On the set of the AT&T commercial shoot for their "Voices"
campaign - (February 25, 2006)
IMSAI is for sale... The Most Expensive
No, it's not jewel-encrusted or dressed in
precious metals, and it doesn't even run a modern operating system. It is a
singularly unique, one-of-a kind creation developed in the mid-1970's that
significantly contributed to a new and encompassing digital technology that permeates
our world's present environment in almost any way you can imagine.
The "WarGames IMSAI" with its
associated props and provenance were tentatively scheduled for auction by the
prestigious auction house Christie's on November 24th, 2011 in their scheduled
Film and Entertainment sale.
The auction item was aborted at the last minute due to shipping and security
issues that couldn't be resolved. Agonizing as it is to part with such an iconic and inspirational part of
computer and film history, it is a decision which is better left to me to deal
with, as we are only temporary caretakers of our possessions.
It is currently appraised at over $25,000,
potentially making it the most expensive "personal computer" ever! It is
widely considered one of the top five "Movie Computers" of all time,
and the only one which was a real commercial product!
wish to express my gratitude to Jason DeBord of
www.OriginalPropBlog.com for his generous support in helping get the word out
about this very unique offering.
This page is being edited and
updated to preserve the history of a one-of-a-kind movie prop that has proven to
be almost timeless in its classic design and inspirational impact to several
generations of tech-savvy youth who have gone on to professions motivated by
this unique and world-famous icon.
- trf (6-18-2013)
NOTE: Much, if not most of what you find on the web
relating to technical aspects relating to the "WarGames" film has been extracted
from the material below, most without credit to the source. I believe that
my contributions and support of the film's historical "mechanics" have
significantly promoted the ongoing popularity of this uniquely inspirational
icon of filmdom's depiction of technical capability and imagination. To
those who have materially benefited... "You're welcome!" -trf
Fischer-Freitas Company came into being with $800 (and a whole lot of faith) in October of 1978, established by my former
IMSAI manufacturing Corporation co-worker (and sweetheart)
Nancy SanSo Freitas and
me. We started out in an
(910-81st. Avenue), next door to Mothers Cookies and across the street from
Nabisco in a seedy south Oakland, California neighborhood. We established the company as an independent service organization for IMSAI computer products, floppy and hard disk repair, terminal, monitor service/sales, and other opportunities in the developing microcomputer market. In 1979, Nancy and I acquired the production
rights, necessary fixtures and tooling to continue production of the legendary IMSAI line of computer products, now as a division of Fischer-Freitas Corporation.
Our affiliation with "Wargames" began on
May 4, 1982 when we received a call from Linda Fleischer of Mandy Films Inc. requesting literature and color photos of the IMSAI products for consideration as props on a film that was starting production. My Marketing Director
Bob Walker sent off the requested materials along with a brief letter extolling
the virtues of an IMSAI 8080 as a prop, and that we had many other related historical
items, magazines, and equipment to sweeten the pot.
On July 8,1982 Bob Walker briefed me regarding a call from Cliff McMullen of Unique Products, a major pioneering product placement company in the Los Angeles area. McMullen is the guy who got
the candy/major food group "Reeses Pieces" placed in the Steven Spielberg movie
"ET". The firm wanted us to provide them an IMSAI 8080 and several other props
for a new MGM Studios movie starring the then-unknown Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy.
Being somewhat skeptical, I told McMullen on the phone to send me a copy of the script and I'd get back to him. To my surprise, two days later a package arrived from Mandy Films containing other
informational items about Unique Product Placement
and a pre-shooting script of "Wargames", typed and printed onto a photocopy-resistant green paper by a
script services company in the west Los Angeles area. This early version of the script had the story line placed in the future and seemed to depend more on fantasy and conjecture rather than technical reality.
Our contact person for the film was Special Effects Supervisor
Mike Fink. Bob Walker, and I would be in regular contact with for him the next three or four months. The production had the backing of MGM/ United Artists and promised to have a major budget to work with. Mike told
me that the screenplay writer Lawrence Lasker stipulated that an IMSAI 8080 be used
as the visual prop for the central character's computer. Still skeptical, I read
the script trying to envision the equipment requirements.
A few items struck me as lacking credibility.
First, the central character (Matthew Broderick) would access a military computer (the visually delightful W.O.P.R. in the movie) using his home computer connected to an acoustic coupler and his telephone handset. At that time, acoustic couplers had a maximum
communications rate of 300 baud (ridiculously slow then, and now by today's standards).
