Meet the man who makes sure the hacking is accurate on 'Mr. Robot'
Meet the tech expert who makes sure Mr. Robot's hacks are legitimate. Beware of season one spoilers.
USA Network's Mr. Robot will debut its highly anticipated season two on July 13th. The show, starring Rami Malek as hacker Elliot Alderson transformed USA brand and digital presence.
The show's anti-establishment narrative has captivated viewers with amazing stories, acting and accuracy in depicting tech. A medium as old as television wouldn't seem like the natural place to depict a hacker's world, but Robot went above in beyond in removing the often false and corny portrayals of tech, hacking and the web.
One of the main artists behind the show's accuracy with tech and hacking is Kor Adana, a writer on the show who advises on all aspects of the tech world during production. Found Remote interviewed Adana about his career path that led him to Robot and his passion for fine tuning the realities of the show's hacking and use of technology.
Found Remote: How did you start working for Mr. Robot?
Kor Adana: I was a showrunner’s assistant on another USA show called RUSH. After the show ended, a friend of mine (Jake Castiglioni) at USA Network got me an interview with Sam Esmail. MR. ROBOT just got a series order and Sam was looking for an assistant. In that first interview, we sat down at a café and I remember asking him if he wanted to order anything. His response was something like, “No. I never understood how people could eat or drink during a meeting. It’s awkward.” I knew right then that I was going to get along with this guy. Sam was ecstatic when he learned that I had a career in cyber security in my previous life. I used to do what Elliot does at Allsafe. We talked about how most films and shows portray hacking in a cheesy way. Producers and filmmakers either don’t understand how it really works, or they feel the real portrayal of hacking is boring, so they embellish it with 3D graphics and fast typing. He was adamant about making MR. ROBOT authentic and he wanted me to use my experience/knowledge to help accomplish that. He gave me the job that day.
FR: What are your main responsibilities?
KA: As a writer, I’m in the writers’ room pitching ideas and breaking story with the other writers. I got to write an episode this season, which was an amazing experience.
During production, my role changes to that of a full-time tech consultant. I’m on set every single day, expressing any concerns that I may have to Sam. It could be anything from the way an actor pronounces a technical term to the way they’re typing on the keyboard. I give direction to our set decoration and prop departments on what kind of computer/phone hardware we should purchase, how they’re supposed to look, where they’re supposed go, and how our actors are supposed to interact with them. I also work closely with flash animators and our video playback team to ensure that all of the computer and phone screens are as accurate as possible. I create detailed breakdowns with photo and video examples of how every single screen is supposed to behave. We shoot all of our screens practically. I strive to make sure every single detail on those screens is perfect. I’m trying to satisfy the most technical and critical fans out there. I know that if I miss something, a screenshot of the mistake will end up on Reddit or Twitter.
In post-production, I work with Sam and our editors to make sure the timing and logic of our tech screens make sense.
FR: Are you still involved in the hacker community?
KA: I’m actually more involved in the hacker community now than I ever was before. The success of MR. ROBOT has allowed me to have a dialogue with some of the most legendary hackers of all time. It’s pretty surreal. I’m so happy that the community has accepted the show. It’s a sign that we’re doing something right and that all of the little details don’t go unnoticed.
FR: How accurate is the hacking in Robot?
KR: All of the techniques portrayed on the show are based on real hacks. If it isn’t possible to execute a hack in real life, it isn’t written into the series. For season two, I've been working with a team of very smart consultants (James Plouffe, Marc Rogers, Andre McGregor, Michael Bazzell) to make sure that all of the hacks are realistic and plausible. I always try to incorporate real desktop environments, exploit code, software, and commands into the screens so we can portray the hack as accurately as possible. The only thing that could be perceived as inaccurate is how the show plays with timing. For the sake of time, we will sometimes use jump cuts or skip various steps of a hack. In those cases, I try to show the most important command(s) or the execution of script that accomplishes the goal of the hack.
FR: Any favorite moments from the show?
KR: The end of episode 8 (eps1.7_wh1ter0se.m4v) is probably my favorite moment. An M83 track (Gone) swells to a crescendo as Elliot extracts hidden images from the first audio CD in his collection. Not only is it a cool screen sequence that showcases steganography in a realistic way, but the discovery of Mr. Robot being Elliot’s father during that slideshow is one of the strongest emotional reveals of the season for me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched that scene, but I can tell you that I’d get choked up again if I put it on right now.
FR: Do you use social media/digital platforms at all for your work on the show?
KA: I use YouTube a lot for screen research. There are hackers out there who post video tutorials that end up being extremely helpful. The cell door PLC hack in episode 6 was based on a DEF CON demo I found online. If we have a character on the show using a social media site, I’ll research the layout and the behavior of that specific site so I can emulate it. When new trailers or episodes come out, I’ll use my personal social media accounts to promote the show, but I’m not that crazy about sharing other personal details on social media.
FR: Which of the talent are most tech savvy?
KA: They’re all pretty interested in the technology, but the most savvy of the group would probably be Azhar Khan (Mobley).
FR: Anything else you want to share?
KA: After graduating high school, I wanted to study film at NYU. My dad didn’t believe in spending a fortune for a film major, so he told me that he wouldn’t help pay for college unless I got a real degree that I could support myself with. I was good with computers, so I ended up getting an IT major at a different school. For the longest time, I felt that I was wasting years of my life studying and working in IT. When I quit to pursue entertainment, I realized that all of that experience helped me stand out from the crowd. It eventually landed me this dream job and I’m now writing on a show that’s perfect me. Even though it sucks to admit it, sometimes your parents are right.
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