Interview: Emmy Award-Winning Filmmaker Julia Gorbach on Immersive Storytelling and the Importance of Human Connection

  Image provided by Julia Gorbach

Image provided by Julia Gorbach

Julia Gorbach has built her career on understanding the human experience. Throughout her travels around the world, she has worked as a model, an actress, a director, a filmmaker, a visual artist, and a producer. She creates art that explores human emotions and connections. As one of the founding members of The Skin Deep, an award-winning production company, and as a freelance artist, she has created several video series and short films. Julia continues to add innovative work to her portfolio, developing projects that combine immersive experiences and virtual reality with filmmaking and storytelling. Read ahead to learn more about her work and her advice to artists on career development, connection, and collaboration. 


What kind of artist would you describe yourself as?

Multi-disciplinary/cross-platform. I see myself as an eco-system with various interests/talent hubs circling around the center, each taking up its own percentage of space and that percentage varies and shifts over time. I’m primarily working within film, video/digital, and immersive/interactive storytelling as a creator/director/producer. I’m also slowly pushing forward with acting, art/painting, writing, documentary and travel video/photography. Depending on the priority at hand and the interest, the amount of time and dedication spent on each hub varies. 

  Julia featured as a model in Photo Professional. Image provided by Julia Gorbach.

Julia featured as a model in Photo Professional. Image provided by Julia Gorbach.

How did you get your start in the arts and in filmmaking and storytelling in particular?

My journey wasn’t super clear. I don’t recall being a cinephile and creativity was solely recreational. This is how I connect the dots in my head. As a child, I spent time drawing, creating universes out of legos and old shoe boxes, making games and experiences, acting out scenes in my room solo, and writing a lot. I used to wake up in the middle of the night with words and ideas flowing through me that I would have to write on a post it note and put on my wall or else it would disappear. I wrote a 200 page novel on a Word document at 13. At 17, even though I was at a technical high school and had never shown interest before, I decided to take an acting class. Soon I was auditioning for roles and running to casting calls while starting to collaborate on creative-directing photo shoots. 

During college, I began to crave more hands-on experience within the process of film and storytelling. I interned and worked at production companies for both TV and corporate videos, film festivals, photography studios, etc. in New York and in Paris during my time abroad. I began picking up the camera and shooting documentary and experimental styles. When I graduated, I took 2 months to backpack across Europe and Asia, then came back and started doing 13 jobs freelancing both on and off camera. I began producing independent films (shorts/features). I began experimenting with concepts myself.

One day, I met my former employer at a Thanksgiving dinner. I came on as an intern to a very early stage creative start up and within a month, began producing and finding stories, research and development, writing, shooting on location, etc. Within a year, I was the Creative Producer/Founding Member at The Skin Deep. During my years there, I had the opportunity to be extensively hands-on in creating original interactive and digital series, such as {THE AND}, The Dig, Senior Orientation, and The Window, in roles ranging from Creative Director/Producer, Writer, Camera Op, Casting, and more, as well as intrinsically shaping the studio as it grew both online and IRL (editor's not: IRL is an abbreviation for "in real life"). 

Currently, I am at NEW INC incubator at the New Museum creating my own immersive series while developing my director’s portfolio on the side and freelancing. My work is within both film, video, and interactive. 

What drove you to pursue the arts as a career?

An intuition or internal guide. My logical mind was not shaped to envision a creative career option, but something subconsciously inside me led me in this direction. 

Who have been your mentors throughout your career?

Official Poster for Sasha short film that went to Cannes Court Métrage & I won a NYC Indie Best Actress Award.jpg

Although I don’t have “mentors” officially, I would say that I have had the opportunity to listen and observe talented, older, more experienced artists who I’ve had the chance to work with and artists who are established on TV/Instagram.  I’m particularly drawn to individuals who are multi-faceted, who reinvent themselves and discover new passions and talents, and who don’t always play by the rules but rather make their own paths. I’m always fascinated by how people created something, how they envisioned it in their mind’s eye, how they made it happen, what they learned, who they became because of it. I am definitely looking forward to and awaiting the main mentor of my life while continuously reading, researching, asking questions, meeting people, and learning about their lives. 

How would you define collaboration?

Individuals and creators with different talents, energies, mindsets, ideas, and processes coming to the table to create a shared vision with trust, respect, and open communication. 

How do you find people to collaborate with?

From my experience so far, I’ve found collaborators in former or current colleagues, school/class, meeting people on-set, through social media networks (on FB, Instagram, Twitter), through friends, and being part of communities (creative, film, women empowerment). 

What problems, if any, have you come up against when working with someone else? How do you handle those problems?

It depends on the collaboration terms (i.e., how well do you know this person, have you worked together previously, is this funded and, if so by a third party or one of the collaborators, etc). Usually, something comes up because life is messy, humans are complex, sh*t happens, time or funding pressures, misunderstanding, etc. The best thing is to set up a solid foundation of synergy, trust, respect, transparency, and super clear intentions of goals, responsibilities and credit for each participant from the beginning. As I get older, I realize that it’s smarter to get that down in writing either via email where parties agreed with a digital signature or a signed contract so there are no misunderstandings in the future and everyone is on the same page. 

