With virtual reality services and technology becoming more commonplace in our society, director Yedidya Gorsetman has done something pretty impressive and created, with the help of writer Mark Leidner, Empathy Inc., a film where VR is its central focus. The film has recently been praised by Variety and ahead of its wide release tomorrow, Yedidya spoke to ThisIsTheLatest about the creative process involved in making the film, his views on VR in general and his thoughts on the future of the film industry.

TITL: Where did the first ideas for Empathy, Inc. first come from and how did you set about bringing them to life? 

Yedidya Gorsetman: I was working with the writer Mark Leidner, a good friend. For our second film, we’d been brainstorming plot devices that could deliver a big hook but were doable on an indie budget. For example, we were exploring 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, to name a few. Then one day Mark sent the idea for Empathy, Inc. It blended a sci-fi plot device with business conspiracy which is a sub-genre we both were fans of –Wall Street, The Firm, etc. In addition, it had a big theme that we were ourselves curious about: could you really “learn” empathy and better your soul by buying “empathetic” experiences? It also had a bunch of fun stuff that would allow that technology to be abused by bad actors in interesting ways. It ticked off all the boxes for the type of story we wanted, and had the resources to tell, so we started outlining. The script came pretty quick. Then it was just a matter of executing with our stellar producer Josh Itzkowitz and the rest of our cast and crew.

TITL: How did you find the collaborative process between yourself and writer Mark Leidner? Did you find that you both had similar ideas from the start or was there some compromise involved when it came to creating what’s now about to be shared with the world? 

YG: Mark and I have worked together many times since our first movie Jammed. I don’t know how other creative teams work, but we spend most of the writing trying to understand how plot, setting, and character interact, and we’ve developed a shared language around that. So we argue and debate pros and cons of any decision to the point of exhaustion, but it can also be fun because we are often starting from the same set of assumptions. When something doesn’t work, identifying the issue is usually harder than fixing it. Diagnosing issues can take months because we have blind spots due to inexperience, but fixing it is usually just a matter of brainstorming and then choosing the most practical solution. During the outlining phase of Empathy, Inc., we had to have a lot of hard conversations about our objectives with the story, what was primary, what was secondary, what was tertiary, etc.—before we both landed on the same page. Once we knew our hierarchy of objectives, though, we usually agreed on the best way to get there and were very aligned throughout production and post.

TITL: What was/is it about actor Zack Robidas that made you feel he was perfect for the star role in the film? 

YG: Zack was the 3rd person to read for Joel on the first day of casting. And he read a pretty insignificant moment from the film. But when he started his monologue it was obvious that he was our guy. I think Zack really understood Joel’s character—a charismatic man who knew how to make people like him, whose flaw was that he had to be successful in order to love himself, and he thought he could solve every problem that arose by himself. On the surface, there’s something attractive about someone who can work miracles and make things happen. But Zack also saw the other side of that: a deep insecurity driving a compulsion to succeed. I think it was that depth of understanding that Zack brought to the character that makes Joel feel real. It was very subtle in the casting session, but since we had spent the last 6 months thinking about this character every day, we recognized it immediately in Zack’s performance.

TITL: The film has already been critically acclaimed with Variety recently hailing it as an “ingenious indie thriller.” Even before its wider release, did you ever expect the film to get the response from critics that it has? 

YG: We figured that the film would at the very least find a small but passionate following. We also hoped for mainstream consideration but didn’t know if we’d get it. We mistakenly believed a film like ours had to screen at a festival like Sundance, Cannes, or SXSW to get theatrical release or major press, and when we got rejected, it was a hard pill to swallow. I remember thinking, “That’s it. We did the best we could with what we had and it just didn’t break through. Onto the next thing.” But we kind of got a break when we ended up screening at Cinepocalypse, an amazing genre festival in Chicago, and Josh Goldbloom, one of the festival heads, really liked it. He introduced us to Dark Star Pictures in LA. They loved the film, wanted to do a theatrical release, and even wanted our feedback on the marketing side. It suddenly felt like we were in good hands with people who not only believed in the movie but were also interested in our input. Working with them has been like a dream, and we’ve been humbled by the recent positive reaction to the movie. We always thought there was something unique about it, but we had no sense of how real world audiences would respond. To have any amount of mainstream recognition is something we’re grateful for.

