HitRecord Hits the Big Screen with Joseph Gordon- Levitt’s “Don Jon”

I was going to write a scathing commentary about how I am so damn sick of apocalypse movies and I think Brad Pitt’s World War Z is going to be the Ishtar of the 21st century.  To prove my point, I began viewing the trailer for World War Z, on YouTube, where I got a commercial.

Normally I go ahead and click “skip” as soon as I can.  But this time, something stopped me.  What I saw intrigued and amused me.

It was another trailer, for a movie that won’t come out until October.  It’s called Don Jon, and it’s written, directed by, and starring Joseph Gordon- Levitt.

It’s about a lower- middle- class New Jerseyite who is obsessed with porn.  He starts a relationship with perpetual bombshell Scarlett Johansson, who shares a similar obsession for romantic movies.  Don (Joe) can’t see how they’re  different.

Not only does the film look hilarious, it marks the first feature film partially produced by Gordon- Levitt’s production company, HitRecord.


HitRecord started in 2005 as an online “experiment” from Joe (who goes by RegularJoe) and his brother Dan (who goes by Burning Dan).  It became an interactive collective where registered users could display and share their creative work.  People posted everything from photographs to napkin sketches to short stories to audio recordings.  The caveat?  Everything on the site operates under a creative commons license.  User- generated content could, and would, be used in other user- generated content. The whole thing became an enormous snowball.  The site produced short films and videos that acted like moving collages of contributors and collaborators’ work.

The first example was called Escargots, “an artsy flick for the fartsy francophiles” based Jacques Prévert’s poem Chanson des escargots.

Gordon- Levitt filmed the piece with Brick director Rian Johnson and used contributions from over 25 recorders.

In 2009 Gordon- Levitt starred in 500 Days of Summer.  The actor stretched his filmmaker’s legs further by suggesting this cutscene music video, featuring costar Zooey Deschanel’s She & Him song “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here”.

500 Days of Summer catapulted Gordon- Levitt into the mainstream, after the former child actor dropped out of Columbia and made a slew of independent films.  The exposure helped Gordon- Levitt promote HitRecord, and the Web site grew from a bare- bones underground secret into a spiffy and unique crowdsourced social media platform.

Screen shot 2013-05-31 at 12.27.42 AM

In 2010 Joe announced HitRecord as a professional production company at the Sundance Film Festival.  The new model allowed contributors to be paid for their work.  Gordon- Levitt premiered the short film Morgan M. Morganson’s Date with Destiny using this model.

Today, HitRecord works have screened at Sundance and South by Southwest.  HitRecord has produced books, CDs, and a variety television show on the Pivot network.

And now Don Jon, possibly the highest- profile HitRecord project to date.  Given Gordon- Levitt’s momentum, he probably would have made a film with or without HitRecord.  But Gordon- Levitt differs from other actors with producer ambitions (like Brad Pitt).  AverageJoe let everyone in on the action.  He de- elited celebrity and brought filmmaking down to Earth.  His little experiment totally paid off.

I’m writing this because I remember HitRecord when it was just a little HTML baby,  white text on a navy background with the occasional red “record” dot.  ElleGIRL (my favorite magazine in the world, now defunct) ran this article on Joseph- Gordon Levitt around the time that Brick came out.

I investigated and found what I thought was the coolest thing on the Internet.  The internet is really big, and really interactive, and really cool now.  But for me, Joseph Gordon- Levitt is still one of the coolest people on it.

Don Jon, though it doesn’t look like the product of hundreds of Recorders, appeals to me WAY more than some big- budget blowout like World War Z.  And it’s all because some person became interested in video editing when he was in college.

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