5 Famous Movies Made With The Help Of Real-Life Criminals
Crime films require a certain level of research. Otherwise they're nothing but a bunch of beautiful people waving guns at each other and hollering about the drug moneys. But how do you get that special layer of authenticity? Well, you hire solid screenwriters who are experienced in the genre. Or you do what these people did and hire actual criminals in advisory positions.
WarGames Brought On An Army Of Actual Hackers
WarGames, the quintessential '80s movie about Ferris Bueller hacking the United States to the brink of nuclear annihilation, is not without its questionable moments. Cracked has commented before on how ridiculous it all seems -- especially the ease with which Broderick's character finds the brazenly obvious password "Joshua" (it was the name of the programmer's dead son). But it turns out that shit is legit.
The film had a "small army" of hackers behind the scenes, including the legendary David Scott Lewis and phone phreaker John "Captain Crunch" Draper, working to keep things as accurate as they could -- even some of the parts that seem painfully stupid. And no one could correct you if you got it wrong anyway, because as many an old hacker can tell you, before WarGames, cybersecurity as we know it basically didn't exist.
"Hacking was easy back then. There were few if any security measures. It was mostly hackers versus auditing types," explained Lewis, who inspired the David Lightman character. "The part in the movie showing David Lightman perusing the library to find Falken's backdoor password, 'Joshua,' is clearly a reference to many of my antics."
Of course, someone probably should've explained that this was a movie to President Reagan, because it put the fear into him something fierce. Unfortunately for hackers and future torrenters everywhere, the Reagan administration neglected to hire anyone with actual technological know-how to write all the laws about technological know-how. That was why Kevin "The Condor" Mitnick ended up tossed into solitary for eight months after his prosecutor referenced the most impossible parts of WarGames as something he might do.
"A prosecutor told a judge that if I got near a phone, I could dial up NORAD and launch a nuclear missile," Mitnick explained. "I never hacked into NORAD. And when the prosecutor said that, I laughed -- in open court. I thought, 'This guy just burned all his credibility.' But the court believed it. I think the movie convinced people that this stuff was real." Whoops.
Baby Driver Consulted With Real Getaway Drivers -- And Stole Scenes From Them
Even after two full decades of plotting and daydreaming about his feature-length car chase / heist flick / music video, it still took writer/director Edgar Wright three years to get Baby Driver ready for the big screen. At least part of it was spent obsessively interviewing real-life getaway drivers.
Reformed (or at least former) drivers were Wright's "primary resource" for the movie, and nearly everything they told him ended up in the script. True-to-life specifics included Baby and his merry band of thieves stealing getaway cars from long-term parking lots, switching out cars and drivers after the fact (to make any potential witness statements useless), and even Baby's preference for nondescript sedans over Mustangs. After all, the point of a getaway car, as getaway drivers and common logic can attest, is to blend in. But lest those specifics not be specific enough, Wright also "borrowed" a few anecdotes from his drivers, tweaking them to fit his characters. Or, ya know, stealing the stories entirely.
For example, Richard Marinick, former thief and current author, was responsible for the tale about a robbery being called off after the wrong song played on the radio, spooking everyone involved. And Jamie Foxx's line about not listening to music because he had enough "demons" of his own "making music" in his head was a direct quote from Joe Loya. Wright was so taken with Loya, in fact, that he hired him as a script consultant. Remember, kids, sometimes crime literally does pay. And if you stay on the right(?) track, maybe you too can one day help with a quirky thriller from the director of Shaun Of The Dead.
Ben Affleck Hired Ex-Cons For The Town (And Inspired New Ones)
For his Boston-based robbery flick The Town, director and professional chin-grower Ben Affleck consulted with real robbers. The scene in which an outnumbered and wildly outgunned cop literally looks the other way? That really happened. The armored car robbery going violently sideways? Also real.
Hell, most of Jeremy Renner's character's actions were informed by these consultants. "Pretty much everyone on the set was an ex-con of some sort," he told The Los Angeles Times. "And there were probably a couple of guys there who were still robbing banks." NOBODY LIKES A SNITCH, HAWKEYE.
There were so many robbers milling about that The Town actually ran into some problems trying to insure their production, and that was before Affleck started bargaining with parole officers to let him give (fake) guns to parolees he was now using as actors. Oh, Ben. If only you'd shown this much enthusiasm for Justice League.
