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An Interview with Director Mark Netter

Director Mark Netter chats with INFLUX Magazine

by Martin Hafer

I was recently fortunate to have seen an excellent low-budget thriller, Nightmare Code.  I was even more fortunate to be able to discuss this film with Mark Netter, the man responsible for co-writing, producing as well as directing this movie!

Martin Hafer: Tell us about yourself.

Mark Netter: I’m a movie lover since I was a kid.  While I was at the New York University Graduate School of Film & Television, I was working as the Music Supervisor on several Olympic broadcasts, I then came out and worked for Producers and Directors on studio feature films and got sucked into the videogame business for a few years, and then digital marketing.

Along the way I managed to meet and marry my amazing wife and we’re raising our two teenage boys in LA, where I take them to either great classic movies or great new action movies. Martin: What prompted you to make the film Nightmare Code?  Were there any things about your past that helped contribute to the script or style of the film?

Nightmare Code came out of a lunch I had with our lead Executive Producer, Craig Allen, in January 2012.  At that time he was CEO of an independent videogame development company, and we came up with the idea of shooting an ultra-low budget surveillance camera movie in their offices, and the core idea of computer code becoming sentient.

As Craig and I discussed, what if that personality, that logic, were not only self-aware but extremely pissed off?

I had a feel for how programmers acted based on my work in videogame development, and I’d also been in a start-up that was running short of time and cash, so I was able to bring that level of believability to the story, as was my Co-Writer, M.J. Rotondi, who’s also had experiences in tech.

We had to come up with a cutting edge type of software the fictional start-up in Nightmare Code would be building, and the idea of behavior recognition seemed perfect, allowing us to shoot surveillance style in a very meaningful way.  That program we call ROPER, because it “ropes in” all the video in the wi-fi area.

Martin: Tell me about your writing partner as well as how this collaboration worked for you

Mark: I ran home from the lunch and called Michael, who lives on the other side of the USA from me, in NYC (I’m in LA).  I said I would write the treatment, a prose version of the events, and begged him to script the movie, staying about 5 pages behind me.

Not only did Michael agree but he did the first pass on nearly all the dialogue, got rid of scenes I’d written that weren’t necessary, and added the key element of ROPER being able to manipulate the video it captures, creating an extremely unsettling sense that the viewer may not be able to trust everything they see.

Martin: I loved the style of your film. Despite a low budget, it sure didn't look it.

Mark: We needed a way to shoot a lot of material inexpensively, and I’m not a huge fan of “shaky cam” handheld movies.  So the entire film is shot with surveillance camera, PC cam (including videochat) and eyeglass camera (actually worn by the actors).  The PC cam gave us close-ups and the eyeglass cam gave us movement.

In post production we realized that we had essentially made a movie from the point of view of ROPER, so to emphasize that we created the surveillance “quads,” where for much of the movie the viewer watches four images at once, like a surveillance monitor, only the images are not always in sync, since ROPER is manipulating the story.

Nightmare Code is the first film told by an artificial intelligence – imagine The Shining in a tech start-up as told by H.A.L. from 2001.

Martin: What motivates you to make films?

Mark: Ever since I was a child I’ve loved the immersive nature of movies, that they take you to another realm, let you feel emotions through the characters, and can open your mind to whole new possibilities

The experience of directing on the film, even at the toughest moments, has been incredibly rewarding.  My favorite parts of the process are working with my Co-Writer, working in rehearsal and on-set with the actors, getting the final cut just right and then seeing the film with audiences.

Miraculously, viewers are getting exactly the feelings and ideas we poured into the movie when we wrote and shot it three years earlier.

Martin: Are there any people you'd like to talk about who helped you make your pictures come true?

Mark: Certainly Craig Allen and our other Executive Producer, Avi Bachar, through Spark Unlimited, made Nightmare Code possible, and we added additional investors, our Associate Producers, along with a ton of Indiegogo donators who helped us with finishing funds.  Psychic Bunny did all of our visual effects – over 600 of them! – and were fantastic to work with.

My family has been hugely supportive of this journey, and I must thank our cast, particularly our leads Andrew J. West (of The Walking Dead) and Mei Melançon (X-Men: The Last Stand) for not only enthusiastically agreeing to do the movie, but for committing 100% with tremendous performances.

Martin: Here is a chance to talk about what you want the readers to read about you. You could, for example, make a pitch for financial backing or whatever you'd like or talk about upcoming projects.

Mark: Hi, Readers!  With any independent feature that doesn’t have big Hollywood studio money to advertise, we’re dependent on you to see Nightmare Code and, if you enjoy it, to spread the word.  We hope that the idea that our technological tools have outgrown our control will make the film meaningful to you, along with the suspense, twists and shocks that entertain you along the way.

So please find our movie on Google Play, on iTunes (as of 9/29) or pre-order the DVD on Amazon etc (coming out 11/27).  We’ll be on other platforms as well – any help getting the film known and discussed is personally appreciated by all of us involved in making this film.

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