EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW : MARK NETTER – CO-WRITER/DIRECTOR, NIGHTMARE CODE
Witness the first movie told from the point of view of artificial intelligence with the award winning Nightmare Code, now available on DVD and digital from Indie Rights.
Winner of the 2015 Philip K.Dick Science Fiction Film Festival Award, writer-director Mark Netter’s film tells of Brett Desmond, a genius programmer with a troubled past that is called in to finish a topsecret behavior recognition program, ROPER, after the previous Lead Programmer went insane. But the deeper Brett delves into the code, the more his own behavior begins changing…in increasingly terrifying ways. Suspense builds with surveillance, PC, and eyeglass cameras – often with four images onscreen at once…as if ROPER itself is telling the story.
We caught up with Mark to discuss everything Nightmare Code.
You’ve had a lot of press in the last few months, is that an indication that the movie is a success?
We’re just thrilled that NIGHTMARE CODE is finding its audience, viewers who like smart, suspenseful, surprising sci-fi/horror thrillers. It took us three years from start to finish this movie about behavior recognition technology gone mad, and just today we read that Apple has bought an “emotive recognition” tech start-up that does a version of what our program, ROPER, does in the movie. So I think it’s a timely story that everyone can relate to, since our relationship with technology is more personal than ever in human history. NIGHTMARE CODE is just a very scary, even shocking vision of where it could all take us.
You made a movie about a computer because you’ve worked with computers all your career – that right?
My first work computer, shared, was an IBM-XT back in 1983. Since then I’ve worked in the videogame business, in a mobile start-up and in digital marketing. My Co-Writer, M.J. Rotondi, is NYC based and has worked in technology even longer than I. We both had a sense of how software programmers lived and spoke, and we’ve both been in start-ups under intense pressure to finish products. Our initial inspiration was something I learned over the years, that computer code is a form of the individual’s programmer’s personality, expressed as logic. We wondered what would happen if that logic, that personality, somehow became sentient…and was extremely pissed off.
I had an initial lunch with Executive Producer Craig Allen, whose videogame development company provided our initial and main financing, where we came up with the idea. I wrote the treatment while M.J. wrote the first draft, just five pages behind me the whole way. It really flowed between the two of us – he came up with a few key elements that I was able to incorporate throughout the rest of the script, kind of writing together in real time. We went back a forth a few times polishing the draft and delivered it to Craig a mere 40 days from that fateful lunch.
Did you have investors on this who insisted on certain things being included in the movie or were you left alone to fulfil your vision?
Craig and Avi Bachar, his partner and also Executive Producer, were on board with the concept from the beginning and incredibly supportive of everybody’s work on the movie. Craig gave very strong and useful notes on the script and several edits of the movie. He pushed us to verbalize some of the ideas informing the visuals, which led to a great scene where Foster Cotton (Googy Gress), the homicidal lead programmer seen only in archive video, reveals his idea about achieving immortality by somehow transmuting a person’s personality into code, to CTO Alex Chou (Ivan Shaw). It also ended up being the scene that gives the audience the other side of Foster’s personality – as opposed to what we see when he commits the massacre.
For yourself, is the finished product the movie you set out to make?
I’d say it’s better, both because of the talent that came to the movie – starting with our leading man and woman, Andrew J. West as the emergency replacement programmer, Brett Desmond, who gets too close to the code left by Foster, and Mei Melaçon as Nora Huntsman, software tester and survivor with hidden resources. The amazing Visual Effects work throughout the movie is by Psychic Bunny, Ari Balouzian of Cliff Dweller composed our soundtrack and Laurence Everson did the sound design. And Editor Kyle Goodrich came up with the technique for creating our “quads” – the 4-camera surveillance view that makes up at least half the movie.
Did you find the editing process hard?
I love editing just a little less than I love working with actors, although in this case it took quite awhile as I was working a regular job and could only cut a few nights a week. But once we had the initial assembly it became a fascinating process of building the mosaic, every frame in every quad, deciding when to go out from the quads into a single-image fullscreen frame, trying to make your eye dance while you watch NIGHTMARE CODE.
How much did having an actor from The Walking Dead help the film?
I’m extremely happy for Andy (Andrew J. West) that he’s having the success he is right now. We shot with him a year-and-a-half or so before he shot his first Walking Dead episode, and there’s not a moment of working together that was less than a pleasure. He had an extremely compelling idea of how to play Brett that matched and enhanced our idea of the character and he shows such range in the movie – so committed as he is in every performance. If Walking Dead fans of his sit down and watch NIGHTMARE CODE, I think they’re going to really like his Brett Desmond, and the whole sci-fi/horror experience that comes with it.
For your next, will you be sticking to fresh faces or going after known stars?
M.J. and I have a female-driven noir thriller, four women in an army base town who enter into a blackmail scheme, against a very bad guy, that rapidly spirals into kidnapping, murder and betrayal. It’s called ALL THE WAY DOWN. We’re working on setting it up and wrote the leading male role for Andy, who’s interested. As for the rest of the cast, a lot of that will depend on financing – we did learn that cast recognition has arguably the biggest effect on size of distribution. I’d just like to keep working with the actors who gave us so much on our first movie, and always try to find the right talented person who can truly be the character. Storytellers who, like Andy and Mei in this one, bring something extra to the party.
Nightmare Code is now available on VOD and DVD