Memories of shooting Sneakers

In Slate, Stephen Tobolowsky remembers what it was like to shoot the 1992 hacker/caper flick Sneakers, one of the great hacker movies of all time, with an all-star cast that included Robert Redford and Ben Kingsley:

During part of the big action finale, Robert Redford is chased through a secret lab by all of us bad guys. Phil was choreographing the chase and trying to put us in some kind of order of how fast we were running. He said, "Let's do it this way. Ben, you’re the Academy Award winner, we’ll start with you. Then, Tim, the Emmy winner, you’ll be next. Do we have a Tony winner? Anyway, Stephen, you'll be last."

Here is a Hollywood Zen story. We shot on location around Los Angeles and at Universal. The studio has a going concern of little buses that regularly drive through the back lot area with tourists from all over the world wielding disposable cameras. The tour guide has a set patter, "On your right is the shark from Jaws. On your left is Columbo's automobile." While one of the buses was nearing our stage, we were called to the set. The tour bus had to stop while Robert Redford and James Earl Jones crossed in front of it. No one noticed. The guide just kept up with, "On our right is the bicycle from E.T." People were snapping away at the bicycle and were completely oblivious that two of the most famous actors in the world were a few feet away from them.

At the end of the shoot, Phil said the only thing that could make the whole experience of working on Sneakers better was if the lab lost the film. Then we would be able to do it all over again.

Memories of the Sneakers Shoot (via Hacker News)


    1. Agreed.  I saw this film again about two weeks ago.  Having seen the film a few times, it was the first time I noticed how really good the score is, separate from the movie. 

      I still love to watch Whistler drive the van down the hill, or ask Marty ‘What did it sound like?’

    2. It has aged remarkably well for a techie/hacker film too. That Sandra Bullock movie that came out a few years later (“The Net”) plays out like it was written by some paranoid Luddites who heard about the internet third-hand.

  1. I know this is nit-picky, but it always bugged me that the thing that tipped Cosmo (Ben Kingsley) off that  Liz (Mary McDonnell) is a plant, is the fact that she was set up with  Stephen Tobolowsky by a computer. Anyone who knows about computers would find it much more likely that a computer would mismatch McDonnel with nerdy Tobolwsky than the idea a human would.

  2. At the beginning of the millenium I worked for a few months at the REI in Northridge, CA. Mr. Tobolowsky came in for a pair of shoes. I was grateful for his smile in response to my comment: “how cool is it that I just sold a pair of sneakers to the guy from Sneakers!”

  3. I may have to watch this again. I remember at the time the movie came out I thought it was done by someone that didn’t understand how that kind of stuff really worked. May I am remembering it incorrectly.

    1. There’s a lot more accuracy in it than in most “hacking” movies.  The central macguffin is pretty farfetched, but they at least stayed pretty close to the realms of possibility for the rest of it.

      And I’ll take it over “crash override” and “acid burn” any day.

      “Be a beacon?”

  4. I remember watching this film at the cinema and wishing that one of the characters would mention “Blindfold” during the cocktail party/geese scene. The rest of the film was pretty fresh, but I felt that bit of plagiarism rankled.  

  5. “Sneakers” helped shape my entire paradigm when it first came out.   I was just entering high school, and the generally accuracy of the film (again, grading on a Hollywood scale) really struck me.

    Also, I maintain to this day that if River Phoenix hadn’t ODed we probably never would have heard of Leonardo DiCaprio.  You can decide amongst yourselves if that’s a good thing or not.

  6. Well, the linked article is free of any real information about the making of Sneakers, so that was disappointing. 

    But I’ll chime in with you others and say that not only is this an excellent flick (it captures the barely-post-cold-war age with precision) with an excellent score (I still listen to Cosmo… Old Friend and Too Many Secrets) it’s also excellently written; Cosmo’s rant about the information age still rings true today, delivered beautifully by Ben Kingsley: There’s a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it’s not about who’s got the most bullets. It’s about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think… it’s all about the information! 

    As @Nonentity said, it also shows pretty realistic hacking, aside from the phone trace scene and the idea of ‘the box’ itself. The movie also contains an unexpected tragic heart, Bish ran to Canada when Cosmo was busted, but it’s Cosmo’s fault ’cause he cheated at the coin trick when they settled who would go for pizza. Their rivalry is rooted in the events of that night and it all comes to a head years later. When they are reunited at first they pick up their friendship where they left off, playing the Posit/Consequence/Result game together, but it soon becomes clear just how different both men have become in the intervening years. The rooftop scene where Cosmo begs Bish to stay is just heartbreaking… even though Cosmo was the bad guy I always sympathized with him and what he was trying to do… crash the financial system to save the world from greed.

    1.  Which, to answer my own question from below, is why I feel we haven’t seen a 20th anniversary Special Edition. The subject matter is a little too charged for Universal to want to call attention right now.

      I mean, with any other movie the studio would be falling over itself to cash in on a film with this cast.

  7. I didn’t realize until several years afterward that real-life Dan Akroyd is even a bigger conspiracy nut than the character he played in that film.

  8. – “I want peace on earth and goodwill toward men”
    – “We are the United States Government. We don’t do that sort of thing.”

    1. Since the full quote is, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased,” yes, we do.

        1. Any website on Bible verses. Some of them will give you versions of each verse from every English-language Bible.

  9. The band Radiohead was, indirectly, named after Stephen Tobolowsky. If I recall correctly, it was about something Stephen told Jonathan Demme and David Byrne, which resulted in the song Radio Head by Talking Heads, then…you know the rest.

  10. It’s the 20th anniversary, so where’s the Blu-Ray or HD download? The only thing we’ve gotten is an HD-DVD release 5 years ago shortly before it was discontinued. :(

  11. Weird, I haven’t thought about “Sneakers” for years, but just yesterday I was driving on the Richmond Bridge toward Berkeley and remembered the part where they’re trying to figure out which bridge they had crossed by the sound of the paving sections…

  12. My brother, Rob Schrab, (yup – I’m a name dropper) had the chance to direct Tobolowsky in a Sarah Silverman Program episode. He thought Stephen was one of the best hardworking actors he had the pleasure of working with. And his IMDB credit list is loooong! The guy has been in EVERYTHING!

  13. The great flaw in “Sneakers” – A movie I am quite fond of – Is the silliness of Cosmo’s plan.

    Crash all the world’s financial computers ? Oh, NOES – Whatever will we do after that, what with so many prior records of ownership still existing on paper, microfiche and other non-digital means of storage ?

    Still, after the 2008 meltdown, the idea of a Wall Street without the ability to make hundreds of thousands of stock trades per second does have a certain appeal….

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