Joseph Gordon-Levitt—actor, writer, director, producer, singer, dancer, musician, visionary—everyman. Dimple-faced, equipped with an unbridled—and infectious—enthusiasm, Gordon-Levitt is one of the most likable, polite and humble young actors blistering through the stratosphere of global celebrity. He's also the founder of an international “open collaborative production company” called HIT RECORD. Google actor “Joseph Gordon-Levitt” and the first result below his IMDB page is hitRECord.org. Seems he’s hit a jackpot with his aggregated-art approach.
For those unfamiliar with the Columbia grad's HIT RECORD project, it's the multi-media site he launched a decade ago, as a way for artists to collaborate on creative projects with people across the world—everything from short films, to music videos, to animation, to documentaries, to songs. In 2014, the Internet-based collaboration moved its efforts to the small screen in 2014 with a self-titled television show on Pivot. The first season received an Emmy in the category of outstanding creative achievement in interactive media. Now in its second season, HIT RECORD TV has some familiar faces in it—the variety series will welcome A-List guest stars Seth Rogen, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Zac Efron, and Evan Goldberg.
“Fans of the show will also appreciate that this season reflects the work of even more amazingly talented artists from around the world, collaborating with each other and celebrities alike,” Gordon-Levitt said. “The most valiant thing you can do as an artist is inspire someone else to be creative.”
Each weekly episode (8 in total) of the show addresses a theme. Writers, musicians, illustrators, painters, filmmakers, editors and animators from around the world are encouraged to collaborate to create short films, songs, music videos and animated works based on that topic. It's refreshing to see such an open forum that facilitates creativity. And, with the creative freedom to explore nearly any topic he and his contributors wanted, Gordon-Levitt’s fans put their collective heads together for a “more focused” Season Two.
“In the second season, we've managed to include way more contributions from the community, which makes me happy and makes the show better,” explained Gordon-Levitt. “Out of thousands of contributions [we were] really able to see what the eight themes were that most resonated with the community, and those are the eight that we picked.”
Say you write a story about a purple ghost and submit it to the website—a fellow HIT RECORD user might do a voice-over reading of that story. Someone else might add a score to it, or animate it, or make a music video from the song that came from it. Then Gordon-Levitt might feature it during one of his live shows, or in the television series, or even in HIT RECORD's printed volumes. JGL pitches the best films to his industry friends and if your project is sold, company and collaborators split the earnings fifty-fifty. That was the case with a short film called Yes We're Sinking, which was screened at Sundance 2012. The artistic community he's built is now in the hundreds of thousands and counting.
At the HIT RECORD premiere party in Los Angeles few weeks ago, JGL was happily hands-on all night long, jumping on stage with the other performers, singing and playing drums, interacting with fans, walking around afterward, genuinely greeting friends and family alike, answering questions from strangers, from the banal to the belligerent, with nary a blink. It’s usual fare for Gordon-Levitt to embed himself this far in anything he does, just as he does with his characters. Early in his career he once said he didn't enjoy being a celebrity, being recognized in public, so he shirked the fishbowl. Has that sentiment changed over the years?
“This industry is definitely not for me, but I love making movies. Story telling never used to be wrapped up in a bunch of glitz and glamor. And soon enough, it won't be again,” revealed Gordon-Levitt. “I love getting to be an actor, and I love it when people connect to the movies and shows and stuff that I work on. Personally, I don't at all like making a public show out of my private life, and I try to avoid it as much as possible. Some actors feel differently about their own private lives, and that's fine by me as well.”
At age 34, newly married and at the height of his career, JGL has a lot on his plate this year. He has two highly-anticipated biographical roles playing Edward Snowden in Oliver Stone's SNOWDEN and French high-wire artist Philippe Petit in THE WALK, as well as his leading role in the upcoming comedy XMAS, alongside Lizzy Caplan. His lauded work in films like DARK KNIGHT RISES, (500) DAYS OF SUMMER and INCEPTION, as well as a healthy career in television, has earned him so much attention that the actor got Neil Gaiman's blessing to adapt his beloved comic book series SANDMAN. Many had tried and failed to achieve that feat. JGL is currently working on a script for the film, alongside producer David S. Goyer [BATMAN trilogy] and screenwriter Jack Thorne. Gaiman will executive produce the project. Beginning in 1989, Gaiman’s comic series ran for seventy-five issues, and with a wealth of material, many fans wondered why Gordon-Levitt opted for a feature length film rather than a multiple-seasoned television series.
“I think a big screen adaptation is a better idea because if you did the episodic version, I think it could very well end up as a not-as-good-version of what is already brilliant in the comics. But by reworking the material into a big movie, Gaiman's brilliant characters and ideas get to take shape in a way they never have before,” Gordon-Levitt explained. “Also, I think Sandman deserves to look absolutely mind-blowingly awesome, just on a visual level, and as cinematic as some TV shows are becoming these days, they still can't compete with big movies visually, just because they can't afford to.”
Gordon-Levitt revealed a little insight into what we can expect from the adaptation. “There's tons of little brilliant moments throughout the series, and we certainly can't incorporate all of them,” he said. “We are using a whole bunch of specifics straight from the comics, but of course, we're also having to do a certain amount of invention, and in between that, there's tons of re-appropriating, re-contextualizing, combining, consolidating, and all manner of things that literalists might not like. But what we try to be completely faithful about is the overall sentiment: that Dreams and Stories and Magic are actually all the same thing, and that they're real, and that they're powerful.”
For his role in SNOWDEN—a film about controvertial CIA employee Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who leaked thousands of government classified documents on the internet and is now a “fugitive” from America—Gordon-Levitt discovered the significance of what Snowden did for the world.
“Frankly, I didn't know very much at all about Snowden when Oliver Stone asked me to play him. Once I spent some time reading up on him, I grew to admire what he did a great deal. Of course, that's just my opinion, and I certainly don't think that my opinion counts for more because I'm an actor,” admitted Gordon-Levitt. “But I would encourage anybody who's even a little curious to spend a bit of time looking into it yourself, and not just trusting what people say on TV.”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt doesn't do what you are supposed to do and he gets away with it. Makes films when he wants to. Makes collaborative art when he feels like it. Records when the time is right. All turns out successful. It might be luck, it might be talent, it could be hard work, or it could just be fueled by the naïve optimism that comes from a child actor who's been making art since the age of three. It’s why his unabashed, slightly squinty eyes are gleaming and beaming and trying to look away from them is a waste of precious time.