Brett Desmond, a world-class hacker with whistle blower legal problems, has been hurriedly recruited to a tech start-up to complete the development of ROPER, a top-secret all-seeing behavior recognition program, after its lead programmer Foster Cotton, goes on a murder/suicide rampage. With a tight deadline and only a small software testing crew Brett works around the clock, sleeping when he can in the office. His only contact with the outside world are videochats with his wife and daughter, his programming counterpart in India, and an outlaw hacker pal. As his fatigue and frustration mounts, he becomes attracted to Nora Huntsman, a beautiful and mysterious member of the testing team. But as Brett dives deeper into ROPER the code takes on a life of its own…and increasingly warps Brett’s psyche as well.
NIGHTMARE CODE came out of something I learned working in video game development. Prior to that experience I thought that any two programmers of comparable skill would write the same program with code that would be 95% similar. I learned instead that different programmers come up with vastly different coding solutions, meaning that somewhere deep inside every computer, every mobile phone, is the individual personality of a programmer – expressed as logic. But what if this personality, this logic, was sentient? And what if it was extremely pissed off?
Based on that premise my co-writer, M.J. Rotondi, and I created R.O.P.E.R., a high-tech software and surveillance system that has the ability to accurately recognize human behavior in real time. R.O.P.E.R. (named so for “roping in” all the video in the wi-fi or cellular area) doesn’t just interpret what you say — it displays what you’re truly feeling. Although we wrote and shot this film several years prior to release, before behavior recognition companies existed, we appear to have predicted that very thing.
With a production budget of just $80,000, we chose a rigorous schema of surveillance camera, PC cam and eyeglasscam shots that would be justified by the nature of OptDex, our beleaguered software start-up. We wanted to provide to the audience the geography of OptDex, so that the comfort of these recurring angles could be shattered when the events within them go haywire.
In post-production we settled on the quad screens that checkerboard the movie. The rule was to always think like R.O.P.E.R., whether editing over intricate visual mosaic or creating the 600+ individual visual effects. The viewer feels that R.O.P.E.R. is telling them this story – and we believe ours is the first feature film ever told from the point of view of Artificial Intelligence.
Imagine The Shining in a start-up as told by H.A.L. from 2001.
As the remaining employees at OptDex find themselves increasingly affected by R.O.P.E.R., the audience is also scanning the screen wondering who’s going to appear where next, creating a highly active visual experience. As for the uneasiness, R.O.P.E.R. does not disappoint.
Central to this story of technology outgrowing are grasp are the very human leads, Andrew J. West (The Walking Dead), Mei Melançon (The L Word) and Googy Gress (Apollo 13) who bring the uniquely modern characters of Brett, Nora and Cotton to life, making palpable their drives, doubts and passions.
Above all, we made NIGHTMARE CODE to open up a highly relevant conversation, asking how our mastery of computer code is changing our basic human codes of behavior. Do we still control our tools, or are we (willingly) allowing our tools to take control of us?
Director/ Co-Writer / Producer