Joseph Gordon-Levitt Talks Connecting Through Art With 'Create Together'
When you think of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, what do you think of? His role as the porn-obsessed bartender in Don Jon? Inception's expert extractor Arthur? The lovelorn Tom in 500 Days of Summer? Or maybe you go even further back — 3rd Rock From the Sun's alien/fake high schooler, Tommy?
Though he's had many major roles in blockbusters and TV alike, Gordon-Levitt's longest-running gig is perhaps his most impressive. Production company HitRecord, which the actor began in 2004, has grown into a vast online community of creative folks from every corner of the world — over 750,000 of 'em.
And now, at a time when most people are re-discovering ways to connect online through video chats and social media, HitRecord is there to help fill a void that could be missing in your creative life (there's even an app!). Gordon-Levitt is taking part in and repurposing some of the homemade projects being put together over on HitRecord for his new YouTube Originals series Create Together. Each episode (the first dropped on Monday) will premiere weekly with various segments showcasing the incredible collaborative nature of this virtual gathering space, including poem performances, docu-shorts, animation, and music.
"In the first episode, there’s a project which started out with a dad playing guitar for his two young boys who are screaming, and he’s playing, basically metal, on his guitar," Gordon-Levitt explains. "So then, everybody jumped in and actually made it this hard, big, heavy metal song. I played drums on it. And everybody just started screaming. I think it was just really cathartic for everybody to scream along with these two little boys and this dad. It’s a lot of what art and creating is — getting out those feelings in a productive way."
Gordon-Levitt chats about his inspiration behind the series and more, below.
Why is now the perfect time to do something like Create Together?
Gordon-Levitt: You know, I think so many of us are feeling isolated in this time of pandemic, and it’s natural to go online to try and connect with people, but I think a lot of places online for art and creativity can feel sort of like a popularity contest, where you post something that you’ve made on your own and you hope for likes and comments and followers, and it kind of ends there. On HitRecord, it’s not just, ‘hey, here’s what I made,’ it’s, ‘what can we make together?’ And this is really what we’ve been doing for years. When you’re in the middle of a creative process with other people, it’s quite intimate. It’s many-layered and quite vulnerable, and the human connection you get when you have a common goal with someone else — I think there’s a lot more substance to it than just chatting online. I think people are finding that human connection really needed right now because so many of us are isolated.
Did you notice a surge in participation on HitRecord once people started self-isolating?
Yeah, there definitely has been. Quite a big one. It’s a lot due to the pandemic. It’s also that, we’ve been working really hard over the last year and change to really improve our software, and make it easier for people to collaborate with each other, and we just put out new mobile apps. So, all of that really came together right at the same time, and it was so needed.
And look, of course, I really wish we weren’t going through this. I was in the middle of writing and directing and shooting this show called Mr. Corman for Apple TV+ that I’ve been putting together for years, so I really didn’t want to stop doing that, but it has been a really bittersweet, but uplifting thing to see.
You participate in many of the projects that viewers will see on Create Together. Do you try and participate frequently, or are you more puppet-mastering on HitRecord?
I’ve been doing HitRecord for many, many years. When I first started staying home, and for the last couple of months, I’ve been doing something creative once a day, and always doing it in collaboration with other people. So, somedays I’ll do some music, some days I’ll write. I’ve even drawn a couple of days, and that is not my strongest skill. But I find it feels good, for me, to do something creative. But also for me, it’s hard to do that alone. To sit in a room and out of nothing start making something, whereas when I go to HitRecord and I can feed off the energy of other people. I can go, ‘Oh, this person started this project, I can play along with it.’ Like, ‘Oh, they did some drums, I’m going to add some bass.’ Or, ‘They wrote a great piece of writing, I’m going to perform it out loud.’ It’s sort of an instant jumpstart to getting the creative process going for me.
When I can do something creative, that’s my flow state, if you will. Some people find it with meditation, some people find it with exercise, or some people find it with gardening or cooking. A lot of different people have their own various ways where they get into that place where they’re just really so focused on what they’re doing that the whole rest of the world fades away, and I think there’s something really healthy about that flow. And for me, it’s making some kind of art. And so yeah, I’ve been doing it every day.
What are some of the creations beyond Episode 1 that are coming up?
One of the biggest projects we’re doing, it was started by a music teacher in Texas named Ben Perez, and he wanted to do a project for his students who are graduating and who won’t get a normal graduation ceremony. He wrote them this letter, and he set the letter to music. He started this project asking other teachers to do the same, and other students to talk about how they’re feeling. We’re in the middle of making this whole big piece, words, and music, all about overcoming the adversity of 2020, with graduation being the center of it.
We’re also doing a short documentary project called Who Stays Home? started by a woman in Oklahoma, who was feeling really angry and scared when there were cases of COVID-19 in her workplace. She can’t afford to stay home. She’s a single mother supporting her family, and so she’s still working. The truth is, it’s really not fair that some people, myself included, have the opportunity to stay home, which is the safer way to go. But not everybody has that opportunity. How much money somebody has shouldn’t be determining how safe they can stay from this pandemic. So, we’re doing a short documentary piece on that disparity.
Can you talk about Mr. Corman? How far along in shooting did you get before production shut down?
We shot for three weeks. It’s a 10-episode season, so we got almost three episodes done. We’ll get there, we’ll get back to it. I’m delighted to be working for Apple. They’re so incredibly supportive, both in a practical way, they’re really at the forefront of safety and understanding of what it means to have an intersection between work and his health crisis. And then they’ve also been really supportive creatively. They’re really just allowing me to make the show that I have in my head, and I’m really, really loving doing it. And I can’t wait for it to be done for audiences to see next year.
And as far as other at-home activities, have you been binge-watching any TV shows while you’re home?
I watched all of Fleabag at home again, for the second time. I just love it. I think it’s so incredibly smart, and timeless and heartbreaking.
Anything else you’d like to say about Create Together as people come to discover this series?
We’re still making it! If you go on HitRecord and find a process that inspires you, jump in on it — this is how we’re making the show. It’s an incredibly tight turnaround on these episodes. The first episode, which came out on Monday, we just finished it days ago.
My biggest hope for Create Together is that people don’t just watch it, it’s that people watch it and then they feel inspired to create themselves. And I can say, especially during this time right now, it really does feel good to be creative, and not just by yourself. To be creative with other people all over the world, I think it really feels good. I hope that anyone who reads this and checks out the show comes to get in on it!
Create Together, Mondays, YouTube Originals