The requirement of an acoustic coupler was mandated more for visual effect than for reality. I
resolved the credibility issue by providing the only IMSAI 212A modem ever made (actually, a Cermetek 212A modem
that I was evaluating as a possible addition to our product line). By
repainting the front panel and carefully applying press-on lettering, I provided a plausible, if unstated high-speed data link (at a blazing 1200 baud!) for the movie's plot. An acoustic coupler was still used to satisfy the visual effect in the movie.
Another thing was apparently missing from the initial script. How was this young lad going to load software into his computer? I called Mike Fink to discuss this and he admitted that the issue never even came up. I suggested an IMSAI FDC-2 (the dual Calcomp 142 8"
floppies in an enclosure similar to the 8080), and he readily accepted the offer. The loading of one of those 8" disks (about 1 meg of storage in double density format) is one of the few equipment close-ups
that made the final cut of the film.
Once we received the script, Bob Walker sent a full line catalogue down to Mike for review. Mike had a chance to see what other items might be of use for the film's shooting, and selected one of our IKB-1 Intelligent keyboards as the on-screen input device. Mike acquired an Electrohome 17" monitor because of it's readability at distance, a camera requirement. We decided to
go ahead and provide the requested equipment for nothing more than the promotional value and screen credits. The 8080 supplied has the Fischer-Freitas-era front panel featuring a layered screen-printed Mylar front mask rather than the early acrylic/photo-film sandwich style with its highly reflective and humidity-related cosmetics problems.
Our engineer Glen Hoag came up with
an idea to hard-wire a RESTART 7 instruction onto an old MPU-A 8080 processor board to provide a somewhat random light activity to the front panel lights,
which worked out nicely. The chassis was then loaded with an assortment of junk boards to give the impression that the box was loaded with processing power! Actually, the bus fingers of all those boards were cut
off to prevent the possibility of conflicts with the CP-A front panel or MPU-A processor. With flat cables attached to several of the dummy boards, it made for an impressive prop. The visual effect was so convincing that the director decided to leave the cover off during filming.
I considered it a cheap shot to find that most of the "IMSAI 8080" labeling was obscured by a prop instruction label during the movie.
But the IMSAI 212A modem gets a great mug shot with the talented Ally Sheedy during some critical scenes.
The IMSAI IKB-1 keyboard is prominently featured in the publicity, poster and video packaging art with an over-the-shoulder shot of Ally Sheedy and Matthew Broderick at the keyboard watching the video monitor.
A few weeks later we were solicited by the film's producer to foot the bill ($5000) for a four-color, two page advertising print for a fictional computer magazine that provides an important plot development point early in the movie. I don't think they realized how small and financially strapped we were at that time; it simply wasn't in our budget. I declined. I believe, after seeing
the movie, that my decision proved to be a wise one.
Mike, with his cohort in programming, Steve Grummette, had written some code to provide the illusion that Matthew Broderick was actually entering data and getting output on the monitor. In fact, the IKB-1 keyboard could be programmed with a few keystrokes to output an ASCII sequence whenever any key was subsequently pressed. This feature was employed to generate an interrupt in the off-screen
CompuPro 8086-based system that Mike had used to develop much of the required output. It is that
CompuPro that actually controlled the Electrohome monitor in the movie, but cued by Matthew Broderick's keystrokes on-camera!
However, the plan wasn't without flaw. We had provided several thick binders imprinted with the famous IMSAI logos to be used as additional props, and taped a typewritten programming instruction sequence on the bottom of the IKB-1 keyboard. But apparently that last item was temporarily forgotten at a very inconvenient time! Within a few days of shipping off the equipment, all was set
up and apparently working fine. Matthew Broderick either observed or was instructed in the 6 keystroke programming sequence of the keyboard, a step necessary in the beginning of each shooting day.
I was deeply in love with flying at this time, and was out boring holes in the sky about a week after shipping the
Wargames props when we received a frantic call from Mandy Films. They had an emergency on the set! I got the messages when I arrived back the office late in the afternoon. It seems that they had forgotten the programming sequence for the keyboard and none of my people had remembered the special keyboard
coding. Matthew Broderick saved the shoot by eventually recalling
the sequence and experimenting with the ESCAPE key, proving his worth as a true
Nancy, Bob, and I were
invited to hand deliver the equipment to the film studio and observe some of the filming, meet the cast and to get some of the publicity stills being shot at the time. Sadly, we were not able to take time off since we were meeting with potential investors. The
equipment was returned to us as promised at the end of the shooting schedule, but the front panel switch escutcheon on the 8080 suffered some moderate shipping damage, as did the FDC-2. No sweat. The IMSAI 212A modem still sports an odd photo-felt-and-tape pad on its top, possibly left over from the close-up scene when Ally Sheedy places a small speaker on top of it.
