19th Sep2015

Interview: Director Mark Netter talks ‘Nightmare Code’

by Phil Wheat

Mark Netter’s Nightmare Code, due for release September 29th on VOD, tells of technology that encompasses the ability to change our behavior. Scary, right!? We spoke to Netter, who comes from a very (not surprisingly) techy background, about his clever new thriller.

nightmare-code-poster

Was making your own movies always part of the plan?

I’ve been a movie fan ever since I was a kid, just loved being transported and living these wildly different experiences, having my mind opened to all kinds of characters, places and possibilities. So I studied Semiotics and made my first black and white 16mm shorts in college, then earned an MFA and New York University Grad Film.

I came out to LA to work for Directors and Producers on a few features before being drawn into videogame producing and then digital marketing. So I’ve finally come full circle, back to what I’ve always wanted to do and love best. Hopefully what I’m best at.

Having spent so much time on other people’s films, did you feel well-equipped going into Nightmare Code?

The great thing about film crews is that once you’ve been on a feature or two, you know the proper procedures and protocols, no matter the scale. Our Nightmare Code production crew was mainly early 20 year-olds, save for myself and our Director of Photography, Robert Fernandez.

But all the key personal knew their jobs and how to get things done together, so things generally went smoothly, despite a few extra-long shoot days. That made our actors comfortable as well – even though our production budget was low, they felt like they were on a professionally run shoot and were free to really let loose and do fantastic work in all the roles.

How did the project come together? Was it a long time coming?

Nightmare Code began as a lunch conversation between myself and lead Executive Producer Craig Allen, who was then the CEO of an independent videogame development company here in Los Angeles. We came up with the idea of shooting a surveillance camera movie in their offices and the central notion of a sentient A.I. that wreaks havoc through behavior recognition and behavior modification.

Had you worked with any of the cast on other projects?

I’m certainly hoping to work with all of them again, and I’m a fan of all their work. Andrew J. West, our male lead, created one of the most memorable villains ever on The Walking Dead this past year, and he also has another terrific indie film this year, Walter, where he’s amazing as the title character.

Our female lead, Mei Melançon, is actually writing scripts now, with a television focus, and she’s been kind enough to let me read some of her work. Like Andy, Mei is smart and not afraid to take chances. Super talented people and a lot of fun to hang out with – you can hear the three of us chatting away on the DVD Commentary for Nightmare Code.

What are you proudest of about the movie?

Since this is my first feature film, I’m kind of blown away that the emotional moments we crafted and audience reactions we’d hope to stir, especially with the more shocking twists, seem to be working now three years after we wrote and shot the movie. To be in an audience when Nightmare Code is projected and get certain audible group reactions…it’s a tribute to everyone involved, especially the performers, that what we lovingly architected into the movie is coming across.

Was it a tough shoot? How long did it last?

The shoot was very controlled, due to the low budget and limited time. We shot over seven weekends for a total of 14 days, just taking one weekend off for 4th of July before the last two. I believe in rehearsal, not a lot but enough, so that when the actors walked on set they knew what to do and we didn’t waste time.

We shot entirely with fixed surveillance camera and PC camera angles, and with eyeglass cam (work by the actors) where the camera moves, POV-style, like in the massacre scene. So we could do 10, 12, 14 pages a day of dialogue scenes (the action scenes took longer), an incredible pace by Hollywood studio standards.

We did have to reshoot several scenes with Andy when we couldn’t get the artificial blood from a particularly shocking effect off the carpet. We had shot scenes that happen after that incident, but the rug had been clean, but I think it helped the movie – the stains are there from the start now. And I think that rug is still as “bloodstained” as we left it.

How would you prefer people watch the movie – on DVD, VOD or one of the theatrical screenings you’re having?

Nightmare Code is a rare visual experience for a film with our budget, since for more than half the film you watch four images at once, like a surveillance quad, only they’re not always in sync, giving you a sense that someone – or something – is telling you the story. We like to say it’s the first movie told from the point of view of an artificial intelligence.

The way we’ve edited our movie, your eye is always busy, tracking characters from one quad to another, sudden adjustments to fullscreen images when the AI (called ROPER in the movie) wants to impress you a certain way, that it’s a really great big screen/projected experience. At the same time, if you’ve got a nice big TV screen with great sound, or an iPad/tablet with a great set of earbuds, you’ll have a very exciting and active experience. Just be sure you watch it in HD if you can, so you don’t miss any of the detail in the quads…and be sure to get the great sound experience from Composer Ari Balouzian and Sound Editor Lawrence Everson – both those guys really believed in the movie and delivered a mind-bending audio experience to match the picture.
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Nightmare Code – winner of the 2015 Philip K.Dick Science Fiction Film Festival Award – is released in the US on VOD on September 29th and DVD October 27th from Indie Rights. Check out some images from the film below:

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