  Image provided by Julia Gorbach

Image provided by Julia Gorbach

What qualities do you look for in a collaborator?

Someone who balances me (energy, skill sets, life experiences, etc.) and wants to work together with equal respect and trust. 

If you had any choice in the world, who would be your collaboration dream team? What kind of project would you work on?

It would be both a digital series and experience that’s visually stunning yet humanly relatable and that is part non-scripted comedy/sitcom and part scripted experimental surrealism collaborating with/featuring: Angelina Jolie, Beyonce, Solange, Milena Matsoukas, Pharrell Williams, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, Chelsea Handler, Donald Glover, Issa Rae, Jessica Williams, Agnes Verda, French artist JR, Léa Seydoux, Wes Anderson. 

How would you describe a typical workday?

It varies. If I’m working full time somewhere, I’ll use my early mornings to create and evenings to connect/live/breathe. If I’m freelance, I can be 100% within a project for X amount of time and then be thrown back into my reality 100%. Right now, I’m freelance and heavily focused on development for my project and my personal branding/identity so I spend a lot of time meeting people, discussing projects, asking questions, organizing my thoughts and life, attending events, working. 

What challenges do you face in your day-to-day life as an artist?

Energy and concentration flux, financial stability, time management (especially when I’m working from home on a bunch of things at once). 

What's a piece of inspirational advice that you would give to other artists starting out in filmmaking? What's a piece of practical advice that you would give?

I would say: learn to listen to your gut/intuition as soon as you can and follow the voice; be a dreamer but make moves and take actions; look at the big picture of your journey and ask what skills do you have/what skills do you still need to learn rather what job title you want; let go of your ego but also know when to stand up for yourself; avoid the crazy makers (referenced in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron); stop comparing yourself and your journey to others; give yourself solo space and time to discover what you actually need to express; say yes to everything and then learn to be selective, but once you commit then be accountable to yourself and others; discipline yourself and your time; invest in yourself financially and time-wise; learn your worth and don’t let others bring you down; understand what values and needs drive you (ex. Oprah and Tony Robbins); learn to make decisions; if you can, get face-to-face with people because there are too many people, not a lot of time, and a flood of information coming at all of us 24/7, so it’s very easy to miss or skip over an email but hard to forget a memorable person--so go and say hello. 

What resources do you use, both regional and otherwise?

I use Google, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. to research and find work, opportunities, contacts. Currently, I have wonderful resources and community at NEW INC at New Museum, NYC Women Filmmaker’s and other film/art groups, NYWIFT, Ladies Get Paid, Sequin Makers, and SLMBR PRTY. 

What's the hardest thing about being an artist? What's the most rewarding?

For me, the hardest thing is questioning my own creativity and accepting that I’m an artist/creative. The second hardest, which I’ve been discovering this year, is, once you’ve decided to go 100% forward on the path, you have to then understand your creation process: when are you most creative/most productive during the day, etc.

Most rewarding would be the feeling of bringing ideas to life that were once only in your head, when you’re on the same creative flow with someone and you’re both super excited about what you’re creating, pushing yourself to discover a new layer of yourself or of life. 

  Julia Gorbach with her 2015 Emmy Award for her work with The Skin Deep. Image provided by Julia Gorbach

Julia Gorbach with her 2015 Emmy Award for her work with The Skin Deep. Image provided by Julia Gorbach

What was it like to win an Emmy for your work with The Skin Deep?

Unreal, mystical, confusing, elevating, inspiring, intimidating, demystifying. 

How do you define success as an independent artist?

Seeing my voice/expression out in the world creating energy and change. Getting paid and respected to continue to express myself and grow alongside passionate and talented people. 

What would you say is your biggest achievement?

I haven’t done it yet. ;) 

If you weren't an artist, what would you be doing?

I don't consider myself only as an artist and I see different paths and discoveries for myself down the road. However, I would say: entrepreneur, neurologist, psychologist, global relations. 

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Good question. Touch base with me in a year. I’m right in the midst of my artistic birth so it’s hard to see. 

What projects are you working on now?

Circle: a hybrid immersive series that explores the lives of 3 women living across the world as they come of age into adulthood by creating connection and empathy via shared moments between the user and the character (in development at NEW INC).

This Moment: a short experimental doc about my French Canadian friend and colleague Mimi and her moment of transition and panic when her visa expires and she’s forced to leave her dream city and go back to her home town. 

Dreams of My Father: a surreal dream VR experience merging my dad's fears and anxieties in NYC, his memories of Ukraine, passed loved ones, and his childhood on the farm (based on a real dream).

Forward: a documentary VR series about human migration patterns (currently on hold).


To learn more about Julia's work as a filmmaker and storyteller, visit her website at www.juliagorbach.com. You can also follow her on Instagram to learn more about her upcoming projects!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.