Mark Netter talks to us about his new feature film Nightmare Code, now available on Google Play. Netter wrote the film with M.J Rotondi.
Was this the first screenplay you’d written, Mark?
I’ve written about half a dozen screenplays but this is the first one that’s turned into a movie – thanks to the opportunity that arose and especially to my Co-Writer, M.J. Rotondi (Roto). He did the first pass on all the dialogue and helped sort out the story along the way.
How do you write? Do you lock yourself in a room and go hard for a few days OR go away and come back to a story?
When I’m in it I like to write every day, usually starting by reviewing and fussing with whatever I wrote yesterday. With NIGHTMARE CODE we had an unusual arrangement where I wrote the treatment at the same time that Roto was scripting – he just stayed about five pages behind me. Consequently if he came up with a big change to something I had written, I was able to incorporate it into the story still left to write. When we were done, we took turns polishing the draft.
Did the script come easily? Did it naturally flow once you had the idea?
The original idea, hatched with Executive Producer Craig Allen over lunch, was that deep inside every computer program, whether in your PC or tablet or phone, is the personality of the programmer who wrote the code, expressed as logic. Some programmers will even say that their code is the one thing they create that will be their individual mark on the world, their immortality. We thought, what if that personality, that logic was sentient, and what if it was extremely pissed off.
Everything flowed for there, and I had the idea for Brett Desmond (Andrew J. West of THE WALKING DEAD) as a programmer grappling with code created by a previous, mentally unstable programmer, code that was itself out of control. The idea of having him become with a female software tester, Nora Huntsman (Mei Melançon of X-MEN: THE LAST STAND) came easily as well. But ultimately it was through working with Roto that the final story got figured out.
What do you think your strongest attribute is as a writer – the situations or the dialogue?
I’ve been pretty good at coming up the initial premise, some key situations, and then with some combination of my writing partner and my efforts, guiding or editing the story into final form. But that’s largely due to the skills of my Co-Writer, as Roto did the hard work of sweating out the first draft of actual script pages. I did my dialogue pass and had a few decent lines but he’s the main architect of how the characters talk in NIGHTMARE CODE, particularly how we handled the technical jargon so that non-engineers can follow.
What’s the trick to making characters realistic, when writing, you think?
You have to come up with relatable situations and predicaments. Someone may be a genius, but maybe they’re incredibly lonely as well – something anyone can, at some point in their life, relate to. In our movie Brett, Nora and team are desperately trying to finish a job, the programming of ROPER, the behavior recognition technology at the heart of the NIGHTMARE CODE. They’re under time pressure they’re under and ROPER seems to be acting up and making their job seem impossible. Who hasn’t at some point had a job to do that was agonizingly difficult, with the clock ticking down against them?
Is there anything you decided to remove from the script after a couple of drafts?
We made most of our cuts in the edit room – whole scenes, particularly in the first half of the movie. What happens 25 minutes in was at the 45-minute mark in the initial cut. We streamlined NIGHTMARE CODE down to 89 minutes – less was always more, and led to greater suspense.
Did the budget see anything being excised?
We shot the movie for $80,000 so the budget limitations were built into the script – 90% in one location, the offices of OptDex, shooting the whole movie over 7 weekend, 14 days total. I knew from NYU Grad Film School how to prepare right, work quickly and stay on schedule. Aside from a disaster morning with a nightvision camera that melted down, we were good.
Looking at the film now, what do you think it’s biggest strengths are?
I love that people tell me NIGHTMARE CODE has a suspenseful tension from the start. One audience member called it “fun tension.” I like that it doesn’t look like any other movie – it’s the first film told from the point of view of an artificial intelligence. And I’m thrilled that, as we had hoped, after people watch the movie they question the technology in their lives. One reviewer said he was too afraid to look at his iPhone for the rest of the night!
Nightmare Code, now available on Google Play