Joseph Gordon-Levitt wants everyone to get in on the creative act.
But instead of launching a production company through a studio like most thesps, he started a website that acts as a talent incubator and collaborative platform.
His website hitRECord started in 2005 as a pet project, but, likely attracting attention from his role in “Inception,” the site multiplied its membership by 200% in the month of August — shooting from 7,000 to 22,000 users.
Yet according to Gordon-Levitt, sheer numbers aren’t what the endeavor is about.
“We don’t spend any time trying to maximize usership of our website; we try to attract cool, talented, dedicated artists to work with us on collaborative projects,” he says. “I’d rather have 20,000 great artists working on my website than 20 million fans.”
Over the last five years, the project has morphed into a thriving website in which users work together on collective projects called “RECords” that can range from films to songs to cartoons. The site now acts a talent incubator and an open collaborative production company spearheaded by the thesp, his producing partner Jared Gellar and creative director Marke Johnson.
“We spent a year speaking with everyone from CAA to Creative Commons on how to go about doing it, and our end structure was that the community collaboratively creates media online together. Instead of only working within Hollywood, we now have access to a vast array of artists all over the world who are making really wonderful creations on their laptops,” said Gordon-Levitt.
To make a RECord, users post ideas and creations online as a starting canvas on which others can layer their ideas.
The actor cites the website’s popular “Morgan M. Morgensen” short film series as the ultimate example of this crowd-sourced collaboration: “Someone posted an idea about trying to write using nonsense words; a writer on the site then met that challenge with a short story. I loved the story, and the idea got my attention, so I decided to record myself doing a voiceover,” Gordon-Levitt says.
“That’s how I like to direct the community to work on projects — I participate in it, so that shines a spotlight and gets others to do the same.”
From there, an illustrator, vfx specialist, composer and “RECorchestra” comprised of independent musicians came onboard for a total of 180 contributions toward the eventual product — a short film that ultimately screened at Sundance 2010 as an opener to the feature “Homewrecker.”
With so many new ideas posted daily, Gordon-Levitt must follow the community buzz to ascertain which projects are worthy of his involvement.
From there, a select few are identified to become funded. Explains Gordon-Levitt, “When there is a really great result, I can then use my position in the industry to take what we’ve done and turn it into a professional moneymaking production. We then split the profits with all of the contributing artists.”
So far, hitRECord has paid out approximately $22,000 in shared profits, with another projected $15,000 for a recent “Inception”-inspired documentary. The production company has grossed just over $200,000 total since its own inception in early 2010.
Most of the funding to date has been from a sponsorship by Hitachi’s G-Tech, an external hard drive manufacturer.
However, Gordon-Levitt and Gellar anticipate additional profits from its recently launched online store, which sells T-shirts and merchandise. Also bringing in revenue is its live Summer in the City performance series in New York, with a college tour planned for fall.
From Gordon-Levitt’s perspective, the site’s success can be attributed to its model of active participation. “People are more attracted to things they can be part of; hitRECord goes beyond the structure of audience and artist, where the audience must passively consume what the artist creates,” he says. “When we create art, it’s me, Jared, Marke…”
Finishes Gellar: “And 22,000 of our closest friends.”