Actor living a 'HitRecord' dream
Four years ago, Joseph Gordon-Levitt first brought "HitRecord" to the Sundance Film Festival, and it was very much an underground filmmaking kind of experience.
"In fact, the very first time we ever did any kind of live show was in front of 99 people in the basement of a mall at the New Frontier section of Sundance 2010," he said. "And that was really kind of the embryo of what's become 'HitRecord' on TV."
Gordon-Levitt's passion project which he launched online in 2005 is the ultimate collaborative experience. Thousands of artists from around the world contribute, with Gordon-Levitt as sort of the ringmaster of an editing team that blends it all together. It's a variety show that may not have a cast of thousands, but there are thousands who contributed.
"Before it was a television show or a production company or even a website, it was just a little turn of phrase that I used to encourage myself," said Gordon-Levitt, who came up with the idea when he was having trouble getting work in his early 20s. Discouraged, he realized, "I have to take responsibility for my own creativity. I can't wait around for someone to hire me and tell me that I'm allowed to make things. I love it too much. I can't wait."
He taught himself to direct and edit, and his late brother helped him set up the website.
"Since the advent of the Internet, media has changed," said Gordon-Levitt, who landed his first TV roles when he was 7 and became a star on "3rd Rock from the Sun" when he was 14. "I think it's a big step forward. In the 20th century, broadcast media put us all in a situation where a small, exclusive industry created everything, and everyone else in the world would have to just sit and watch. And now, with the Internet, that's changing."
And opening up room for "HitRecord" to expand back to where he began. "HitRecord on TV" premieres Saturday on the recently launched cable channel Pivot.
"It's been a long time coming and it's really important to me," he said. And this is no little side project for him at the height of his acting career, the star of "50/50," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Looper" devoted almost all of 2013 to the project. (He did spend two weeks shooting on "Sin City" and did press for "Don Jon," but the rest of his time was devoted to getting the TV show up and running.
And he's clearly excited at where the project stands. He had a huge grin on his face when he said, "The Wall Street Journal just wrote a great thing about it. The Wall Street f-ing Journal!"
And Sundance has been a big part of the project. Gordon-Levitt and his partners returned to the film festival in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and they'll return on Friday with the first three episodes of "HitRecord on TV."
Back in 2010, it was very much a guerrilla filmmaking experience.
"We were working, like, 23 hours a day for 10 days," said Jared Geller, Gordon-Levitt's producing partner. "That's where we really figured out the creative process for what we do. We didn't sleep. It was intense."
More intense than those 99 people who showed up to see it realized.
"We were editing right up until we screened," Geller said. "There was a line at the cinema and we were still editing the pieces while the people were in line."
There are parallels between Sundance and "HitRecord" and they're not just a coincidence.
"What Mr. [Robert] Redford did with Sundance is something I look up to enormously. And, in a way, have emulated," said Gordon-Levitt. "He took his success in Hollywood and was able to leverage that into creating a community."
In the same way that Redford nurtured budding filmmakers, Gordon-Levitt hopes to nurture budding artists of all kinds on "HitRecord."
"He would take budding filmmakers and artists and he would bring them up on a mountain and Utah and they would develop movies together, outside the influences of it's got to make money!" Gordon-Levitt said. "And with 'HitRecord,' there's something similar. We're not up on a mountain. We're on the Internet together, but it's about creating a supportive community that's not as commercially minded, even though we do pay the artists who contribute to our productions and try to develop art and media and now a TV show that wouldn't necessarily come through the traditional development process."
And the immediate feedback filmmakers get from Sundance audiences is sort of a live version of how "HitRecord" works online.
"Absolutely!" Gordon-Levitt said. "I'm honored at the notion that Sundance would be sort of a predecessor and that 'HitRecord' is sort of a new way of doing a lot of what Sundance has done for decades now."
So â¦ could that mean that one day there will be a "HitRecord" film festival?
"Who knows?" Gordon-Levitt said with a smile. "The possibilities are endless."
"HitRecord on TV"
The series premieres Saturday at 8 and 8:30 p.m. on cable channel Pivot.