We were requested to send the equipment back down to Mandy Films on March 3, 1983 for a publicity photo shoot in preparation for the film's opening release. A notation on our packing invoice reads "Expected return date: 3/9/83". The IMSAI 8080, FDC2-2 Dual Floppies, IKB-1 keyboard, two cables, and a Zenith 12" video monitor were
again sent back down to Mandy Films on March 5, 1983 for a publicity photo shoot in preparation for the film's release.
We sent our copy of the script back to the script service as requested.
We still have the shipping labels and letters from the promotional placement firm and Mandy Films, as well as the 8080, keyboard, and modem. Additionally, we received a complimentary movie poster. We scrapped the FDC-2 shortly after getting it back because of shipping damage and questionable value. It was not
deemed suitable as a "keeper".
Credits in the film's end include:
|Compupro Division- Godbout Electronics|
|George Risk Industries|
|International Technical Associates, Inc.|
|Showtime Video Ventures|
|Televideo Systems Inc.|
This e-mail was received from
Rob Wilcox (one of the crew) in June of
|"It is funny what you will find when your searching for a 8085
emulator for an ancient telecom rework. I was the effects foreman on War Games.
I worked for Mike Fink, overseeing the video distribution to all the monitors on
crystal palace consoles driven by a number of STB video cards in 2 Compupro S100
computers. I bought an IMSAI S100 during the show for the cool looks but never
used it for anything much. Unfortunately, it is long gone. You will find
me in the credits after Mike and Linda." --- Robert Wilcox
I think it is great, when a vendor has received good value from when Hollywood
comes hustling. It doesn't usually work out that way! War Games was a film
that I enjoyed working on. I landed that job after completing Raise The Titanic,
Blade Runner, (where I met Mike) and Brainstorm previously. Subsequently, I
have been doing visual and special effects for Boss Films, Dream Quest, ILM and
finally my own company WKR Productions. Although I started life as a EE, I never
regretted working in the film business during the last 22 years. Unfortunately,
the business in Southern Cal. is dead! :<( I just closed WKR Productions and
now I am working as a software contractor for Harris Corp. Oh Well, Telecom is
the high profile industry now. Ha!
I don't have anything left from War Games except for the hideous crew jacket. It
has been a while but I would be glad to try to help with questions. The last
time I met with Mike was a few years ago when he was director of visual effects
for Warner Bros. I am sure he is still busy, he would be willing to work in
Canada. --- Robert Wilcox
Director John Badham
offered this insight into the film's evolution: (http://www.engadget.com/2004/10/23/movie-gadget-friday-the-w-o-p-r-from-wargames/)
11. As the Director of the film, I have my pawprints all over the
script. One of these prints is the name "WOPR". The original (and
correct) name is SIOP for Single Integrated Operating Plan. This was
truly boring and told you nothing. A good acronym should bear some
mneumonic relation to what it stands for. For example in the Army Rifle
Training Program they teach the acronym BRASS. This stands for Breathe,
Relax, Aim, Squeeze,Shoot.
Since the purpose of the computer was to deliver a knockout blow if
needed to the enemy, the word "whop" as in hit or strike popped into my
head. And I then adapted the word to stand for War Operation Plan
Response. Of course I saw the resemblance to the Burger King product,
but they would have had nothing to do with some warmongering device and
would not have wanted to have any connection with the film.
Posted at 7:36PM on Oct 24th
2004 by John Badham
In late October of 2004 my attention was
directed to a claim from a seemingly desperate David Sosna who stated
that the IMSAI 8080 used in the Wargames film was his:
One of the most asked-about and commented subjects relating to this
film is the "WOPR" computer, (my personal choice of Best Supporting Role for a
Mechanical Device). I posed the question to Mike Fink... he
graciously supplied the details as follows:
On Mar 5, 2006, at 7:29 AM, Thomas "Todd" Fischer wrote:
Hello again, Mike-
After receiving your joyous e-mail yesterday, my mind filled with many
questions related to the "Wargames" production, many posed by readers of
my homage to the film. I'm sure you must tire of such queries so I
won't impose upon you with a list. However, one of the most asked-about
items (on my site as well as many others) has to do with the W.O.P.R. as
depicted in the film. It is certainly a prop, and bears no small
resemblance to the IBM Unit Record equipment of the 1950's and '60's (I
worked on such equipment as a Customer Service Engineer for IBM in
the mid-'60's). British archeologist Christine Finn's 2000
book "Artifacts: An archaeologist's year in Silicon Valley" credits
the origin thusly:
"The film's "tactical computer" WOPPER was made not in the Valley, but
at a film studio at Borehamwood, England."
