Nerve is a razor-sharp examination of the seductive power of social media.

Nerve is also a cautionary tale about the internet’s potential to cause harm, especially for young people.

The bigger the risk, the bigger the payoff in Nerve, an exhilarating thriller set on the streets of New York City, where amateur daredevils compete in an all-or-nothing game that mines their online information to exploit their wildest dreams—and their deepest fears.

Nerve 2

Industrious high school senior, Vee Delmonico [Emma Roberts], has had it with living life on the sidelines. When pressured by friends to join the popular online game Nerve, Vee decides to sign up for just one dare in what seems like harmless fun. But as she finds herself caught up in the thrill of the adrenaline-fueled competition partnered with a mysterious stranger [Dave Franco], the game begins to take a sinister turn with increasingly dangerous acts, leading her into a high stakes finale that will determine her entire future.

Shy, straight-arrow high-school senior Venus “Vee” Delmonico (Emma Roberts) breaks out of her comfort zone when she impulsively signs up for Nerve, an adrenaline-fueled competition that streams live over the internet.

Young thrill-seekers challenge each other to a series of dares that rapidly escalate from mildly embarrassing to downright deadly, as an anonymous community of “watchers” instigates the action. When Vee is partnered with a mysterious stranger named Ian (Dave Franco), their instant chemistry makes them online stars and fan favorites. As the night wears on, though, Vee alienates her longtime friends and puts her life on the line in pursuit of money and celebrity.

Making a discovery about Ian’s past, Vee finds her family’s future at risk. As the tension mounts, the stakes rise—and the possible outcome shifts from win or lose to life or death.

Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman

Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman (Directors) have been filmmaking partners since 2006 and founded the New York City-based production company Supermarché. Their first feature documentary, Catfish, premiered at the Sundance film festival, where it received critical acclaim and went on to a nationwide release in 2010. Their next feature, Paranormal Activity 3 (2011), opened to rave reviews and the biggest opening weekend of all time within the horror genre. They are also executive producers on “Catfish: The TV Show” for MTV, now in its fifth season, and the Sundance 2016 hit White Girl. The duo have directed a number of successful commercials and short films including “Dear Sophie” (TIME magazine’s Best Commercial of the Year) and “A Brief History of John Baldessari,” narrated by Tom Waits, which has screened at more than 56 film festivals worldwide. They have also made a number of short films for Vogue magazine including Australian Psycho, starring Margot Robbie, and Cover Girl, starring Lena Dunham.

Nerve is directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman (Catfish, Paranormal Activity 3) from a screenplay by Jessica Sharzer (American Horror Story, Turn the Beat Around).

Based on the popular young-adult novel by Jeanne Ryan, Nerve is both an edge-of-your-seat thriller and a razor-sharp examination of the seductive power of social media.

Are you a watcher or a player?

Are you a watcher or a player? That’s your choice in the game of Nerve, in which thrill-seeking players accept increasingly risky dares from anonymous watchers to win valuable rewards. As small-time pranks ramp up into dangerous, sometimes acts, fans watch the action captured live on smartphones.

Based on the popular young-adult novel by Jeanne Ryan, Nerve is both an edge-of-your-seat thriller and a razor-sharp examination of the seductive power of social media.

The directing team of Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, best known for their work on Catfish and the Paranormal Activity series, have created an action-packed urban adventure that also offers keen insights into online behavior.

“Our first film, Catfish, started a national conversation about the internet and identity,” says Joost. “This is a similar opportunity to talk about the way all of us, teenagers in particular, communicate these days. We can do all kinds of things on the internet that we might not do in real life.”

In Nerve, when Staten Island high-school senior Vee Delmonico (played by Emma Roberts) is challenged by her best friend to take part in the game, it launches a series of life-changing events.

“We take a shy girl, sit her in front of the internet, and she’s suddenly inspired to be someone she didn’t have the courage to be yesterday,” says Schulman. “Someone in cyberspace is daring her to be something she may not want to be. Vee goes down the rabbit hole to the dark side of that. The online audience can be powerfully alluring. All of a sudden you’re posting pictures you never would’ve shown anybody, and that’ll catch up with you.”

The game operates through a smartphone app, allowing prospective players to sign up and start taking chances instantly. Getting out is another story. “The watchers have access to your personal information from Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat—everything else you’re using,” says Joost. “They custom-craft dares based on your fears and aspirations. It starts out pretty easy and fun. But the game tries to find your limits.”

Jessica Sharzer

Jessica Sharzer (Screenwriter) made her feature writing and directing debut with Speak, starring Kristen Stewart. The film premiered at Sundance and was nominated for a Writers Guild Award and a Directors Guild Award. She has since developed feature films for Universal, HBO Films, MTV and Endgame Entertainment. Sharzer is currently adapting The Young Elites by bestselling YA author Marie Lu for producer Wyck Godfrey and 20th Century Fox. On television, Sharzer spent four seasons as a writer and producer on the acclaimed FX series “American Horror Story.” She also wrote the three-hour musical “Dirty Dancing” for ABC and has developed drama pilots for CBS, Fox, MTV and ABC. She is currently on an overall deal with 20th Century Fox developing the drama pilots “Dress to Kill,” with Imagine Entertainment, and “Day of the Dead,” with Cirque du Soleil. Sharzer holds a master’s degree from UC Berkeley in Russian literature and an M.F.A. in film and television from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

The more sinister side of the internet seemed like a topic that was ripe for exploration to actress Emma Roberts, who plays Vee. “People are putting their whole lives on the internet today,” she notes. “This movie captures that phenomenon and takes it one step further.”

