Want to Make Something Great? Just Add Other People, Says Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
The actor, director and all-around force of creative nature on the power of collaboration.
There’s no right or wrong way to combat the isolation and anxiety brought on by the times we live in. (Well, OK, we can probably all agree that plowing through a Costco shipment of Oreos in one sitting isn't the most ideal way.)
But research shows that there are two vital ingredients to maintaining mental health and wellness: human connection and the feeling of doing something positive. And both of these come into play in the process of creating something with other people. A study in the journal Art Therapy found that after just 45 minutes of art-making, participants’ levels of cortisol (a chemical in the body associated with stress) were reduced dramatically.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a star in movies like The Dark Knight Rises, 500 Days of Summer and Inception, has long understood the positive power of creating alongside others, which is why he founded HITRECORD, an open online community for creative collaboration. Since 2004, HITRECORD has been connecting creators — experts and beginners alike — on passion projects. And this month, Joseph is releasing a six-episode miniseries called CREATE TOGETHER, which showcases the outcomes of those connections and the people behind them.
For an upcoming episode of Get a Real Job podcast, I spoke with Joseph about CREATE TOGETHER, and about the more general joy that comes with making something out of nothing. Below are some edited highlights of that conversation. Read it — then go create something!
The joy of making stuff up
“During this strange time of quarantine and isolation, I found that it's been really helpful for me to just stay creative, to do something creative every day. But it can be hard to do that alone. To just stare at a blank page and be like, ‘Now I will write!’ Or, you know, ‘Now I'm going to make a song!’ I grew up in collaborative environments on movie sets and shows and I really feed off the creative energy of other people. Years ago, I started this community that's all about creative collaboration called HITRECORD. And so we decided to just make a show documenting it called CREATE TOGETHER for YouTube originals.”
The movie biz vs. biz biz
“I'm actually getting a really big kick out of building this company, HITRECORD. It is quite different than making a movie or TV show. Sure, there's some overlap, but building a product or service is different than making a work of art where you put it out and then you never change it again. Businesses are constantly changing, evolving. They’re never done! We've gotten amazing advice from great business leaders at places like Casper and Masterclass and Postmates, and we've honed our business over the years. It's been really fascinating, fun, challenging, daunting — and sometimes frustrating. But I've really enjoyed it. And yeah, it's different. It's different than making art."
Social media doesn't have to be evil
“Asking for people to collaborate is different than making something and putting it on social media and saying, ‘Hey, look what I did!’ For me, social media is kind of a recipe for anxiety. I find it to be sort of angst-ridden. We all know what it’s like to put something out there and not get any likes, but I’ll tell you, even when there are a bunch of hearts and likes and retweets, it still doesn't feel good. For me, I’m just like, ‘That’s all? There should be more! That guy over there has more than I do!’ This is all poisonous to the creative spirit. So our platform is all about collaborating, not just reacting to a finished product. I love getting to make movies — the making part. It's the being on a set with other people and figuring something out, having a challenge. It's those moments of the process itself that I really love — finding creative solutions.”
The ultimate reward
"I can say from my experience, it's never really satisfying when you're lucky enough to be involved with something that is a 'hit.' I have never have felt like, 'Oh, OK, great! I made it! I'm satisfied!' That kind of success is never like the satisfaction I get when I take my focus off those external results and put my focus on the inherent rewards of the creative process itself. That's when I get really jazzed. I'm trying to make something and then I find it and like, ah, there it is. That's working. And for me, that happens a lot better when I'm doing it together with other people."