TITL: What’s the nicest/best thing anyone could say to you/write about this film? 

YG: That they continued to think about the film the next day. Those are the movies I love the most. The ones that stay with you. When people have told me that, it makes me feel like all the anxiety and the gruelling hours were worth it. Knowing someone was affected by one of our characters makes me happy because I feel like I’ve paid forward something that films have given me: a sense of wonder or a sense of emotional expansion without which life would be less interesting.

TITL: Do you personally feel that, in this technology obsessed society we’re a part of, VR will continue to grow in popularity and in the number of things it can/might be used for? 

YG: It seems likely as long as people fantasize about changing their circumstances. In our film, we take that to an extreme in a way that I’m pretty sure is impossible, but the metaphor is nonetheless true. Every year VR technology seems to offer new ways to forget who we are. The question is whether it will deliver any real meaning, which is a theme I hope our movie explores.

TITL: Would you agree that there’s too much reliance on things like VR already, and that human interaction etc. between actual people in the real world is slowly being cast aside? 

YG: I feel like there’s always a huge plus and a huge minus to any advance in technology. I don’t think it’s helpful or accurate to pine for a long lost time when everyone you knew lived in your hometown and no one had any devices. I think those days had their own horrible problems and we romanticize them at our own peril. It’s probably always the same: some new tech will enable people to satisfy some long unsatisfiable urge while shutting off other urges, or creating new problems like addiction, manipulation, or incoherence. In 100 years, whatever technology we have today that seems cutting-edge will be being pined for by those upset at the new technologies unseating it. I put my phone away when I’m talking to someone I respect or who I want to know better, and that’s about where I stop worrying about it.

TITL: How does this project differ from any you’ve done in the past and is such a difference something you chose deliberately? How important is it to you that you can and do stretch your creative wings, as they say? 

YG: Our first film Jammed was a light-hearted comedy. Empathy, Inc. has a couple funny moments, but it’s much more intense and dependent on plot. Practically, we pivoted because it’s hard to find a distributor who will even watch an indie comedy, let alone take one on. But I also believe there is a benefit to stretching yourself creatively. After having made two films, there’s still so much I don’t know that I want to learn, and every time I’ve stretched myself creatively in the past, I’ve learned a ton. In Empathy, Inc. I had to learn how to direct action and special effects on a level I hadn’t before. No matter what genre our next project is in, I’ll certainly be pushing myself to learn new things.

TITL: With Empathy, Inc. about to go on release, have you started looking to/for your next project yet, or are you just going to enjoy seeing and hearing people’s reactions to this for a while? 

YG: Although we are currently focused on the release, we have a new script in the sci-fi/fantasy ballpark that we really like. We would be excited to bring it to life, should the opportunity come along. Like Empathy, Inc., it’s focused on a conflict between speculative technology and morality.

TITL: Finally then, where do you see the future of the film industry heading? With more and more individuals looking to make their mark on the business, either as directors or actors, and with films becoming ever more “current” in terms of their subject matter, such as VR, do you ever worry about there being “too much” of it all and somehow being over-shadowed? How are you working to help make sure yourself and your work stay relevant and catch the attention of both fans and critics?

YG: At this point in my career, I generally don’t worry about the state of the movie industry. It’s so far beyond me, and its changes are so unpredictable. My worries are personal, familial, political, and when I’m making a film, I worry about that film. But that’s where I try to stop the worry. I’m not even sure things are any different now than they ever were. Film has always responded to current concerns, and it probably always will, as it should. As for good movies being overshadowed by the sheer amount of movies out there, I generally believe that distributors and audiences and filmmakers are savvy enough to find each other and lift each other up where there is a spark in the work that captures their imagination or conscience. Good stories tend to get told and shared because they are such a huge source of meaning in our lives. I don’t think that’ll ever go away.

