EXCLUSIVE: Just after previewing the first three episodes of his TV series HITRECORD ON TV, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his HITRECORD exec producer Jared Geller have set a first-look deal with Participant Media and its youth-centric TV station Pivot. This comes after the show Gordon-Levitt created got an 8-episode order for a second season. The series debuted yesterday on the upstart Pivot cable channel, for which Gordon-Levitt also is a creative adviser.
Said Pivot President Evan Shapiro: “Joe is the kind of artist we envisioned when we created Pivot. He is a director, actor, writer and disruptor who understands how to use every form of media to engage our audience.”
It’s only the second time that a TV series was featured on the Sundance program, but this series is directly intertwined with the festival. I watched the first episode and noticed a stylistic symmetry to other anthology shows, most particularly Sesame Street, which Gordon-Levitt allowed was one of the references for how to string together disparate segments for a variety show that stresses global subject matter and involves a worldwide audience on the web. Perhaps that intention was best underscored with the musical number that closes the first episode, which was devoted to the word “one.” The song is grounded by Gordon-Levitt’s own musical chops — watch the trailer below and it’s understandable why he’s mentioned for Fox’s Guys and Dolls redo — but the song was a much bigger undertaking in that it features songwriting and singing from participants from all over the world. (Watch the song performance below).
“It was a lot of work, and the process began with the songwriting,” Gordon-Levitt told me. “I knew the theme of the episode was the number one. I had an idea and a title, ‘You’re Not The Only One.’ I made a video, put it on our site, and said, ‘OK, songwriters, I want us all to write a song together.’ Different people made different versions, and we took parts and combined them into that song. A few of the people who made big contributions we brought onstage to play it at the Troubadour [in West Hollywood]. We did it with a bare band, to leave room for vocals and an entire second verse. We played it onstage, and nobody sang during the second verse because we knew we wanted people to do that later. We put the unfinished song on our site, and I made another request video asking them to sing along to it. Hundreds of people contributed their voices, we edited it down, and put it all together.”
That sounds like a recipe for a digital disaster, but it works quite well. Gordon-Levitt could have found an easier way to do it, but the collaboration is the whole point, and there is direct relevance to Sundance.
“What Sundance is about is a lot of what HITRECORD is about, creating an environment and community of artists,” he told me. “The difference with HITRECORD is, it’s not limited to geography. We use the Internet, so for us it is artists from all over the world, coming together, encouraging each other, and collaborating to build off each other’s work to make these great things. It would not have been possible without Sundance, and this is the fourth time I’ve brought HITRECORD to Sundance — a process that started in 2010 when I got up in front of 99 people in the basement of a mall in the New Frontier section and presented our work and recorded the proceedings and established what the show was going to become. Now, there is no place I’d rather premiere a TV show that is so personal to me.” He’s also got Sundance-hatched talent like Fruitvale Station helmer Ryan Coogler making segments for the series.
Gordon-Levitt, here last year with his scripting/directorial debut Don Jon, devoted almost all of his time after that to HITRECORD but hopes the second season will allow him to appear in movies. “It took a lot of work to figure out how to do it and what the show was going to be, and I worked all year on this,” he said. “I did some work on Sin City, and some press for Don Jon, but other than that, it was all TV show. Now that we’ve got it down, and we know what the show is and how to do it, it should be easier and faster. I’ll do the second season of the show and also do acting jobs, put together a feature directing gig and work it all in there.”
Even though Gordon-Levitt started on TV with 3rd Rock From The Sun and it took him years to get established as a feature actor, he said that devoting the past year to a small-screen project was worth it. “There’s a really bright future in HITRECORD,” he said, “and the television show is just the beginning. As a production company I think we can make multiple television shows, feature films, and we can publish books and do touring — all sorts of opportunities I think eventually could be good both creatively and commercially.” He’s repped by WME.
Here is a trailer with part of that song “You’re Not The Only One”: