SXSW: Rainn Wilson and Justin Baldoni talk empathy, compassion in the media


Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

Saturday afternoon, Rainn Wilson and Justin Baldoni took the stage at the Austin Convention Center to a discuss empathy in the media to a filled room.

“One of the highest acts that we can achieve as human beings is to feel with someone, and the media at its pinnacle leads us to that end,” Wilson said.

Though most known their roles in their prospective TV shows, “The Office” and “Jane the Virgin,” the two actors took the stage to discuss their time behind the camera.

Launched in 2009, Wilson’s media company SoulPancake was formed from his desire to use his popularity from “The Office” in a positive manner and create inspirational content.

“We make stuff that matters,” Wilson said. “I wanted to have young people engage in conversations about philosophy, spirituality and creativity, and find ways of bringing people together.”

When SoulPancake was first developed, they faced a significant challenge: making feel good entertainment that is also commercial. But when Kid President, now 14-year-old Robby Novak, was introduced in online, Wilson said SoulPancake found a large part of their success.

“You’ll hardly meet a 14-year-old that has suffered more than him,” Wilson said. “He has a medical condition called brittle bone disease, he has broken over 60 bones in his body, he has steel rods in his legs, and his entire life is about bringing joy to other people.”

Baldoni then took the stage, discussing his own media company, Wayfarer Entertainment.

When he was first finding his way as an actor, Baldoni said he faced difficulties landing roles.

Because of this, he approached Wilson’s company, SoulPancake, to create a show about living told by the dying.

“I found my calling in creating content that made people feel,” Baldoni said. “I like telling stories that make people cry because we spend so much time trying not to.”  

From there, Wayfarer was born. Baldoni realized they wanted to make a company that made sure both the company’s time and their audience’s time was valued.

“We all are Wayfarer,” Baldoni said. “It’s about the journey of the soul and understanding that by creating content that helps us remember that we’re human, we’ll start making different choices.”

Baldoni and Wilson concluded the talk by asking audience members to write down their biggest struggle and biggest joy on a sheet of paper, fold the sheet into an airplane and throw the airplanes on opposite sides of the room for another audience member to read.

“These are the stories for us to tell,” Wilson said. “We have joys, and we have struggles. SoulPancake has sought to bring joy to the forefront, and Wayfarer has plumbed the depths at looking at people’s greatest struggle – their own mortality.”