Check out the trailer for Empathy Inc. below and for more information on the film, visit Facebook and Twitter. You can also keep up to date with Yedidya on Twitter.

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With a considerably impressive and varied resume of work to her name, Jamie Bernadette really loves what she does and that passion comes across in every project she takes on. Her latest film The Furnace, out on October 15th, will strike a chord with anyone who has experienced a loss in their life and ahead of its release later this month, Jamie spoke to ThisIsTheLatest about how she prepared for such a demanding, emotional role, her upcoming projects and her advice for aspiring actors and actresses.

TITL: You’ve been a part of the industry now for well over a decade, but was there any point in your younger years when you considered taking a different career path, or has it always been about acting for you? 

Jamie Bernadette: I grew up in a small town where the thing that most everyone did was get a 9-5 job and get married and have children. So, this definitely impacted me quite a bit and I found myself very confused about what I wanted to do with my life. I was about to get engaged and told the man I was dating not to buy the ring and left for Los Angeles four days later. So I was just about to enter into that life that most everyone in my town lived. I thought about being a dental hygienist, an airline stewardess, an editor at a publishing company. But, it was that day when my boyfriend and I drove back from the jewelry store where he almost bought that engagement ring that it all became very clear to me. I sat in his truck and thought that I would rather die than live this life. And that’s when I knew that something was very wrong about what I was doing. I have never regretted the choice that I made – leaving that all behind to act. He and I remain really good friends to this day.   

TITL: Can you remember the first thing you auditioned for?

JB: I am not really sure but it may have been a silent student film at The New York Film Academy which I booked. 

TITL: How do you find the audition process? Would you say you still feel nervous when making tapes and applying for roles?

JB: I used to be very nervous when I first started auditioning. Now I really sometimes only feel my nerves when it is for something that is very, very big like a series regular role on a TV show.

TITL: Your latest project The Furnace, is out this month. What is it about the premise/story of this film that drew you to the project and how does it differ from the many other works you’ve been a part of?

JB: This is the first faith-based drama that I have ever done. I loved that it was inspirational and does mention God but it doesn’t shove the concept down your throat. It is so well-written in such a way that all people can relate to the story, whether they believe in God or not. I also loved that it was a survival film, which is one of my favorite sub-genres. I love stories about people who are struggling to survive in nature.   

TITL: What preparations did you make for taking on such an emotionally demanding role?

JB: The preparation for emotionally demanding roles is life-long. I pull from my life experiences a lot of times to pull out that emotion when I’m acting. Regarding the physical aspect of this role, I did a lot of research about those who live with only one working lung and also looked into ultra-marathons and studied up on those. I normally run and work out but I began running longer distances when I booked this role to prepare myself for it. 

TITL: How did you find working with Oscar nominated director Darrell Roodt on the film? Was there much collaboration between the two of you? 

JB: Darrell is kind, warm, funny, down-to-earth, honest, and truthful. He is truly one of my most favorite people in the world. He is a very giving director and he really pays attention to the acting. He also is very energetic and enthusiastic. He really knows how to lead the crew. Darrell knows exactly what he wants and has a clear vision.  He knows when he has the shot he wants and moves on rather than doing take after take unnecessarily. Darrell was definitely open to collaboration and listened to my ideas.      

TITL: Do you have any particular standout memories or moments from the shoot? 

JB: Oh, there are so many. Shooting in this film was one of the best experiences of my life. I remember when we shot the end of the film, a lot of the crew were crying their eyes out and standing up and applauding as well. There were a lot of emotional days like that on this set. I think the film touches anyone who has experienced any type of heavy loss in their life, which is most people. 

TITL: If you had to sell this film to an audience in a few words – give them one reason to go and see it – what would you say? 

