Empathy Inc Interview: Talking Indie Sci-Fi With Director Yedidya Gorsetman

Science fiction is easy to come by. But great thought-provoking science fiction, well that’s another story. For every Looper film there are dozens of Pandorum’s and Anomaly’s out there. Indie science fiction is truly a hard craft to master. So, when I finished watching director Yedidya Gorsetman’s indie science fiction movie Empathy Inc I found myself pleasantly satisfied. Empathy Inc shows that not all great science fiction movies need to have a hundred-million-dollar budget to be inventive. Recently I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Gorsetman.

RELATED – Empathy Inc. Review: An Indie Sci-Fi Gem

Empathy Inc, directed by Yedidya Gorsetman releases September 13 on VOD and DVD. Check out the synopsis and interview with director Yedidya Gorsetman below.

An investor discovers that the virtual reality company he invested in provides real experiences.

LRM: Where’d the concept for Empathy, Inc. come from?

Yedidya: We wanted to do something that was, you know, we like big stories, we’re fans of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, things like that. And so we wanted to tackle something that was big. And so we were kind of just thinking, really trying to think out of the box about different ways we could do that with limited resources. And so, we were very interested in a thriller and kind of using, I don’t want to spoil anything but, really trying to use people playing different characters and trying to kind of have that be some sci-fi element to talk about some bigger, bigger themes. That was something that was really exciting to us. So that’s kind of how we landed on kind of wacky territory.

LRM: Nice. How did you decide to go for black and white over color with the film?

Yedidya: Well, we were just, we kind of ended up in this cross between two genres. We were kind of telling a sci-fi film and a noir. And noirs, a lot of noirs are black and white. It’s kind of just, I think, I think it’s a really, is the aesthetic kind of lends itself. I mean original noirs were made really as a form of low budget filmmaking because film stock was much cheaper and you can get away with a lot more in black and white. But I think that it also just lends itself to this kind of storytelling. I mean they usually take place in seedy environments and there’s good guys and there’s bad guys, but you don’t really know who’s who. And so, when we were kind of coming up with this idea and we were really developing the storyline, we kind of gravitate it towards what can we do with it to kind of put our own, to put our spin on it and to make it feel like you’re in this universe. And black and white was just one of those things that when we thought about it, we really liked the idea. It’s just, I think also because so much of the, so many of the films we were watching were just like naturally in black and white. But, also I think that when we just tried it out, it just instinctively felt right. It felt cool. It felt like a technology film in black and white that, that there’s something interesting there.

LRM: Awesome. Thanks for filling me in on that.  And speaking of performances, you have some really strong convincing performances. How’d you go about selecting your actors?

Yedidya: I mean I definitely saw my role as just getting the right people for the roles. And then really letting them kind of run loose and do it, and experiment and then do things that they would, that there’d just be an environment where they were comfortable to kind of really pushing things. We spent a lot of time in pre-production just finding the right actors and I think for films of our size, we, we’ve probably spent a, you know, maybe triple or quadruple what those films I think will typically put towards casting. We took a couple months where we just, we worked with the cast very closely with a casting director, Harley Kaplan.

We’re New York-based. So, we just said let’s just find the best talent that we can in New York, like theater, film, whatever. It doesn’t matter. But like, who’s interesting and who has range, and who’s going to be able to tackle not just this one character’s role but be able to kind of go back and forth. And that I think really invited and it got us to just meet a lot of really interesting people and a lot of, a lot of really interesting actors who kind of brought something.

Everyone was bringing something their own to it. And then when we met the cast that we have, we were just blown away and we were like, okay, we would see someone and we’d say, “Okay, this just feels right.” Yeah. And that was it. There was a big focus on casting and a big focus on, once we hired those people, letting them do what they thought was right.

LRM: Wow. All right. That’s awesome. Thanks for filling me in there. It was really fascinating watching those switches go on. Speaking of which, the concept of XVR, it’s unique. Not to spoil too much, but it’s not a one-way street sorta with the switch. And I wanted to ask you how’d you come up with that concept?

Yedidya: Well Mark and I. Mark the writer and I said we had written a couple things together, or I, or Mark had written something and then we’d work on it. We had decided, let’s not write because it takes a really long time to write a script. Let’s not do that. Let’s instead just come up with concepts. And so for about six months, we would pass each other ideas, “Hey, what do you think about this?” We’d speak at nights and weekends. We kind of just, “What do you think about this? What are the strengths, what are the weaknesses?”, and eventually Mark sent this idea. He was really trying to play with this idea of characters playing other people because of this, it’s a free effect if you can get the right actor. When he had sent the idea, we were both kind of like, yes, this is it. Let’s move forward.

LRM: Interesting. Okay. Yeah. It definitely comes through in the final product there. One thing that I noticed when watching the film was that the, I guess the aesthetic, the design of the XVR. Was that your initial approach to portray the gear for XVR in that manner, or did it evolve similarly as it did in the, as we see in the film?

Yedidya: I think that it really evolved. I mean, I think when we originally thought of it, we knew it would be a machine. We knew it would be something that looked unique. I think we really embraced this idea during pre-production that if things look like they have a purpose. Like, we had experimented with a couple styles in terms of the helmets and things.

And I remember there was one helmet that was probably the most, in terms of the ingredients that went into, like in terms of the materials that went into it. You know, it’s probably the most advanced. It was metal. It was like, but something about it just didn’t feel right. It felt kind of fake when you looked at it. And so we kind of just came to this realization that, Oh, if you want something to look real or if you want something to be convincing, I mean real is kind of its own thing, but convincing, at least when you’re watching it, it’s like you give things a purpose, like whether they do anything or not, but you have wires that go from the helmet to the ground or into a server, that’s what you would assume if someone was making this technology, they would do. And so if you kind of follow just even a vague logic, but you follow a logic of if this machine was real and I built it, this is what it would probably look like, it’s really convincing. People don’t think about it. They’re just in the story. So it evolved, but it was definitely coming from a place of experimentation.

LRM: It was interesting because it felt like John Malkovich but also Wall Street at the same time.

Yedidya: Yeah.

LRM: It really seems like a cautionary tale against the destruction caused by greed. What do you want viewers to take away from Empathy, Inc. when they finish watching the film?

Yedidya: We’re interested in exploring this theme, of success, of greed. We put out a couple of potential things, and one of which is Joel’s relationship with Jessica. But I think there are a couple things and I think that just as, I think my role is kind of just to present them and, or our role as a team is to kind of present them and then just see what people think. So I’m, I mean, I have some theories, but I think at this point it’s beyond that and I’m kind of just excited to see what people say.

LRM: Very interesting. Finally, I’d like to ask you if you have any final words for fans of Empathy, Inc. or the, well the readers of LRM online who actually read the interview. Any words for them? Anything that they should check out of yours?

Yedidya: Yeah, the film is coming out in, on September 13th and then it’s going to be on VOD two weeks later. Obviously, the theater is a great place to check it out, but if not, I think check it out online. I think it’s a great, I’m really proud of the film and I think audiences are really going to enjoy it.

LRM: Great. Well, that’s awesome. I appreciate you taking time out for the interview today, Yedidya.

Yedidya: Yeah, thanks Stephon.

Be sure to check out Empathy Inc in theaters on September 13! Two weeks later you can check it out on VOD.

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Stephon White

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