Has Joseph Gordon-Levitt lost his mind

Probably not but if you're reading his tweets you could be forgiven for thinking so

Just quickly — thanks to all those who offered to help out Rachel after last week’s newsletter about Colin Craig: Platforming a monster. She is appreciative, and any money from fresh Webworm annual subscribers last week I met and matched, and put towards the trust managing Rachel’s defence fund. Will be doing the same thing to any new subscribers this week.

Now, onto this week’s chaos!


This newsletter usually has me going after the bad guys. Covid-deniers, the alt right, and horrible grifting evangelical Christians. Today, I go after the worst of them all: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Okay, to be clear: I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’s in some of my favourite films: Brick, Inception and Looper. If you haven’t seen Looper, then do so immediately.

My beef is with his social media presence. My beef is with posts like this:

The last time I checked, that nonsensical “Write a happy story in exactly four words” had 5.9 thousand likes, 635 shares and a staggering 42,000 comments on Facebook. Many of those comments were — perhaps not unsurprisingly — a happy story told in exactly four words:

“Your baby is healthy!”

“I live despite cancer!”

“Your mother is alive.”

“Joseph, be my husband?”

Some were earnest, some were funny. Okay, most were earnest. They had hundreds of likes.

Who was this puppet master? Puzzled, I told Joseph Gordon-Levitt to write his own damn story:

And then I noticed Joseph had weighed in — or at least whoever was running his account had:

Joseph didn’t want your fucking stories posted on Goddamned Facebook, he wanted you to post them on his Goddamned app, HitRecord.

As I scrolled down the page, more requests for very specific content for his app.

Like with the four word short story, Facebook users immediately start posting their pictures of Trinidad, Cambodia and South Korea in the thread under his post. Again, poor Joe has to direct people to his Goddamn app:

I weighed in yet again:

When Joseph posted “Quick! Open your camera roll and find a happy photo!” followed by a photo of a family of geese, I immediately typed “Are you my aunt?” underneath.

All Joseph would do — all day long — was post these prompts. I felt like I was going crazy. Twitter was also a hotbed of madness, and Joseph Gordon Levitt is clearly committed to the bit — his Twitter handle is @hitRECordJoe.

What made me feel even crazier was the fact this truly unhinged behaviour just won Joseph any Emmy yesterday:

What the hell? Asking for a happy photo of a duck gets you a Goddamned Emmy?

HitRecord is a website and an app created by Joseph and his brother Dan in 2005. Back then, it was a message board for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to post stuff — but as time went on, he and his brother started asking for people to post their own content.

It was marketed as a sort of creative utopia: everyone coming together to build on each other’s projects. The creative process broken down into molecules, reach contributor offering their skills to a project, combining to form something beautiful.

Whenever you read about this app, it’s usually in glowing terms. This is from a profile on Jospeh in the LA Times just last week — a profile called “INSIDE THE MASTERFUL, MUCH OBLIGED MIND OF JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT”:

With HitRecord, the tagline is, “It’s not a competition, it’s a collaboration,” and in the current climate, it’s a refreshing change from what we all see on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tik Tok. That’s by design. “The joy and meaning and fulfillment that can come from making something with other people, when you forget about how many likes you get or how many followers you have, is what makes me happy,” Gordon-Levitt asserts. 

And yeah, it won that Emmy yesterday on September 11. But the whole time I’ve been reading about this project, my brain has been screaming “BUT WHAT ARE YOU ACTUALLY MAKING?!!”

The LA Times article explains that HitRecord “serves as an incubator and producer for many of JGL’s endeavours, including short films Morgan M. Morgansen’s Date with Destiny and its sequel Morgan and Destiny’s Eleventeenth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo and Hong Kong Never Sleeps.”

I have no idea what “Morgan and Destiny’s Eleventeenth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo and Hong Kong Never Sleeps” is, but I assume it’s something that exists. I certainly haven’t seen it.

The article goes on to claim HitRecord served as an incubator for “his acclaimed 2013 directorial debut, Don Jon”. I’m not going to make any comment on Don Jon, but let’s just say he hasn’t directed a movie since (I already feel guilty for that bitchy comment, please don’t come at me JGL fans, I have never directed a narrative film myself I’m too stupid and anything that gets made in Hollywood is a small precious miracle).