JB: If you have ever suffered from any type of heartache in your life and felt that it was difficult to go on, see this film. 

TITL: You’ve got several projects in the pipeline for the coming year or so, is there anything you can share about a couple of them?

JB: I’m attached to about nineteen films as an actress and I am also producing three feature films that I haven’t announced or spoken of publicly. One is a true story, a military drama. The second one is an abuse story. The third is a psychological horror.

TITL: The life of an actor/actress can be extremely demanding, so what do you do to unwind after a hectic period of filming? 

JB: Sleep, sit in the sun with my dog, and eat popcorn if I am at home. Sometimes I take a trip, usually to tropical destinations.  Travelling and photography are two of my hobbies. 

TITL: What advice would you give for actors and actresses just starting out? Have you ever been given a piece of advice that you still reflect on, and which three traits might you say someone needs to make it in such a cut-throat and demanding business? 

JB: Don’t believe the negativity that you hear and do not make that your reality. Do not go into agreement with it.  This is very, very important. You create your own reality. I had a seasoned actress, Alisha Seaton, tell me early on in my career that there is a fine line between over-acting and under-acting and that you have to find that fine line in between those two. I still think about that one and believe it is true. The three traits someone needs to make it in this business are hard-working, persistent, and brave. And I do want to make a comment about kindness. Kindness goes a long way. No one likes a diva.    

TITL: Finally then, with a decade + in the industry behind you already, what would you like to see happen for you in the next ten years? What goals and ambitions do you want to achieve and, many years from now, what would you most like people to say when looking back on your work and what you brought to the entertainment world?

JB: I would like to be a series regular on a TV show and book work at that level and on the level of big films on a regular basis. I would love if I am able to give performances that move people and tell stories that change people’s lives. I also want to have several poetry books released in the next ten years. 

Check out the trailer for The Furnace below and to keep up to date with Jamie, you can follow her on Twitter.


With their EP ‘Noir’, a selection of carefully selected and wonderfully reimagined classic songs, due out next month, and with their latest cover – Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” – having dropped yesterday, it’s no surprise that more and more music fans are catching on to the talents of married duo Nomad & Lola. Currently preparing to share their EP with the world and already looking to 2020, ThisIsTheLatest spoke to the duo, considered by some to be the 21st century’s Sonny and Cher, about their artistic influences, who’d feature in their dream live show and their thoughts on the future of their industry.

TITL: Personally and professionally, which artists are you both most influenced and inspired by? 

Lola: I’ve always had an affinity for storytellers like Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, The Eagles and Tom Petty. 

Nomad: Van Halen will always be my favorite band, but I love artists like Paco De Luca, George Benson and of course the Beatles; George Harrison especially.

TITL: At what point and time did the two of you decide to join forces and create music together? Looking back to that time and given that you’ve recently dropped your new single, have you since had one of those “We’re actually doing this” moments yet? 

N&L: It wasn’t right away we started making music together, we were individual artists who happened to be dating. Being that both were based in MUSIC, whether it’s working on a new song for us or others artist or creating music for a TV show, we truly have that “We’re actually doing this” conversation almost daily. 

TITL: Relationships of any kind can be difficult at times, so how, as a duo who are also husband and wife, deal with any particularly tense or stressful times that might cause disagreements between you? 

N&L: HA! Anyone who is married AND works together knows that the struggle is real! Being that we are with each other practically 24/7 you have to find your own personal space, this will allow both parties to breathe. And yes in case you were wondering, we totally get sick of each other from time to time, this even sometimes occurs on stage but we just roll with it, usually the audience is laughing with us when it happens. 

TITL: What is it about the Nancy Sinatra classic “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” that made you think your version would make a great single release? 

