Mark Netter is a Delmar native and NYU film school grad whose first independent film “Nightmare Code” is a psychological thriller taking the sci-fi world by storm.
After winning the Philip K. Dick Science fiction award, this Thursday, Oct. 1, at 6:30 p.m., the movie will be shown for a one-time only hometown screening at the Spectrum Theater in Albany, followed by a live Q&A with the wrier/director/producer.
The film stars Andrew J. West from season five of “The Walking Dead.” A virtual un-known during the film’s production, his role on the show has helped propel both his career and “Nightmare Code” into the spotlight.
West‘s character takes over program designing for ROPER, a sentient program designed to recognize human thoughts, behaviors and emotions. As West gets deeper and deeper into the program, the smarter ROPER gets. When the program learns to control the behaviors of the humans it observes, viewers are taken on a “visceral and suspenseful journey.”
“The film gets pretty big gasps that’s always really fun,” said Netter, 55. “Someone once told me they couldn’t look at their iPhone for the rest of the night after seeing the film.”
Shot using mock-surveillance camera footage and miniature cameras placed on the eyeglasses of actors, the film sometimes uses four separate shots on one screen, with viewers following actors’ movements between surveillance quadrants.
“About half the movie is edited in such way to really keep the eye engaged and active, while your mind is trying to make sense of everything. It’s why I think we’ve been getting such great reviews,” said Netter. “That and because people relate to character of the programmer being far from home and alone, talking to his family by video camera at night.”
Though the behavior analyzing technology in the film was completely science fiction at the time of shooting, yesterday’s science fiction has become today’s reality as society has now caught up with some of the director’s original ideas. Several companies in recent years have revealed their technology is able to recognize and quantify human behavior. For Netter, this is just another instance of the increasingly intrusive nature of technology in our lives.
“Codes of behavior between people and technology change how we relate to people. We think we can get away with stuff, say awful things, cheat on spouses- things we couldn’t do without having the protection of technology,” said Netter.
Because he spent time years ago working with video game programmers, Netter found writing the script to be the fastest part of the experience of creating the film. His role as director and co-producer took a bit longer.
Three years were spent making the film, with a mere seven weekends of that time spent on shooting. About 90 percent of scenes were shot in the office building where West’s character lives and works. Each weekend, the cast and crew returned to the set, which became an increasingly scary environment- a factor which served to help the actor’s performances.
Because the film is not aligned with a big budget studio, the process after filming was slower. Almost a year was spent on editing, and another ten months were spent on the film’s extensive special effects. Then, more time was spent gaining the funding for distribution. The total budget of the film was just $80,000, a modest cost in the grand scheme of the film industry.
With the success of his first film, the next step is two-fold. The writer/director/producer is in talks to turn his film into an ongoing television series, at the same time as he is planning his next film, a thriller about a group of girls whose plans for murder go horribly awry.
Although Netter now lives and works in Santa Monica, Calif., with his wife Stacy and two boys, Jake and Nate, he still has some family in the Albany area.
“It was a pretty great place to grow up,” said Netter of Delmar. “Just a great place for your imagination to grow.” As a kid, Netter was a member of the science fiction club in high school and created a series of publications with a club called ACIET. He counts Jocelyn Jerry and her Bethlehem Central High School course on literature of the future as one of his early influences.
“After all these years to come back, it just feels so special,” said Netter. “I hope that the film inspires people.”
DVD pre-orders can be placed for the Nov. 27 release, and the film can also be on bought on Vimeo and iTunes. Netter’s co-writer, M.J. Retter, is from Troy.