Do you have any insight as to the validity of Christine's citation? I
have believed that as a Brit, she might have been privy to a bit of
trivia not widely publicized.
-Thomas "Todd" Fischer
Hi Thomas "Todd" (so should I say Thomas or "Todd" when writing?)
Well, the production designer on WarGames, a fellow named
Geoffrey Kirkland (who was not credited as Production Designer but as
"Visual Consultant" because he came over from the U.K. and did not have
a Art Directors' Guild card), designed the WOPR [War Operations Plan
Response] - John Badham invented the name), based on some pictures
he had of early "tabulating" machines of the 40's or 50's, and
metal furniture, consoles, and cabinets used particularly in the
U.S. military in the 40's and 50's. They were adapted in drawings
and concepts by Angelo Graham, the Art Director.
The original name in the script was SIOP, which is written about
correctly in your WarGames homage. Since Jeffrey was English, he may
have been influenced by some designs he had seen there. I was some
help, since my first programming job was on a General Electric 225 (I
think that was the number), debugging an early payroll program (written
in Fortran) for San Fernando Valley State College, now Cal
State Northridge. We had an old IBM card sorter, etc., so I was
somewhat familiar with the hardware, but like you, I don't remember any
of this hardware looking like WOPR. I do remember WOPR looking a
lot like the very old metal furniture we had in the Army in the 60's.
The cabinet was built of wood - essentially 1/8" thin sheets of what we
called Luan plywood on a frame of 1X3 pine - by the construction crew
run by Bob Scaife at MGM. The wood was painted "as metal", and given
the hammertone finish in the final paint process. After the basic
construction was done, but before final paint, my crew installed all the
lights and circuitry to make the lights blink (a fellow named Mick Baron
did that). I think you can detect the pattern of an early LED stereo
equalizer display in there - built up from a piece of stereo hardware I
picked up somewhere.
The flat panel display (the early flourescent type) that carried
the countdown information was the only existing prototype of a
display developed by a fellow I knew in Sunnyvale who I met through
Paul Lovoi, then of InTA (International Technical Associates, formerly
of ILC), who built the giant strobe system we used for the end
sequence. Paul was, and is, one of the most brilliant people I
have ever met - he's still in Sunnyvale and still inventing very
cool stuff. I have drawn a blank on the display fellow's name, but he
was a well known inventor in Silicon Valley in the 80's, and had quite
a few patents to his name (Nolan...? Damn, why can't I remember that? I
may have to call Paul). Anyway, I hand carried the display on my lap
from Sunnyvale to MGM, where I personally installed the display in the
WOPR and then connected it to an Apple II with a prototype driver card
for displaying characters on the screen.
While filming the machine, I sat huddled inside with the Apple in my lap
and typed commands into it per instructions from John Badham as the
camera rolled. Very high tech. The display is only seen in insert
because it had not yet been installed when we shot the live action
around WOPR. I remember that the driver card was not built to run at
48hz, which we needed to maintain sync with the 24 frame per second
camera, so I, with the help of a fellow named Larry Barton, changed out
the crystal on the board, and then trimmed it by rubbing it with a lead
pencil until the scope showed us 48hz. Fun.
So, no, the WOPR was not built in Borehamwood, England, but in
Culver City, California, by members of the International Association
of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 44. I have no idea
where Christine Finn got her information, especially since her spelling
of WOPR (so prominent on the screen) is so bogus. No part of the film
and no props were made in the U.K. I'm afraid the quote is false.
Sorry, it sounds like a good story.
Happy to help with this anytime. Boy, those were the days. All those
1's and 0's moved pretty slowly, and you could do just about anything
with a wire wrap tool, a soldering iron, and a 10Mhz scope. Sheesh!
Which reminds me of a bit of trivia: John wanted sparks to come out of
the "control panels" that were installed in the outer walls of the set
as WOPR nearly started WW3. I mentioned to John that this was highly
unlikely, and very nearly impossible - maybe he should not do this.
But, he was adamant. So, we connected 110VAC to the positive and
negative pins of some IC's, and showed John what that looked like. He
thought that was great, and that is what made the sparks in those panels
near the end of the big missile sequence.
