Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a versatile artist. How else can you explain a guy who can cross seamlessly across The Dark Knight Rises and Inception, to 50/50, Don Jon and a note-perfect adaptation of a YouTube classic? The actor's next big budget showcase is next year's The Walk, a 3-D rendition of Philippe Petit's infamous tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers.
But before all that big budget Hollywood action, you can also see him in a new short film called "In a City," co-directed and created by the actor and his collaborative production company hitRECord. The film was crowd sourced from a global collection of cinematographers, musicians and lyricists and explores the rhythm of daily life for the people of Cairo, Rio De Janeiro, London, Prague, Tokyo, Sheffield and Los Angeles. Gordon-Levitt also partnered with Samsung, a sponsor of the film, shooting it in 4K with the new Samsung NX1 premium compact system camera.
"In a City" began years ago when a writer submitted a poem to the hitRECord site. "Our site isn’t about just posting finished projects, but building on what everyone else is doing," says Gordon-Levitt. "So a musician called KRRR took the audio of this poem, set it to music and posted it on the site, and we always liked it."
Years later, after Samsung approached hitRECord with the opportunity to use its new camera for a project, Gordon-Levitt and his creative partners came back to this poem. "We started thinking about it being more than one person’s experience, so we asked everyone on the site to write about and shoot what it’s like walking through their city, and based on the footage that came in, we decided on six cinematographers whose work stood out and sent them Samsung cameras to shoot with."
The official version is all footage from these cameras, but the extended includes other lo-fi contributions. We also putting out a version that includes footage that wasn’t featured and not shot on the Samsung. It’s cool to see the different versions. "The Samsung version is obviously amazing, given the quality of the camera," says Gordon-Levitt. "But there’s also something just beautiful about seeing the range of locations and video quality. Low-fidelity footage cut with high-fidelity footage is part our aesthetic."
The overall goal of hitRECord is to make great art and media, but to do so with artists from all over the world who don’t necessarily have the same opportunities or exposure that someone like Gordon-Levitt has in the conventional entertainment industry. "There are so many great artists around the globe who don’t have the connections or opportunities that I do but there’s never been a better time to help get those voices heard," he says. "So this company is one small way that I like to try to reach out to those artists and collaborate with them. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to work with so many great and talented people in the industry, but I’d love to see our media express the ideas of a wider variety of people. Right now when you turn on the TV or go to the movies, you’re still seeing a fairly limited cross-section of perspectives."
Making "In a City" with multiple voices on affordable technology is exactly where Gordon-Levitt is a step forward, but even more important is an adjustment in how creative people approach their art form. "The technology is very important, but it’s also about the culture changing," he says. "We’ve had a hundred years of the notion that only certain people get to make or be in movies or sing a song and have it on the radio. Technology has helped change that so many more people can do it, but many people are still stuck in the mindset that we can’t do certain things. Like I’m not a trained singer so I shouldn’t sing, or a real director so I shouldn’t make a movie. The technology is there but we have to get over that notion. It’s not just about sitting on the couch and watching the professionals do it, it’s about a conversation we can all participate in."
Many artists create a piece of work intended to exist as is, but Gordon-Levitt says seeing his work remixed and re-imagined by someone else's vision is perhaps the highest artistic compliment. "I’ve been in movies that’ve done well at the box office, received critical acclaim, stood in front of applauding audiences and received awards, all of which have been great and very rewarding," says Gordon-Levitt. "But none of those are as fulfilling as seeing someone take a video I’ve made or script I’ve written and turned it into something new. You can still see my thing in there but it’s something else—that is so amazing and fulfilling as an artist. That someone would care enough to take what you’ve done and incorporate it into their own voice, shows just how strongly they connected with it. And that’s what we’re all after as artists, that connection. It’s more powerful than any other feedback I’ve ever gotten. That’s what hitRECord is based on. To create something that will inspire people to make something."