In the end, it wasn't the former criminals that were the problem; it was all the new ones in the audience, watching and learning. The Town, it seems, was a little too dedicated to realism, and actually ended up inspiring several robberies in the months following its release. How do we know? Because all of the robbers straight-up admitted to using tips and tricks (like bleaching ATMs and dressing up as cops) that they'd picked up from the film. And here I thought the only thing people picked up from The Town were terrible Bostonian impressions.
The Wire's Omar Little Was (Mostly) Real, And He Wrote For The Show
David Simon, creator of HBO's seminal The Wire, has always been transparent about the characters being "inspired" by certain real people. Some, however, were more complete than others. And while you'd be forgiven for thinking that Omar Little, Michael K. Williams' multilayered "ghetto Robin Hood" and the greatest fictional character of the 21st century (fight me) was too crazy to ever exist, you'd be very wrong.
Omar was based largely on Donnie Andrews, a real-life stick-up artist. Andrews, like Omar, was a man of complicated morals, notorious throughout Baltimore for terrorizing drug dealers, before ultimately spending 18 years in prison for murdering one. Once he got out, he was put in touch with Simon, and was soon brought on to The Wire as a consultant and writer. He even played one of Omar's ill-fated allies, most prominently in the Season 5 scene wherein Omar gets ambushed and jumps out a fourth-story window.
Of course, Andrews wasn't the only one. "Little" Melvin Williams, a drug kingpin in the '60s and the primary inspiration for Avon Barksdale, was known to chat about The Wire with Simon and co-creator Edward Burns, the same detective who had helped send him to jail. Neither seemed to hold any grudges, though, and Williams eventually appeared as a deacon in the show's second and third seasons.
Felicia "Snoop" Pearson, meanwhile, basically played herself after a chance meeting with Michael K. Williams brought her to the show's set. While never having acted before might seem like a liability, it ended being a lot less of an issue than anyone thought. In Pearson's own words, she just did what she used to do. And, uh, was actually still doing -- since she was only an extra during her first season on the show, making $50 a day, she continued to sell cocaine and heroin on the side. The actress, called "perhaps the most terrifying female villain to ever appear in a television series" by little-known writer Stephen King, finally stopped selling for real once she became a regular, putting her past behind her and acting full-time. Sort of.
There Were So Many Real-Life Mobsters In The Godfather And The Sopranos
Cracked has mentioned Lenny Montana's role in The Godfather before, but using actual mob muscle to lend some authenticity to fictional mob muscle was not a one-off idea. In fact, a lot of the realism of The Godfather and The Sopranos comes from straight-up hiring mob goons ... Er, I mean, organized criminals? "Waste management" consultants? The dads of most of my friends back in New Jersey?
Tony Borgese, a debt collector with ties to the Gambino family, played a nightclub owner in Goodfellas, and then did a stint as Lorenzo "Larry Boy" Barese on The Sopranos before going to prison for extortion.
Michael "Big Mike" Squicciarini, aka "Scuch," was a heavy for the DeCavalcante family who ended up on The Sopranos -- a move that got him later linked to a murder he'd been a party to. Alex Rocco and Gianni Russo, meanwhile, both ended up in The Godfather, the latter by flaunting his actual mob connections.
And then there's Tony "Paulie Walnuts" Sirico, a cohort of the Colombo crime family. Sirico was arrested a staggering 28 times, the first for stealing nickels when he was seven years old, and was convicted twice for weapons charges and robbery. A lot of that life was filtered into Paulie, "blurring the line" between the two, and he served as a kind of sounding board for Sopranos creator David Chase, offering suggestions as needed.
Of course, that's just the actors. Like with David Simon and The Wire, Chase claimed to only consort with law enforcement for his fact-checking purposes. But that didn't stop him from occasionally hearing the "criticisms" of actual mobsters ... and then working them into the show accordingly. Especially when it came to James Gandolfini's shorts.
You see, Tony Soprano, the fictional mob guy, once wore shorts at a fictional barbecue. And apparently it made some actual mobsters very upset. Upset enough for these actively crime-doing criminals to reach out to the very popular HBO show. Because -- and if you take any one thing away from this article, let it be this -- a don would never wear shorts, because shorts make you look weak. "Hard to respect a man with bare calves" is certainly what I've always said.
For more, check out Why No Cop Show On TV Is Accurate (Yes, Even 'The Wire') - Today's Topic:
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