Bishé and McNairy played Kathy and Joe Stafford, respectively, in Ben Affleck's Oscar-winning Argo. Neither actor believes that Argo had anything to do with them being cast as a married couple in Halt and Catch Fire. "It was just a happy coincidence," Bishé said.

8. IT MADE INTERNET HISTORY.

Halt and Catch Fire became the first television show to ever premiere on Tumblr. It debuted on the social media platform two weeks before it premiered on AMC.

9. CAMERON PLAYED CENTIPEDE IN THE PILOT EPISODE FOR A REASON.

"I feel like we wanted to make her representative of the wave that was coming next, both generationally and technologically," Rogers recalled. "To us, games were that, and Centipede felt just the right blend of addictive and frenetic to mirror Cameron's mental state in those pilot scenes. Also, after season one, we learned the story of Donna Bailey, the female programmer who invented Centipede but never got credit for it. We actually sponsored a video that Vice produced to help tell her story."

10. THE VINTAGE COMPUTERS ARE REAL.

They get the 1980s relics from the Rhode Island Computer Museum in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. Some of the parts don't always work, but they're the real thing—including the Atari Cameron played in season two.

11. TOBY HUSS PREFERS THE SEASON TWO VERSION OF HIS CHARACTER TO THE SEASON ONE VERSION.

"The show, to me, is almost two different shows," Huss, who plays John Bosworth, said. "There’s the first season, which almost stands alone from the second season, because it’s so different. I think Bosworth, in the first season, was just this tool to set the tone of that established Texas American capitalist patriarchy that they had to enter into and get caught up in. And he was, but I think they kind of liked my character, so they decided to keep me around." He added, "Both iterations of Bosworth are pretty great, but I like the second better."

Rogers recalled that when he watched the last scene of the pilot, when Bosworth threatens Joe, he found himself wondering why he was on Bosworth's side."Toby's wiry, folky energy was just such a natural fit for Mutiny ... that we couldn't have lived with ourselves if we just told another story of an older guy in the industry becoming obsolete."

12. MACKENZIE DAVIS STILL HAS TROUBLE TYPING.

James Minchin/AMC

"I’m actually a very bad typer!" Davis insisted in 2014. "Practicing with an old keyboard in my apartment for each episode was always a bit of an uphill battle." One year later, she claimed she didn't improve. "I thought I could play it off as a character choice for Cameron," Davis reasoned, "but then I discovered how many people of that generation couldn’t type, so I guess this is period accuracy seeping through."

13. LEE PACE THINKS HIS CHARACTER IS A WALKING GREEK TRAGEDY.

"He’s not a bad guy, that’s the secret to him," Pace said of his character, Joe MacMillan, before season two began airing. "There’s an idea I’ve been playing with this season—the gods hate Joe. There is a sense that no matter how hard he works, he might fail, no matter how hard he tries to be agreeable to the people he’s with, they still don’t see him. And that’s this almost Greek condition of frustration."

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16 Geeky Coasters to Keep Your Coffee Table Safe
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Avoid unsightly ring stains on your coffee table with this delightful selection of coasters:

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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Build your own coaster with this LEGO-esque design.

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This ceramic set celebrates all the best ships from Star Trek.

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Just because it’s the end of the world doesn’t mean all manners go out the door: Never forget to use a coaster!

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This set comes with 10 coasters, each with a slice of brain specimen. When you’re not using them, you can stack them together to create a full brain.

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15 Educational Facts About Old School
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DreamWorks

Old School starred Luke Wilson as Mitch Martin, an attorney who—after catching his girlfriend cheating, and through some real estate and bitter dean-related circumstances—becomes the leader of a not-quite-official college fraternity. Along with his fellow thirtysomething friends Bernard (Vince Vaughn) and newlywed Frank (Will Ferrell), they end up having to fight for their right to maintain their status as a party-loving frat on campus.

The film, which was released 15 years ago today, marked Vaughn’s return to major comedies and Ferrell’s first major starring role after seven years on Saturday Night Live. Here are some facts about the movie for everyone, but particularly for my boy, Blue.

1. THE IDEA ORIGINATED WITH AN AD GUY.

Writer-director Todd Phillips was talking to a friend of his from the advertising industry named Court Crandall one day. Crandall had seen and enjoyed Phillips's movie Frat House (1998) and told his director buddy, “You know what would be funny is a movie about older guys who start a fraternity of their own.” After being told by Phillips to write it, he presented Phillips with a “loose version” of the finished product.

2. SOME OF THE FRAT SHENANIGANS WERE REAL.

While Crandall received the story credit for Old School, Phillips and Scot Armstrong received the credit for writing the script. Armstrong put his own college fraternity experiences into the script. “We were in Peoria, Illinois, so it was up to us to entertain ourselves," Armstrong shared in the movie's official production notes. "A lot of ideas for Old School came from things that really happened. When it was cold, everyone would go stir crazy and it inspired some moments of brilliance. Of course, my definition of ‘brilliance' might be different from other people's.”

3. IVAN REITMAN HELPED OUT.

Ivan Reitman, director of Stripes and Ghostbusters, was an executive producer on the film. Phillips and Armstrong wrote and rewrote every day for two months at Reitman’s house, an experience Phillips described as comedy writing “boot camp.”