Roberts says she thinks twice now when she uses Instagram, Twitter—or even email. “Nothing’s ever truly private. I think this movie taps into that feeling. Whatever you post can potentially be seen by anyone, whether you want it to be or not.”

Roberts recalls reading many scripts while searching for her next project, but says Nerve was the one that stood out. “It had all the elements of the movies I like to watch: It had a lot of action, it had a love story, it had a friendship story and it was set in New York City. There’s something so expressive about New York on film for me. I remember putting the script down and feeling that this would be something special and I wanted to be a part of it.”

When she met with the co-directors to discuss the film, Roberts was impressed by their preparation, especially when it came to the movie’s innovative visuals. “They showed me a book they had put together with pictures that represented how things would look and feel,” she remembers. “They captured New York City as a character in itself in a way that I hadn’t seen before. Visually, they’re doing something amazingly fresh. They were really involved with everything from hair and wardrobe to the shots and the dialogue. They made me really excited to be a part of this.”

The timeliness of the script was also one of the attractions for Dave Franco, who plays Ian, Vee’s fellow player and potential love interest. “The script taps into something that’s relevant right now,” he says. “People are not themselves when they’re hiding behind a computer screen. They are willing to do and say things that would be off limits when you’re face to face.”

Joost & Schulman first learned about the project from producer Allison Shearmur, who thought the filmmakers’ grasp of technology and youth culture made them the ideal directors for Nerve. “These are young filmmakers with a lot to say about their generation,” she says. “Their style of storytelling is of the moment, authentic and unique. The technology in the film is 10 minutes in the future, but the themes and situations are right this second.”

According to Franco, the directors bring a unique point view to their films. “They always give you something that you’re not expecting,” he says. “I’m excited about every aspect of this movie—the visuals, the story and the characters all really work. This won’t just appeal to younger people. It’s much bigger and more thoughtful than that.”

Each game of Nerve lasts only 24 hours; then a winner is declared and it moves on to the next challengers. “The movie asks the audience the same question Vee asks herself,” says Schulman. “Are you a watcher or a player? Not just in the game of Nerve, but in life itself. Vee has played it safe her whole life, but Nerve pushes her to take chances, which can be very dangerous. If you play, you may get hurt, or you may win and become a celebrity and make a lot of money. You can take the safe road, or you can take the risk. It’s all up to you.”

Vee’s adventure starts out as a high-octane Cinderella story, says Shearmur. “She meets an unbelievably handsome and sexy stranger. She goes to the Bergdorf Goodman department store and walks out in a dress that costs thousands of dollars. She rides into New York City on a tricked-out motorcycle, and becomes a part of the city in a way that she probably only imagined from her apartment on Staten Island. It only gets dark when she has to start asking the questions that all of us are asking, like, ‘Who is this guy, really?’”

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the game, Shearmur suggests, is that there is no one villain; the threat comes from the anonymous online onlookers. “The game goes from lighthearted wish-fulfillment to menacing and dangerous. Like a mob screaming for dueling gladiators, the bloodlust of the crowd becomes very disturbing.”

The filmmakers drew on unconventional sources to find the inspiration for Nerve’s kinetic energy and pace, including amateur videos they found on YouTube. “Our key word in making this movie was ‘fun,’” says Joost. “We also wanted it to really embrace New York City, which you don’t see as much as you should on film anymore. It’s colorful and dynamic and exciting. It’s an action movie that takes place in the world of Go-Pros and iPhone videos. Because it’s a movie about kids doing dares, we looked to the internet for inspiration and found the most incredible stuff, which we tried to recreate.”


Capturing the immediacy of a YouTube video in a commercial narrative film was challenging, he admits. “It has partly to do with camera angles and cuts. But it’s mostly about keeping things really visceral and putting the audience in the perspective of the player. When Dave Franco’s riding a motorcycle, you’re inside of his helmet. You’re sitting on the back of the bike with Emma Roberts. You’re the person on the street who’s seeing the bike go by. There’s a need to make sure you get the scene, but when you want to shoot it on one tiny camera and you want the actor to hold that camera, there’s a lot of pressure to not screw it up.”

After the success of Catfish, Joost says he and Schulman were often asked if they believed the internet was inherently dangerous. “We said no, the internet is actually very neutral. It is what you make of it. It can be an inspiring place that introduces you to people you would never meet otherwise. It can push you to become a better person. Or it can bring out something darker in you. At the end of the day, it’s about owning up to your actions.”

For all its onscreen thrills and excitement, Nerve is also a cautionary tale about the internet’s potential to cause harm, especially for young people. If the game really existed, the filmmakers believe it would become instantly popular, despite the risks—or perhaps because of them.

“If it popped up for real in the App Store or on some dark-web link, a lot of people would sign up,” Schulman says. “All of a sudden, hundreds of kids would be broadcasting outrageous dares live on their phones. I hope this film sparks an important conversation between parents and kids about peer pressure.”