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Academy Award winners SIDNEY POITIER, left, and ROBERT REDFORD are Crease and Bishop, high-tech experts with questionable pasts.
During the research phase of "Sneakers," the writers met a blind security expert who had perfect pitch and he inspired the character of Whistler (David Strathairn).
"As a musician at a very tough jazz club in Detroit, he would hear a fight break out, and flip a switch to throw the room into blackness," recalls Robinson. "That way he could be on equal footing with everybody else in the brawl. That kind of ingenuity is what enthralls the Sneakers."
Robinson took a very different direction in casting Cosmo. "I wanted a villain who was scary not because he was physically threatening, but because he was so smart," he says. "Ben Kingsley has a very powerful effect. In truth, he's quite brilliant, and that's what he projects."
While casting Liz, a former girlfriend of Bishop's who gets caught up in his scheme, Robinson said, "I looked for a smart, attractive actress who makes you look more carefully into her character." Academy Award nominee Mary McDonnell earned the role.
"We're living in a time where computer technology is becoming another character in our lives," cautions McDonnell. "We're beginning to trust these machines and close off to human beings."
An informal survey of cast and crew assembled for "Sneakers" boasts of eight Oscars from a total of 38 Academy Award nominations, which range from Ben Kingsley's Oscar winning performance in "Gandhi," to sound mixer Willie Burton's Oscar awarded for "Bird," along with his nominations for "The Buddy Holly Story," "WarGames" and "Altered States." Other winners include Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein, editor Tom Rolf, re-recording mixer Donald O. Mitchell and computer effects supervisor Steve Grumette.
Principal photography on "Sneakers" began October 28, 1991, in Oakland, California, just a week after the city's devastating fire. The company's first days of filming took place on the site of the historic Oakland Theatre, a colorful 1920s Art Deco palace that once hosted both films and live entertainment.
The brief week of filming in San Francisco included exteriors in the financial district, as well as several sites near the waterfront. When Robert Redford and Sidney Poitier were seen filming in the courtyard of a glass-walled office building, desks were soon abandoned by a legion of female fans who lined up elbow to elbow, with noses pressed to windows to watch the actors below.
Upon returning to Los Angeles, filming continued on local sites as well as on several stages at Universal Studios. Perhaps the most interesting movie set constructed on the lot for "Sneakers" was "The Lair," a huge 16,000 square foot space on Stage 29 (which still houses some historic sets from the original "Phantom of the Opera"). Within "The Lair," production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein and set decorator Samara Schaffer organized the Sneakers' five offices, workspaces, living areas, conference room and a small apartment occupied by Martin Bishop.