Actor's HitRecord lets more artists get in on the act

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt hopes HitRecord.org will allow those with good ideas and a laptop to collaboratively make movies.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
4 min read

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif.--Joseph Gordon-Levitt has certainly benefited from Hollywood.

As a young actor, he made his debut in the movie "Beethoven" and had roles in "Third Rock From The Sun" and the movie "10 Things I Hate About You." More recently he starred in a leading role in "(500) Days of Summer."

The notion of bringing together different artists from around the world was the impetus for Joseph Gordon-Levitt's start-up, HitRecord.org.
The notion of bringing together different artists from around the world was the impetus for Joseph Gordon-Levitt's start-up, HitRecord.org. Ina Fried/CNET

But, despite being a product of Hollywood, Gordon-Levitt also thinks that there are plenty of good ideas from people with no access to traditional filmmaking technology. The good news, he says, is that today anyone with a laptop can make movies.

"Better stories are going to be told because more people get to tell them," he said in a panel discussion Tuesday. That, he said, is preferable to the world he inhabits, which is, "let's admit it, an often narrow-minded Hollywood industry."

This notion of bringing together different artists from around the world was also the impetus for his company, HitRecord.org, which lets all kinds of artists collaborate on a film, eventually sharing in the profits if something commercially viable is made.

In an interview after the panel, Gordon-Levitt talked about HitRecord and how technology is changing the face of entertainment.

Q: How did you get started with HitRecord.org?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: It started five years ago as more of a hobby of mine and evolved into more of a community. In 2010, it's become a production company. I'm an actor and I am lucky enough to be in a place where I can get projects off the ground. I didn't want to only work within Hollywood. I wanted to also work with any number of people all over the world who are doing all sorts of great stuff. HitRecord is kind of my way to do that. Whether you cut video or you are a writer or a graphic designer or some sort of performer, musician, anything audio, video, image, text. We make all sorts of stuff and we all collaborate together on our Web site. I'm there kind of directing.

When I am able to take something we have all made collaboratively and turn it into a money-making production, then the profits get split down the middle. Half goes back to the company and half goes back to the contributing artists. For example, we went to Sundance this year. We partnered up with a company called Getac who makes hard drives. They paid for us to go there. There was enough money left up for some profits. All the different people that contributed to the short film that we screened at Sundance shared in those profits. We sent out a bunch of different checks.

Now, are we talking $20?
Gordon-Levitt: A few people made close to a grand. Some people made $4. It depends. If they spent 10 minutes saying hello, as opposed to someone who contributed (a lot). It can be both.

Gordon-Levitt wants to share more than just his Hollywood side with startup HitRecord.org.
Gordon-Levitt wants to share more than just his Hollywood side with start-up HitRecord.org. Ina Fried/CNET

What are some of the most interesting things that have come out of HitRecord.org so far?
Gordon-Levitt: One of my favorite things we made so far is a short film called "Morgan M. Morgensen's Date With Destiny." It started just as an idea for a collaboration. Someone said "Hey, how about we try to write with nonsensical language?" Someone else met that challenge and wrote this short story. I liked the short story so I recorded myself reading it. Then other people liked that so they started drawing the characters. Other people started taking those drawings and turning them into animations. I got together with an actress and shot a live-action version in front of white walls. The whole community started contributed visual elements to go over that. Someone else took those visual elements and remixed them together into this beautiful collage.

We did the score collaboratively as well. It ends up this beautiful lush piece of filmmaking with hundreds of people having worked on it. It all took shape organically and with no budget at all.

How do you think technology is changing things. Is there an audience or are we all creators?
Gordon-Levitt: I love the (Greek) tradition. That means there's a stage and there's the audience and there's a separation. But there's I think an even older tradition of more communal story telling that probably dates back to cavemen sitting around a fire telling a story. "Oh, I heard it went this way. No I heard it went this way." I think where technology can bring us is a dissolving of that division between audience and performer, where it's less about I've got something to say and you are all just going to listen. It becomes more like "Let's tell the story together and figure out what it is." That's ancient, but now because of technology, it doesn't have to be around a campfire. It can be all over the world among thousands and thousands and really millions of people.

Are you more on the Mac side of things or PC?
Gordon-Levitt: I use Final Cut on a Mac and Pro Tools on a Mac, but you know, whatever works. Windows Movie Maker comes free and you can use that. I don't have any real allegiance to any particularly technology. I love the fact people can use the technology to make stuff.