Q&A: Film Director Yedidya Gorsetman on 'Emphathy Inc'
Geeksagogo: How did you conceive the idea for the film?
Yedidya Gorsetman: For our second film, the writer Mark Leidner and I were brainstorming intriguing plot devices you could do on an indie budget. Some examples were time travel between two periods in the present day, mind-reading, people from the past or future in the present day, and actors playing multiple characters. One day Mark sent the idea for Empathy, Inc., which blended a fun VR plot with a complex mystery. It also had a big theme that we were curious about: could you really “learn” empathy and better your soul by “buying” empathetic experiences? It ticked off all the boxes for the type of story we wanted to tell, so we started outlining. The script came pretty quick. Then it was just a matter of executing with our producer Josh Itzkowitz and the rest of our cast and crew.
Geeksagogo: Were you influenced at all by Aronofsky's 'Pi'?
Yedidya Gorsetman: Many films inspired Empathy, Inc., and Pi was one of the big ones. Like Pi we wanted to have a “big idea” that would be fun to think about, a distinct (black-and-white) aesthetic, the tone of a paranoid thriller, a close focus on the main character so the grand ideas don’t sprawl, and of course knowing that it was at least possible to do all that on a microbudget. Empathy, Inc. is also very different from Pi, however. Whereas Pi is a masterpiece of visual experimentation, Empathy, Inc. has a more straightforward visual language. It’s tone is also quite different and maybe has more in common with Being John Malkovich. That being said, we are lucky to even be in the same breath as a groundbreaking indie like Pi.
Geeksagogo: The film seems to have been strongly influenced by live theater.
Yedidya Gorsetman The theme of acting, of being other people, of the way we pretend to be people we are not in order to get what we want, was discussed early and often. We got excited when we realized that we could make the character of Jessica a stage actor, so the theme of performing identity would be woven even more deeply into the story. We also figured if we could find great actors, with the plot device that we had, their layered performances would become our special effects. So, we decided early on that we were going to fully embrace performance as a theme, and that led to several scenes taking place in a black box theatre.
Geeksagogo: The villains seemed to be high-tech hustlers rather than a monolithic threat.
Yedidya Gorsetman: That’s true. We thought it would amplify the themes and even be scarier if the villains were more like real people. Plus it tends to take more money to make a monolithic threat cinematically interesting. A big FX or locations or casting budget might compensate for a lot, but since we didn’t have that, we needed every bad guy to be an interesting human being. It also fit with our theme of people walking in others’ experiences. Watching a protagonist experience life as a villain and vice versa. That wouldn’t have been as interesting with less dimensional villains.
Geeksagogo: Will the cinematic universe of this film be revisited?
Yedidya Gorsetman: That would be nice. But we’re a million miles away from that. We’re just focusing on the release of Empathy, Inc. and working on our new script. But sure, if after seeing Empathy, Inc. someone dumped a bucket of money at our feet and say, “Let’s make a prequel/sequel,” we’d have no shortage of stories to tell.