film investigates the
“potential dark side”
of a widely-accepted
Empathy, Inc. — a sci-fi thriller about a tech company that offers a VR experience of poverty to wealthy people — premieres June 24th at Chicago’s legendary Music Box Theatre. The film is part of the official selection for the second annual Cinepocalypse horror/thriller festival.
According to screenwriter Mark Leidner, Empathy, Inc. “explores what it means to actually identify with someone else, in all of the worse, and sometimes positive ways.” It is both Leidner and director Yedidya Gorsetman’s second feature-length film.
Like most indies, production included an unexpected issue.
It began in the back of an old New Jersey K-Mart that the filmmakers transformed into a VR laboratory set. The front of the building housed an indoor soccer rink, where the owners conducted business without knowing what was going on in the other half.
“One night, when we weren’t there, some kids snuck into the back,” recalls Chicago-based producer Josh Itzkowitz. “They saw this chair with chains attached to it, blood everywhere, and needles.”
The police came to investigate, found the prop gun, and confiscated everything.
“It was a really scary moment,” laughs Itzkowitz. “It was terrifying.”
Luckily, the filmmakers were able to convince the police to release the props from the evidence room.
EMPATHY, INC. RIGEL FILMS
Production stories aside, Gorsetman, Leidner, and Itzkowitz’s final result showcases the power of media coverage and the uneasy potential of VR — all in one thrilling noir.
According to the trio, the Empathy, Inc. concept formed when they collaborated on a noticeably different movie called Jammed — a romantic comedy about a sober filmmaker’s epic attempt to document a jam band festival.
The pitfalls that the filmmakers experienced during that first project prepared them for a much smoother process with Empathy, Inc.
JAMMED RUNAWAY BANDIT FILMS
Director Gorsetman states, “All of our craft got a lot stronger,” and the experience shows.
For example, Leidner moved to New York City with the intention of spending six months on writing the script for Empathy, Inc. He popped it out in just three weeks.
“To me, this is a great collaboration,” says Leidner “I really love working with them.”
Itzkowitz emphasizes that Empathy, Inc.’s production process “was super smooth,” and its six-week duration (compared to the 9 days for Jammed) “was filmed in a sustainable way.”
Though a highly entertaining film packed with action and an engaging premise, Leidner stresses that the story investigates the potential dark side of empathy — a term and philosophy most always considered a virtue.
“There is a general thought that empathy is good… there’s also the ability for villains to co-opt that good thing,” proclaims Leidner.
He continues, “It’s everywhere with marketers and advertisers. Their job is to empathize in a commodified way… to understand exactly what people think and feel so they can sell them stuff.”
In regards to technique, the film effectively utilizes subtle and jarring transitions throughout.
Director Gorsetman states, “We wanted to create juxtaposition and the feeling of juxtaposition in the scenes… we’re trying to compare homelessness and wealth.”
As for having Empathy, Inc.’s world premiere at the Music Box, Itzkowitz comments, “Dude, it’s so exciting! …It’s such a big, beautiful, and historical theater.”
Though technically a low-budget indie film, Empathy, Inc. feels like a high-budget thriller grounded on its clever and surprisingly believable script.
Devious plot, outstanding acting, noir-ish cinematography, natural dialogue, expressionist mise en scène – Empathy, Inc. is sophisticated on all levels. Its 96 minutes ends hard and fast.
As usual, attendees at the Music Box Theatre are in for a treat.
Cinepocalypse 2018 will screen horror classics and premieres from June 21st to June 28th at the Music Box Theatre. Empathy, Inc. screens Sunday, June 24th at 5:00 pm.
For more information about Cinepocalypse 2018 and its show times, click here.
Contact Joey Filer at Joey@reelchicago.com or follow him on Twitter @FilerJoey.