“The entertainment business as it has been is not going to be around that much longer. The way it’s going, there’s going to be artists, and they’ll make their shit, and they’ll connect to their audience, and you don’t need any of the middlemen – the studios or the agents.”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt in The Guardian
‘The media landscape is changing’, ‘old media is dying’, ‘digital is taking over’ are phrases we keep hearing and reading, either from the ‘dying’ and desperate party or from the revolutionaries who want to move faster. But what does this mean for the public and for the creatives that inhabit ‘new media’?
First of all, the media is way too large a topic to cover without being superficial, as it comprises literature, journalism, television, radio, theatre, music and films. The internet is of course, the booster as well as killer for most of these industries, but I’d like to call it the ‘medium of the media’. Because, let’s face it, it’s a playground for established as well as newcomer media outlets to express themselves. They are all gathered together under one digital roof and bounce off each other more than was ever possible in the analogue world. I am fascinated by the changes and paradigm shifts that the internet and more rapidly social media have generated, but I would like to focus on a case study that is able to bring everyman’s creativity to life and is not far from disrupting the classic film and television model altogether. It’s called hitRECord (named by a simple yet empowering gesture), and it is an open collaborative production company founded by actor and director Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has grown up in show business and knows exactly what he wants to change about it. But more importantly, he also knows how.
Let’s break it down. hitRECord was set up in 2005 by him and his brother in order to form a community of artists – from singers to photographers to animators – who can create openly together, sharing each others’ work on the platform and allowing others to remix on it. Basically this works like a studio or creative agency where members work towards a common goal, which is to create beautiful and meaningful work, where it does not matter who came up with what idea or when, although artists are fairly credited and financially rewarded when the work makes money. And Gordon-Levitt has enough leeway in the industry to propel these collaborative efforts into the real world, such as the Sundance Film Festival, publishing houses and most recently, on the Pivot TV channel, that broadcasts “hitRECord on TV”, a huge step for this ever growing community.
How it works is that the actor or other members propose subjects for collaborations and people submit their ideas to it. The themes can be very vague like the one for the first TV episode, the Number One. I prefer these choices because they allow for myriad of ideas from all the art forms and they blend something wonderful together. For instance, someone talked about the Pando Forest in Utah, US, where all its trees are bound together as a single living organism interconnected through its roots and which cannot die because some part always helps the other. From this member, someone went to the forest to shoot some footage, someone else wrote a narration to go for the mini-documentary, someone else recorded their voice for it and the list goes on. And if this might sound chaotic, there is a team of curators who choose the most interesting work, as well as the members liking and sharing what they enjoy and thus bringing it forward. This is the actual job of the director in this new kind of creative setup. Crowdsourcing might bring plenty of interesting material, but it is up to the director to combine it all in a cohesive direction. This is the new breed of director as curator, someone who seeks talent from several people in a non-linear fashion. As I was saying in a previous article, after my own conclusion while working as a curator at a film festival, this meta-director still communicates in a similar manner as in traditional media, but he just uses different material. As shots in a movie compose a scene, as scenes compose sequences, so do shared snippets of creativity compose this new breed of film.
Evolving consumer demands as well as creators’ new interests are exactly the reasons why storytelling and media are developing to a more complex state. It is an era of self-directed experiences, of co-creation and discovery of different consumer pathways. For instance, my personal experience of the Pando Forest documentary was much richer than the final bit that ended up in the TV episode that was conventionally and linearly broadcast. This was because I explored other people’s work, compiled my favourite together and contributed with my own edit – and I was doing it to be part of the community, not hoping for the proverbial (and clichéd) “being on TV”.
I might get lost in the magic of hitRECord, but when I step back and look at its accomplishments and effervescent community, I think of the creativity boom and energy from cinema’s early days, before rules were invented and major corporations started shaping it. Joseph’s enthusiasm and playfulness reminds me of Charlie Chaplin’s first short films where him and his crew were discovering their talents and how they can tell stories within the new medium. Today is only a matter of a different playground…