Back in 2013, we almost died of jealousy as some lucky movie fans were able to meet “Thor” star Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wang Lee Hom, and Tang Wei, who arrived in Malaysia for a movie filming. Of course, we understood that it was nearly impossible to witness them in action as the security for the filming locations was so tight that not many people knew the exact locations for Michael Mann’s action-thriller film, “Blackhat“.
Originally titled “Cyber”, the movie revolves around Nicholas Hathaway (played by Chris Hemsworth), a former blackhat hacker that was hired by the government to track down a mysterious hacker behind a high-level global cybercrime that has attacked 4 major banks from Chicago to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta.
Although January is generally known as the dumping ground for crappy movies, some of the best films that were slotted for release in this month have proven otherwise. Thus, it seems like “Blackhat” might just change history through Mann’s introduction to the world of cyberterrorism.
Whether or not you are planning to watch this film, check out some of the movie’s fun facts below:
1. A film directed and produced by Michael Mann
Call us whatever you want but we’d still cry nerd tears when we get to see a Michael Mann film, just like how we get excited for Christopher Nolan film or a Wes Anderson film. After being named as one of the greatest directors by Total Film, there’s no denying that Mann is a great director with many critically acclaimed films such as “Thief” , “Collatereal”, “Heat”, and “Public Enemies”.
Best known for his action crime films, movie buffs can expect to see some excellent action scenes with beautiful cinematography in “Blackhat”, a film co-written by Morgan Davis Foehl and Mann himself.
2. Based on the real-life “Stuxnet” hack attack
Discovered in June 2010, “Stuxnet” is a computer worm that was designed to attack industrial programmable logic controllers (PLCs). The malware nearly ruined one-fifth of Iran’s nuclear facilities as it was able to take down the plant’s uranium enrichment capabilities. Mann took interest in this particular attack as he stated he initially wanted to produce a crime film set in Asia before the cyber attack.
The Stuxnet hack attack led him to do more research about the cyberterrorism and prompted him to tell the story of a former blackhat hacker recruited by the government officials to stop a cyber-terrorist.
3. The cast freaked out while Mann was intrigued by the cyber world’s “vulnerability”
Hemsworth plays a blackhat hacker who had served his time in prison before being recruited by his former programming partner to become a “whitehat” hacker and stop cyber terrorism. Due to his role in the film, the “Thor” star recognised the dark secrets about hacking and revealed that “people have no idea how exposed and vulnerable they are and what is possible.” Viola Davis revealed that she walked away from the film and was a little freaked out by the “vulnerability”:
I’m a sitting duck. I wish I could say more, but I am. I can’t get ahead of them, they’re far ahead of me. It’s a big, silent monster out there.
However, Mann was intrigued by humans’ “vulnerability” in the cyber world after delving deeper into his research about the hack attack. He revealed that the hackers could be anywhere and they could be “anyone sitting on a sofa with requisite computer skills and a fast enough computer can do this stuff”. Regarding a blackhat hacker’s motivations, he said, “It usually starts with the perception of a 16-year-old saying, ‘They’re telling me I can’t get into that? You want to bet?’ So there’s usually a challenge.”
4. Michael Mann worked on the screenplay for 3 ½ years
Mann was working on the screenplays for “Public Enemies” and “HBO TV series “Luck” before he began working on the screenplay for the film with screenwriter Morgan Davis Foehl. The director said that the screenplay of “Blackhat” is just one of the three screenplays he had been working on. He said both Foehl and himself “were in Washington when the story occurred to [them] on August 8, 2011.”
Thus, this took 3 ½ years for them to complete the script.
5. Mann and Hemsworth hung out with former hackers, government officials, the FBI for authenticity
As seen in the extended behind-the-scenes featurette of the film, Mann and Hemsworth was working with mathematician Christopher McKinley and former FBI Supervisory Special Agent Michael Panico so that they can bring out the authenticity of the film. McKinley provided the actor professional computer lessons by showing him how to go from point-and-tap to actual typing and how to do coding to make the hacking work.