4. THE STUDIO DIDN’T WANT VINCE VAUGHN.

Vince Vaughn in 'Old School' (2003)
DreamWorks

It didn’t seem to make a difference to DreamWorks that Phillips and Armstrong had written the role of Bernard with Vince Vaughn in mind—the studio didn't want him. After his breakout success in Swingers, Vaughn had taken roles in dramas like the 1998 remake of Psycho. “So when Todd Phillips wanted me for Old School, the studio didn’t want me,” Vaughn told Variety in 2015. “They didn’t think I could do comedy! They said, ‘He’s a dramatic actor from smaller films.’ Todd really had to push for me.”

5. RECYCLED SHOTS OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY WERE USED.

The film was mainly shot on the Westwood campus of UCLA. The aerial shots of the fictitious Harrison University, however, were of Harvard; they had been shot for Road Trip (2000).

6. VINCE VAUGHN FANS MIGHT RECOGNIZE THE CHURCH.

In the film, Frank gets married at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pasadena, California. Vaughn and Owen Wilson were in that same church two years later for Wedding Crashers (2005).

7. WILL FERRELL SCARED MEMBERS OF A 24-HOUR GYM.

Frank’s streaking scene was shot on a city street. As Ferrell remembered it, one of the storefronts was a 24-hour gym with Stairmasters and treadmills in the window. “I was rehearsing in a robe, and all these people are in the gym, watching me. I asked one of the production assistants, ‘Shouldn’t we tell them I’m going to be naked?’ Sure enough, I dropped my robe and there were shrieks of pure horror. After the first take, nobody was at the window anymore. I took that as a sign of approval.”

8. FERRELL REALLY WAS NAKED.

Ferrell justified it by saying it showed his character falling off the wagon. “The fact that it made sense was the reason I was really into doing it, and why I was able to commit on that level," Ferrell told the BBC. "If it was just for the sake of doing a crazy shot, then I don't think it makes sense.” Still, Ferrell needed some liquid courage, and was intimidated by the presence of Snoop Dogg.

9. ROB CORDDRY WAS NOT NAKED, BUT HE STILL HAD TO SIGN AWAY HIS NUDITY RIGHTS.

Old School marked the first major film role for Rob Corddry, who at the time was best known as a correspondent for The Daily Show. He had a jewel bag around his private parts for his nude scene, but his butt made it into the final cut. He had to sign a nudity clause, which gave the film the right to use his naked image “in any part of the universe, in any form, even that which is not devised.”

10. SNOOP DOGG AGREED TO CAMEO SO HE COULD PLAY HUGGY BEAR IN STARSKY & HUTCH.

Phillips admitted to essentially bribing the hip-hop artist/actor, using Snoop Dogg’s desire to play the street informant in the modern movie adaptation of the classic TV show (which Phillips was also directing) to his advantage. “So when I went to him I said, 'I want you to do Huggy Bear,' he was really excited. And I said, 'Oh yeah, also will you do this little thing for me in Old School a little cameo?' So he kind of had to do it I think."

11. SNOOP WANTED TO HANG OUT WITH VINCE VAUGHN ON SET, BUT NOT LUKE WILSON.

Snoop Dogg in 'Old School' (2003)
Richard Foreman, Dreamworks

Vaughn and his friends accepted an invitation to hang out in Snoop Dogg’s trailer to play video games on the last day of shooting. Vaughn recalled seeing Luke Wilson later watching the news alone in his trailer; he had not been informed of the get-together.

12. WILSON WAS TEASED BY HIS CO-STARS.

Vaughn, Wilson, and Ferrell dubbed themselves “The Wolfpack”—years before Phillips directed The Hangover—because they would always make fun of each other. A particularly stinging exchange had Ferrell refer to Legally Blonde (which Wilson had starred in) as Legally Bland. Wilson said it didn’t make him feel great. Wilson retorted by telling Ferrell that "the transition from TV to the movies isn't a very easy one, so you might just want to keep one foot back in TV just in case this whole movie thing falls through!"

13. TERRY O’QUINN SCARED HIS SONS INTO THINKING THEY WERE TRIPPING.

Terry O’Quinn (who went on to play John Locke on Lost the following year) agreed to play Goldberg, uncredited, in what was a two-day job for him. He neglected to inform his sons he was in the movie, and when they saw it, one of them called their father. “I got a call from my sons one night, and they said, ‘What were you doing in Old School? We didn’t even know you were in it!’ They said, ‘We’re sitting there, and the first time we see you, it’s, like, in a reflection in a window. And when we saw it, and we both thought we were, like, tripping or something!’”

14. THE EARMUFFS WERE IMPROVISED.

Before filming, Vaughn worked with Ferrell to figure out their characters' backstories and how they knew each other; he credited that with helping him figure out who Bernard was, which led to several ad-libbed moments. “The earmuff scene where he swears in front of the kids, and then I tell the kid to earmuff, that all is off the cuff. But that stuff is a lot easier to do when you know who you are and your circumstances, and who your characters are,” Vaughn explained.

15. FERRELL AND VAUGHN DIDN’T LOVE A SCRIPT FOR A SEQUEL.

Armstrong had written Old School Dos in 2006, which saw the frat going to Spring Break. Ferrell said that he and Vaughn read the script but felt like they would just be “kind of doing the same thing again.” Wilson, on the other hand, was excited over the new script.

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