“I love hacking can be used for the greater good.”
During the Solothurn Film Festival 2020 we had the opportunity to meet Jim McKay, who directed, among others, two episodes for Mr. Robot season one. Jim had also time for a short interview.
What is important for you working as a director/writer?
Jim McKay: I make movies, which I write and I direct TV-shows which I don’t write. When I’m making a movie the most important thing is not compromising the story I want to tell and the truth of what I am trying to get out. When I am directing a TV-show the most important thing is representing the voice of the writer. For Mr. Robot this was especially challenging because I was on the first season. The pilot was made by Niels Arden Oplev, who made the “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and Sam Esmail, the creator, directed the second episode himself. I did the third and fifth episode and challenging was, that the pilot was made a long time before and Sam had some different ideas where he wanted to go with it. While he was filming his episode, I was preparing my episodes and I was not actually able to see what different things he wanted to have in the show. We had a lot of discussions and he came by to the set a lot. That was exiting and intimidating filming Mr. Robot.
Why do you think did Mr. Robot succeeded that well?
It succeeded because it was so bold, unique and complex. And also, because Sam directed, after the first season, all of the episodes. Which shows what a powerful vision he has. The show is also very much created in the post-production. It has a lot of voice-overs and the sound design is fantastic and important to the fabric of the show. When the shooting was done Sam edited it for several months, which was a huge part of the production.
Do you think it’s important to show realistic hacking scenes in movies? Why?
Yeah. I think it’s important for everything to be realistic as good as you can. But computer-stuff is especially difficult in television, because anybody wants to see someone sitting on a computer typing and searching for hours. You come up with ways that are cinematically realistic and that’s just simply about time. There is realism within time frames like that and realism “can you actually do that”? Honestly the second episode I did wasn’t that realistic, as they break in the facility. Truthfully there would have been cameras and other security stuff. I do my best.
Why was Mr. Robot more realistic than other shows concerning IT-sec and hacking?
That’s due to Sam. I remember him fighting for the time and the money and the technical support to be able to show these things. And they were trying very, very hard and they had experts on the show. And of course, it is difficult working with actors which are not hackers and you have to talk them through what they have to do.
What do you personally learned about IT-security/hacking directing two Mr. Robot episodes?
Laughs. I actually didn’t learn that much. I am a noob; I barely know how to use my phone. I learned, what I needed to know and didn’t then translate that to anything bigger in the world for myself.
Logical follow-up question: Have you ever been hacked?
No, I’ve never been hacked! I have nothing really interesting for hackers to get. But what I would like to know from the hacker community: Where are Trumps tax forms? Laughs.
I love hacking can be used for the greater good. And also, the evolving ethical questions.
Why are hackers in movies and series usually depicted as outcasts/weirdos with mental disorder?
Elliot having mental issues and drug problems could be a product of trying to create a character which is complex for other reasons as well. Sam made a show about hackers, but he also made a show about violence in society, corporate structures and behavior and addiction.
If Elliot has been a boring guy who goes home and eats takeout. He wouldn’t been an interesting person to follow in a movie.
Are there any Easter Eggs in your two episodes?
Not that I know. There is just one scene showing a serial number starting with 42.