And what finally
happened to this wonderful prop?...
Well, the WOPR
was broken up for scrap and I retrieved some of the electronics. There
really wasn't much to it. The display went back to the fellow who built
it (see below). To correct Sellam [Ismail], it was not a backlit
liquid crystal display, it was a flourescent matrix, similar to a lot
of segmented alphanumeric displays at the time. It was essentially
a large flat glass envelope with some sort of noble gas and some sort of
anode/cathode arrangement/addressing scheme that made individual dots
glow. (Damn! That's it! The guy who designed and built that display
was Lowell Noble! He died a few years back, but he was another great
guy. If I remember correctly, I think that one of Lowell's
contributions to life on Earth was as a member of the team that designed
the tritium trigger that made fusion bombs possible. Always hard to
square with my experience of him.) Lowell did do some experimenting
with LCD's for color displays in the mid 80's, and developed a full
color laser projector that was the first I had ever seen (also
mid-80's). In fact, I didn't see anything to equal it until the late
A new DVD digital
release of Wargames?
Yep! You read it
here. I was just
contacted about possibly providing the original 1983 WarGames film props
to be used for a special edition DVD of the film WARGAMES for Fox Home
Entertainment. I thought the Director's Cut DVD would be the pinnacle
of promotion for this 24-year old classic, but the wizards of Hollywood
have devised something even greater! We'll have to wait a bit to see
what comes of this, but if history is any kind of soothsayer, I'd bet a
burger 'n beer that it'll be worth watching!
AT&T's "Voices" campaign was launched in March, 2006, filmed in one
of Howard Hughes' immense airplane assembly hangars located on the
grounds of Playa Vista Studios (near the Los Angeles
International Airport), where some of the most memorable technical props
in modern film history were assembled for a major commercial shoot.
I provided the original
"WarGames IMSAI" (and related props), which is featured in a
starring role along with "Robby the Robot" from "Forbidden
Planet", "Rosie the Robot" (from television's "The
Jetsons") (uh... that's me on the left!)
the intelligent talking Pontiac from the "Knight Rider" television
series in AT&T's new commercial campaign. More photos and story coming
up as soon!
The commercial clip can
be found on YouTube
As an aside, I was absolutely captivated by the
original film release of "Forbidden Planet" in 1956 and never imagined
in my wildest dreams that I might someday share Robby's space in place
of the lovely Anne Francis, as shown in the following image:
the answer to one of the most asked-about items
"What happened to the WOPR?"
A reproduction of the original 1983 WOPR prop has been made and is
featured with the "WarGames IMSAI", "Robbie the Robot",
"Rosie the Robot" (from television's "The Jetsons"), and "K.I.T.T."
in an AT&T commercial that was filmed in Los Angeles.
more related items...
Another "WarGames" Treasure!
Two years ago I was astounded and immensely grateful to come into
possession of one of the two CompuPro 8/16 computers used in the
backstage control of the set of "WarGames" as described above. I
only became aware of the heritage this unique machine when the donor
casually mentioned it to me during our discussion of IMSAI history.
More details about this priceless addition to the "WarGames IMSAI"
collection will be added as time permits.
IMSAI 8080 was originally to have had a "walk-on" part in
Turner Network Television's "Pirates of Silicon Valley", a Hollywood version of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates from their
hacking days to the distant present.
based on Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine's 1999
updated book "Fire in the Valley", the movie does not even
begin to resemble the original 1984 publication.
Instead, it depicts Steve Wozniak (Apple
Computer's co-founder along with Jobs) as a kind of rummy,
happy-go-lucky hardware hack, Jobs as a brilliant, but psychotic
opportunist, and Gates as the clever manipulator of all he surveys.
In short, it didn't really do justice to any of it's principal characters.
The movie does present a well-produced fiction that is
engaging and entertaining despite its limited scope. Just don't take any of the story as
factual. Oh... and the IMSAI 8080? Apparently just another
"Face on the Cutting Room Floor".
Footnote: The Wargames DVD
Director's Cut version commentary track has Mr. Lasker suggesting he
specified a Radio Shack TRS-80 for the slot filled by our IMSAI 8080. Time,
or a changing of the guard with film personnel in the early stages of
may have eroded Mr. Lasker's memory. Otherwise, our IMSAI 8080
suffered a most fortunate mis-casting!
This oversight seems to have promoted further fallacy,
witnessed by this offering of a supposedly "official MGM" tee shirt on eBay
in September 2002: