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“I was putting stuff up on the internet and this community was slowly forming around it and then people in the community started collaborating on things, really little, very small scale pieces of art. I thought that was the coolest thing, and wanted to play along, so it grew from there,” says Looper star Joseph Gordon-Levitt of his website hitRECord, which allows writers, illustrators, musicians and many other types of creators to collaborate within an artistic community of 125,000 and counting.
Started as a hobby, hitRECord evolved into a full-blown business venture in 2010 when it launched its new website. It offers a platform for creators to post their work for the community, under the condition that their work can be remixed and they, in turn, can remix the work of others. A musician may post a song, for example, that may inspire an artwork which may turn into a full-fledged animated short.
That was the case with a short film called “Yes We’re Sinking,” which is now featured on the site’s Hit Reel and even screened Sundance 2012. Similarly, a poem, “The Man With a Turnip for a Head,” eventually became an animated short that was narrated by Gary Oldman and also screened at Sundance. But the creative process isn’t entirely collaborative. As founder and director, Gordon-Levitt chooses projects to pursue, be that for a new book, album or any other sort of compilation that the company is putting together.
“It’s more like a movie set where there’s a director and lots of other people come in and collaborate, and lend their voice, and lend their talent and their hard work,” Gordon-Levitt says. “The director certainly couldn’t make the movie without all those people, but in the end it’s all serving a vision that the director steers. I grew up on sets so that was kind of the model that we based hitRECord on.”
Remixing these various art forms — be that a poem, short story, song, artwork, etc. — plays a huge role in reaching these creative visions. The slippery slope is when someone makes money off of a remixed work that was not originally their own. To address that, if a project turns a profit, hitRECord splits the earnings 50/50 between the company and collaborators.
“There’s a quote I really like from Walt Disney, who said ‘We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies’ and I think that describes hitRECord really well,” Gordon-Levitt explains. “We wanted to figure out how we could be a for-profit company so that we could do bigger and bigger and grander and grander productions.”
And now that hitRECord has partnered with Levi’s — which has a history of working with artists such as James Murphy and Shepard Fairey — they have the means to expand. The partnership essentially offers financial support to hitRECord so that they can go on tour, distribute works on a broader scale and give back to contributing artists. HitRECord also partnered with Sony, which is now essentially “powering the technology behind hitRECord, and allowing us to pay our contributing artists more than we ever had.”
“I didn’t want to have a partnership that didn’t make sense,” Gordon-Levitt notes. “I didn’t want to just do something solely because it would make us money, because I think that’s a big part of the value of our company. It’s really personal to me, it’s my baby, and people can feel that.”
Still, some might argue that his partnerships with big mainstream companies could take away from hitRECord’s originality. To that, Gordon-Levitt responds: “You have to acknowledge that the art that we make costs money.”
Gordon-Levitt will next appear in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and is currently wrapping up his own film, Don Jon’s Addiction, which he wrote, directed and starred in. He’ll also host hitRECord’s fall tour in the Northeast, which kicks off Nov. 13 in Washington, D.C. and will hit five other locations (three of which are already sold out). As the host, Gordon-Levitt will present works from the website, perform and interact with live audiences.
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