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Former high school hacker Carl Arbogast (RIVER PHOENIX) is the youngest sneaker on the team.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
The title page of the "Sneakers" screenplay reads, "Based on 27-man-years of drafts by Phil Alden Robinson, Walter F. Parkes and Lawrence Lasker." It's an amusing reminder that numerous film projects begin their uphill climb into production many years before the cameras actually roll.
"In 1981, we had just the kernal of an idea--a high-tech team of disparate characters, with extraordinary skills and handicaps," says Parkes. "It stuck with us for years."
Teaming up with the screenwriter Phil Alden Robinson, the trio wrote the outline of a story. "The original idea was a high-tech 'Dirty Dozen,'" recalls Robinson. "It didn't occur to us that it was taking a long time until we were about six years into the project," he laughs.
In fact, the story's premise and plotline changed frequently through the years, often dependent on the world's political climate. "We all loved caper films, and we never got bored with the characters," Robinson adds, "but our storylines ranged from 'Three Days of the Hacker' to 'Raiders of the Lost Computer.'"
As the years passed, the research continued to expand. What had begun as basic fact-finding about computer outlaws soon evolved into clandestine meetings with underground hackers, FBI men, cryptologists, wiretappers, professional penetrators, and an endless stream of cyberpunks who were the pioneers of system break-ins.
Among the colorful characters consulted were the notorious "Captain Crunch" and "The Cheshire Catalyst," both of whom provided some inspiration for Ben Kingsley's character of Cosmo. Crunch (John Draper) was an illustrious hacker from the 1970s who gained his celebrity status when he discovered that the toy whistle in a Cap'n Crunch cereal box could make a pay phone work without a dime. The Captain gained his "phone phreak" infamy when he created the "blue box," a device which allowed its user to gain access to nearly all the phone company's transmission equipment.
The Cheshire Catalyst was an active member of TAP, the Technology Assistance Program. Founded in 1971 by yippie Abbie Hoffman, TAP distributed a newsletter for phone phreaks and hackers that was as significant to them as The Wall Street Journal is to stockbrokers. The four-page issues included dozens of how-to stories on accessing computer systems, logging onto computer networks and making international calls for free.
"Most of the people we met who had been Sneakers had a kind of brashness about them...almost cocky," says Robinson. "I remember phrases like 'I eat systems like yours for breakfast' and 'It's not a question of IF I can break in, but how long it will take.' We also met hackers who came out of the '60s with a tremendous amount of political paranoia, which comes through in Mother's character."