However, the coding was not written by Hemsworth. The coding in the film is the real coding written by technical adviser Kevin Poulsen. Both McKinley and Poulsen are former hackers and they served as the technical advisers to make sure that everything in the film are authentic. “When you work with Michael Mann, he wants everything as authentic and real as possible,” added Poulsen.
As for Panico, he helped Mann to ensure that the dialogue sounded more authentic in real-life and the facts that were presented in the film are accurate.
6. 74 scenes in 4 countries (Malaysia, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Los Angeles) in 66 days
Mann managed to wrap up the filming of the film in just 66 days (around 2 months) at 74 locations across 4 countries. As we’ve previously mentioned, Mann originally wanted to shoot a crime film based in Asia but with the cyber terrorism theme, the director said he “want places that feel evocative of what the scene is about.”
I found Asia a very exciting place to go. If you can make it real for the actors, it becomes real for the audience. They’re not looking at a green screen and having to imagine. Everything is real.
According to Ranker, the production spent 15 days in downtown office towers, Koreatown restaurants, and mural-heavy barrio streets of East L.A. for various scenes in the film. The cast and crew later flew down to Hong Kong to shoot some action scenes in Hong Kong before spending the final 10 days in Jakarta.
The film made it into Malaysian newspaper headlines last year as Mann also brought the whole production team to Malaysia briefly before their filming. It was reported that the shoot in Malaysia lasted about 5 weeks and some of the scenes were shot at various locations in Malaysia including Kuala Lumpur, Port Klang, Pulau Pangkor, Manjung, Lumut, Marina Island, and Putrajaya.
7. Mann used 3,000 extras in the final climactic scene of the film
There were a total of 3,000 extras used in one particular scene in the film, which is also the final climatic scene set in Jakarta. That sequence required Mann to work with Oscar-nominated cinematographer Stuart Dryburg to re-create the annual Balinese Nyepi Day celebration with the extras.
According to LA Times, Dyburg who first worked with Mann on the pilot episode of HBO’s “Luck,” noted that they shot the scene using available light as much as possible, whether the dazzling neon of Kowloon or mostly by torchlight for the final confrontation in Jakarta.
8. Mann and Hemsworth spent some time in the steel factory and the prison
And for all the right reasons. As Chris Hemsworth is the leading role of the film, Mann had spent a huge amount of time with Hemsworth to help him portray former blakchat hacker Nicholas Hathaway. In the film, Hemsworth’s character spent some time in prison before being recruited to become a whitehat hacker. Both Hemsworth and Mann went to Illinois’ Stateville Penitentiary, which the actor said was an “intimidating and scary” place:
The first time I walked in, I thought, ‘This is another world here, with its own set of rules. It’s an incredibly intimidating and scary place. The person you go into prison as is not the same person you come out as; they are two different people. It has its own law.
The two also spent 2 or 3 days at a steel factory, where they went to work at 4:30am in the blast furnace. Mann revealed that even though it’s an unusual place, he thought the character “should be the son of a steelworker living on the South Side of Chicago” and through this temporary job, they would learn more about the workers and their attitudes about their jobs there. Hemsworth also said, “He knows what he’s looking for. It’s certainly the most prep I’ve done, and it’s been hugely beneficial. It made me think about how I’ve prepped in the past and will in the future.”
9. Hemsworth had to train for months to lose some of his “Thor bulk”
Best known for his bulky role in “Thor”, Chris Hemsworth had to get rid of some muscles he gained from the Marvel character so that it doesn’t remind the audience of his character as a the Norse God. Instead of just running on the treadmill, he revealed that he wanted to do more training and work in some martial arts because he had boxed a lot in the past and done Muay Thai.
10. Mann donated $40,00o (approximately) to The Community Chest of Hong Kong
When they were shooting various sequences in Hong Kong, the Community Chest of Hong Kong allowed the production to film for 5 evenings in the bank’s lobby area. Mann returned the kindness to the Community Chest of Hong Kong by donating nearly $40,000 USD in the name of Hang Seng Bank.
Slated for release on 16th Jan, “Blackhat” is a much anticipated film from Michael Mann.
Deadline has even reported that the film might qualify for the Oscars! How about that? 🙂