What’s the underlying message you’re trying to convey through Empathy, Inc?
We explored a lot of themes in this film, and we still have conversations about themes we didn’t even know we’d included, which come to our attention every now and then. But I think it’s for the audience to decide what the message is. Our job as storytellers is to raise questions and point to the most honest multiplicity of answers we can, so anyone in the audience can own their own meaning.
Have advancements in technology, and all the new platforms, made things easier for independents?
Access to tech and gear is much improved. As an example, we didn’t pay for any equipment on this film, other than hard drives. It was all borrowed, and that’s because it’s readily available. Similarly, it’s also easier than ever to reach an audience through social media. But that’s not really what filmmaking is. The actual work: creating props, sets, hiring crews, figuring out logistics, getting people fed, the long hours, high stress, ticking clock, money vanishing, the vast amount of uncertainty you have to navigate—the real work of filmmaking that few understand until they experience it themselves—that is probably still just as hard as it ever was.
“We were just trying to tell the best story we could and make it look as good as we could. From theatre to phone screen…”
It’s getting harder and harder for indie films to get a theatrical release. Any advice to filmmakers on how they might still land one?
We’re lucky to have a theatrical release for Empathy, Inc. It’s hard to say what allowed us to have that. We worked hard on the script. Very hard on the production. The cast was phenomenal. And we worked hard on the edit. But at the end of the day we made a genre film that’s unlike its competition. It’s an original story with a distinctive vision. The genre helps a distributor buy it, because they know who to sell and market to. But the distinctiveness of the vision, although it’s not to everyone’s taste, helps those who do like it get really passionate about it, and that probably helped.
How do you prefer to watch movies? Do you prefer to see a film on the big screen?
I’m pretty agnostic. I love watching movies on big screen with an audience in a theatre. But I also watch a lot at home on my TV, computer, and sometimes phone. All I really care about is if it’s good.
The visuals of Empathy Inc definitely lend it to a big screen. When you were making the movie, were you shooting with the assumption that it would play theaters?
Not being insiders, we knew we were going to have to go to festivals first, and most festivals play films on a big screen, so everything we did was geared towards that. But I don’t know if we thought about it much. We were just trying to tell the best story we could and make it look as good as we could. From theatre to phone screen. Every possible scenario.
“Do you want to interact with your audience in person? Meet other filmmakers? Travel around with the film?”
Do you recommend independent filmmakers give their films a festival run first before going out to distributors?
For us, the question is how do you get your film to audiences? Most of the time, festivals seem to be a large part in making that happen. If you have access to a distributor without needing to get noticed through a festival, then it becomes about something else. Do you want to interact with your audience in person? Meet other filmmakers? Travel around with the film? Those things are fun and helpful, but festival submissions and travel can be expensive if you’re fronting the cost on your own. So like with production, it’s just a matter of weighing the decision to see if the benefits outweigh the costs. Having a specific festival plan, and targeting submissions to relevant festivals was a big part of our strategy, and how we ultimately met our Sales Agent who helped land our distribution deal with Dark Star Pictures.
Is it still just as important to attend the film markets to land a home for your film?
I really don’t know. The goal should be to get your film seen by people in the industry. You need to take any opportunity that seems reasonable where you are getting closer to reaching your audience. For us, we decided early on that we were going to follow the fans. If a programmer was into the movie, then we were going to screen there. Our thinking was that if he/she liked it, then chances are the people he/she was screening for would also like it. That eventually lead us to distribution.
Empathy, Inc, is available On Demand from Dark Star Pictures.