Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s star turns in “50/50” and “Inception” may have overshadowed the recent success of his online passion project, hitRECord.org. The Web site invites artists from all walks of life to collaborate with the actor, resulting in music, short films and, now, a picture book called “The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories” ($15). The sweetly amateurish story collection is the first in a trilogy of titles from It Books, part of the publishing giant HarperCollins. Here Gordon-Levitt, 30, explains why this book deal is not just a coup for his young company but also an object lesson in how it works.
The book is made up of roughly 45 illustrated stories culled from about 8,600 online submissions. Why does it have a predigital, ziney feel even though it came from this newfangled Web concept? I think that has less to do with the methodology and more with my personal taste and also the taste of the artist named Wirrow, who started this “Tiny Stories” collaboration in 2010. Wirrow is this artist who lives in England. He never gives out his real name and he never shows his face. He prefers to sort of remain anonymous, although we became friends recently when I was shooting “The Dark Knight Rises” in London.
This Wirrow, he’s English? If you ask him he’ll say he lives in the forest.
Sixty people, including you, worked on parts of this book — editing, rewriting, touching up illustrations — yet each story has a personal style. Is that strange? In one way it is, but in another way it’s actually no different than creativity has ever been. We’re always the culmination of our various influences. We put a big premium on what we call “originality.” But it’s a little bit of an illusion, and more than anything, all that serves are the businesspeople who make money off of intellectual property rights.
How did you choose which stories to include? The question of mass collaboration, now that we have the Internet and the tools to do it — how does it work? There are a lot of different approaches to it. Some of them are really purely democratic. ‘‘Whoever gets the most votes wins the contest!’’ That’s not this. HitRECord is sort of able to open the door by allowing anybody to contribute, but I also always wanted it to have the voice of an individual. . . .As far as logistically, it is quite a challenge to pay people. A certain amount of it is automated. But in the end we came to the conclusion that every work of art is different and there is no formula for how much to pay. So, and we say this upfront, it’s up to me….I always say that I’m the director of this.
There’s a huge photo of you on hitRECord.org. Did you need to leverage your celebrity to make this open collaboration a reality? Movie actors are handed — let’s admit it — a disproportionate amount of attention, not only in the entertainment industry but also in the world. The idea of our company is based on the belief that a guy like Wirrow — just because he is not in a position to get an agent in Hollywood, doesn’t mean that he’s any less of an artist.
The hitRECord Web site began in 2005 as a place to share your writing and homemade videos. Why did you first create it? It was not my initial intention back in 2005 to do some big community collaboration thing. I was not working a lot. I had just started to get some acting jobs again. I had done “Mysterious Skin” and “Brick.” When I got back into acting, there was always the intention — as much as I love being an actor, and I do, and I want to do it for the rest of my life — I realized that playing out roles that have been conceived by other people was not going to be all that I wanted to do with myself. I didn’t want to just be recorded; I wanted to push the button.