N&L: Sonny Bono wrote the track and Cher was the first to sing it, however when Mary Ramos – the music supervisor for Quentin Tarantino – added the Nancy Sinatra’s version to the Kill Bill soundtrack, the song had its own resurgence. For Lola, it has always resonated with her, from the overall darkness of the story to today’s current issues, we feel it’s a sensitive subject but one that can’t be ignored. 

TITL: The track is taken from your upcoming EP ‘Noir’, out in October. Without giving too much away, what can you tell me about it? 

N: ‘Noir’ is an amalgam of old and new, cinematic at best and that is heavily guitar influenced spotlighting Lola’s rich, sultry powerhouse vocals. The idea is for the listener to press play, sit back and be taken somewhere else. Although this EP is all covers, each song is re-imagined in such a way that it becomes brand new. 

TITL: How did you decide on which tracks to include on the collection, given that there have been so many great songs released over the decades?

N&L: Song selection is not easy by any means. This particular selection of songs we chose for nostalgic reasons, while paying homage to some of our favorite writers/artists from yester-year. Trust us when we say we have plenty more where that came from. 

TITL: Could you each pick a favourite track or does that tend to change depending on your mood and other circumstances? 

N: This is like picking your favorite child, you’re not supposed to. But deep down you know there’s a favorite! I teeter between “Summertime”/”While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Another Brick In The Wall.”

L: I’m more partial to “Similau” and “Bang Bang.” 

TITL: Will you be heading out on the road in support of the EP? Any tour plans in the works?

N&L: We play locally all over Southern California in our hometown, Burbank, and surrounding areas. However touring abroad is our ultimate goal. So by all means any promoters out there looking for a good time, call us! 

TITL: If you could put together your dream show with four bands or artists, living or dead, who would you choose and where would you play? 

N&L: Our dream show would consist of Paul McCartney, Van Halen – with David Lee Roth – with Dave Grohl and Billy Joel, and we’d play at the Hollywood Bowl.

TITL: How do you feel about social media and its power and capability of connecting artists with a global audience? Are you fans of that constant connectivity or do you think that, like most things, there are good and bad sides to having such instant access to everything and everyone? 

N&L: The Pandora’s box of opportunity it affords the modern day artist is vast, however it nurtures market over-saturation, which can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. It also requires an incredible amount of time and energy, that can certainly be better spent elsewhere but it has become a lifeline for artists, because without it, you don’t exist.

TITL: Aside from your EP release, do you have any other plans in the pipeline for the rest of the year? Have you started looking towards 2020 yet? 

N&L: After the ‘Noir’ EP release on October 4th, we will focus on the Holiday EP ‘Christmas On The Coast’, and then in 2020 we will start off the new year with a small batch of original songs. Be sure to follow on social media for tons of music, videos, giveaways and more! 

TITL: Away from your own music, Nomad, you’re the touring guitarist and MD for Babyface and Lola, you host the Monster Jam series throughout the US. How do you juggle such busy schedules and, when you actually get some time to and for yourselves, how do you like to unwind? 

N&L: Unwind? What is this you speak of? In all honesty, we don’t. We’ve been married for three years and haven’t even taken a honeymoon, yet. Perhaps once we’re touring full time as NOMAD & LOLA, that’s when we can fit sometime for ourselves in. 

TITL: Finally then, as a duo covering hits from across the decades, where do you see the future of the music industry going in the years to come? Which genres do you personally feel might enjoy a new renaissance and how do you plan to try and stay ‘relevant’ in such an ever changing business? 

N&L: There’s nothing new under the sun, the way we approach music is by making it our own, regardless of its origin. We try to be as honest and organic in the process as possible. That means not following trends and staying true to what WE LIKE. We think everything is cyclical, which means somewhere down the line, everything becomes relevant again and every genre has its time in the spotlight. As long as we maintain a sense of timelessness, quality and integrity, the cream will rise to the top right? That’s the idea at least. 

Check out the brand new single from Nomad and Lola, “Another Brick In The Wall” below and you can keep up to date with them via their website, Twitter and Facebook. Header photo credit: Robert Downs Photography.