Pivot network’s “HitRECord on TV” at first seems like a difficult show to categorize: it’s a blend of comedy, music, animation, fiction, documentary, and more, but creator and host Joseph Gordon-Levitt calls it “a variety show in the true sense of the word.” That’s good news since that is where it competes at the Emmys — in the category for Best Variety Series. (listen to our podcast below).
He adds, “I have really eclectic taste in stuff that I like to watch and read and listen to, and so I wanted the show to not just be all comedy, or not just be all short documentaries, or not just be all music. I really wanted it to be a smorgasbord of different things in every episode.”
“HitRecord” came to TV in 2014, but it started back in 2005 as a “hobby-level kind of thing that my brother and I were doing together,” and over the next five years it grew as “a community had slowly and organically formed around this website.” It developed into a production company in 2010. “Television was, at that point, the pie-in-the-sky goal,” says Gordon-Levitt.
But HitRecord is not a traditional production company. It is an online community of artists collaboratively producing content, sometimes hundreds or thousands of submissions for a single project, and the results can be varied and unexpected, like a short film from “HitRecord’s” series premiere episode called “First Stars I See Tonight,” which combines live actors, artwork, animation, and music to tell a true story submitted by an online contributor about the first time she saw the stars (watch it below).
It takes time to sort through and combine so many different submissions into a single cohesive work, “but it also makes such a rich end result, and I feel like it’s worth the time,” says Gordon-Levitt. It’s important to him that the HitRecord artists are also compensated for the work they contribute: “We just sent out checks for over $700,000 to over a thousand different artists whose work was featured in the first season of eight episodes, and that feels great.”
Creating art in this kind of collaborative environment seems revolutionary in an age of jealously protected content and intellectual property, but it feels perfectly natural to Gordon-Levitt: “It’s true that in our culture, a lot of the creative process has become sort of ownership-based I guess you could say: ‘This is mine, and I made it, and I don’t want you messing with it.’ On HitRecord it’s sort of the opposite … Whether it’s the fire on the savannah thousands of years ago or people gathering in a tavern in Europe a few centuries ago, I still do think [community collaboration is] kind of the natural way that human beings get together and communicate and tell stories and sing songs and entertain each other.”
So what might the future hold for the HitRecord model of content-creation? “I do think eventually, in years to come, we will be able to tackle feature films in a variety of ways,” explains Gordon-Levitt. “I think that’s completely possible. In fact I think it’s sort of inevitable.”