How Stunt Work on Die Hard Led to a Graphic Novel About MIT Hacks

by Jill Hecht Maxwell on May 8, 2015 · 3 comments

in Alumni Life, Hacks, In the News, Media

Geeks and Greeks, the grahic novel by Steve Altes, includes a forward by Matthew Pearl, who wrote the MIT-set thriller The Technologists.

Geeks and Greeks includes a forward by Matthew Pearl, who wrote the MIT-set thriller The Technologists.

Steve Altes ’84, SM ’86, SM ’86, an aerospace engineer turned comedic writer, hopes to bring MIT’s legendary hacking tradition new fame in Geeks and Greeks, a graphic novel inspired by his campus adventures. “The story embodies everything I love about nerds—their brilliance, creativity, irreverence, and endearing quirkiness,” he says.

Steve Altes

Steve Altes ’84, SM ’86, SM ’86

Altes, who grew up near Syracuse, has admired hacks since he arrived at MIT and saw the Sheraton Boston sign altered to read simply “ATO” (though he joined Sigma Phi Epsilon). He earned three degrees at the Institute—two in aerospace engineering and one in public policy. His master’s thesis on the feasibility of an aerospace airplane was reviewed in the New York Review of Books. “My literary career peaked at age 24,” he quips.

After MIT, Altes worked at Orbital Sciences in Virginia on the Pegasus air-launched space booster. For that work, he was named a co-recipient of the National Medal of Technology in 1990. “Again, I knew it was going to be downhill from there,” he says. Soon after, he left engineering for show business.

Altes nabbed a few stunt jobs on film sets—including Die Hard with a Vengeance, in which he had to leap from the roof of one moving tractor-trailer to another. “I loved the freewheeling aspect of entertainment,” he says.

And then he had an idea for a movie. “The hacks and hijinks I saw, participated in, or heard about at MIT were mind-boggling,” he says. He wrote a screenplay that was optioned by writer and producer Dottie Zicklin ’86, who created the sitcom Dharma & Greg.

Image via Geeks and Greeks on Kickstarter. Artwork by Andy Fish.

Image via Geeks and Greeks on Kickstarter. Artwork by Andy Fish.

Although that film was not made, Altes kept writing, publishing essays in 45 magazines and newspapers, authoring two business humor books, and providing commentary for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and Us Weekly’s “Fashion Police.”

Two years ago he decided that a graphic novel would be the ideal medium for his hack story. He raised $40,000 on Kickstarter and hired an artist to illustrate the book. “The support I got from the MIT alumni community has been amazing,” he says. “I hope Geeks and Greeks gets people excited about engineering and especially MIT. If you’re a bright high school student and want to be where the most creative and dynamic people are, you’re going to want to go to MIT.”

Altes and his wife, actress Diana Jellinek, live in Valencia, California, with their two young sons. Geeks and Greeks will be released in June.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Altes May 8, 2015 at 6:27 pm

I’m writing a sequel to “Geeks & Greeks” called “Geeks & Greeks: Volume Square Root of 4.” If you have fond memories of hacks or pranks that you’d like to share, feel free to tell me about them at SteveAltes [at] gmail [dot] com. Thank you!

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Emil M Friedman May 9, 2015 at 10:19 pm

My recollection is that it was a mock-up of a campus police car, not a stolen one.

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Steve Altes May 12, 2015 at 2:41 am

You are absolutely correct, Emil! That is a very important distinction and I appreciate that you took the time to point that out.

Short answer: That issue has been fixed in the graphic novel.

Long answer: This story began as a screenplay and over the course of the script’s development and myriad rewrites the story began to stray from real life in several areas, that hack being one of them. When it came time to tell the story in graphic novel form, I went back and fact-checked all the hacks and recalibrated events to be much more in line with how things actually occurred. The illustration above was created by the illustrator from an early draft of the script before all the hacks got re-aligned with actual events.

If you’re interested, here’s an interesting article where the actual hackers behind the cop car on the dome hack reveal some of their secrets:
http://www.technologyreview.com/article/404726/a-hackers-reunion/

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