HitRecord hit big headlines in 2019, when Joseph appeared on stage at a Ubisoft press conference to announce they’d be sourcing artwork for a game using HitRecord. The creative community was not happy, likening it to a request for spec work:

“Clients who expect to be presented with finished products without paying for them and pit designers against one another for that work are exploitative,” tweeted comics author and publisher C. Spike Trotman. “Don’t roll up to E3 with your own press conference block, a Tom Clancy license, and a Miyamoto cameo, then ask freelancers for freebies.”

Joseph defended his platform, noting that they do pay for any work they end up using:

“We’re not a marketplace for freelance gigs; we’re a collaborative community,” he writes of HitRecord. And he says that Ubisoft isn’t using this system to hire fewer artists. “HitRecord‘s contribution to Beyond Good & Evil 2 has not resulted in a single job lost,” he writes.

His company ended up putting aside a pot of $50,000 for any work included in the game — although it’s a little unclear how many people ended up splitting the dosh. At the time Joseph also tweeted how much they’d paid out on HitRecord since 2005: About $3 million.

The year after that E3 press conference, HitRecord raised $6.4 million dollars in Series A funding. HitRecord is a serious company — it’s not some non-profit — which explains why you see the logo at the start of every episode of that Mr Corman show on AppleTV+.

But then it’s also responsible for requests like this, feverishly typed to four million people at 2am in the morning:

It’s that shit that’d driving me wild. I can’t get it out of my mind. I can’t sleep. I can’t relax. The whispering. The ducks. The sunsets. I didn’t understand where that shit is going.

I sent out some tweets about all this a few weeks ago — screenshotting JGL’s prompts and posting them largely without comment. His fanbase rolled into my DMs pretty quickly:

“I just had to unfollow David Farrier on Instagram because he has just gone off on Joseph Gordon-Levitt for doing what he has always done”

“Maybe look up what HitRecord is before being a total prick towards JGL”

“What’s your problem with Joseph Gordon-Levitt??? You can’t just post shit about him without an explanation, man”

“Why do you hate Joseph Gordon-Levitt?”

For the record, I do not hate Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I am puzzled by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Despite researching it all weekend, I’m still puzzled by what HitRecord does exactly.

As well as reaching JGL’s rabid fanbase, my tweets also got the attention of Jared Geller, President & Co-founder of HitRecord. He slid into my DMs, mentioning that we had mutual friends. He was friendly, kind, and perhaps a little horrified at my astonishment.

“Thought I’d just give you the context — we promote a bunch of prompts to (hopefully) inspire people to take pictures/write/make music for collaborative projects going on on our hitrecord platform. We’ve found that people enjoy sharing and making things about where they live, hence those specific prompts that are focused on countries and regions… “

I asked if I could ask him some direct questions for this newsletter. He provided an email address, and said he was going to talk to the man himself about it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I was thrilled and audibly yelped.

That was all last week. I am yet to hear back, but here are the questions I sent. I still hope I get the answers so I can sleep once again.

Is it Joe posting, or his team?

The big question — where does this stuff end up? Let's do the images as an example: I assume you get THOUSANDS. What are they for? What happens to the images that don't get used? How do you decide who gets paid for this material?!

This talks to that bigger question around spec work: Obviously some people worry this is unpaid spec-work — can you talk to that!

The other prompt I could not understand was to deliver this audio dialogue — as whispers, or basically in any form whatsoever. What for?! It’s so broad. Where does this end up? This trips me out so much. 

My personal theory is that Joe is training a giant AI machine, feeding it endless images from all over the world, 4-word stories, and dialogue said in a variety of ways. Can you confirm or deny this?

Just financially how does this work? I read you got a Series A of about $6 million. Is the idea that this is a profitable thing for you guys, and how do you decide how much is fed back into this pool of avid, passionate and excited contributors you have?

This big collaboration you have going on — I get the utopia of that idea — but to make stuff that really sings you need structure and leadership.... and a great thing is not just the sum of its parts! Is this a logical way to make things? I suppose just honestly I want to understand what this is. When I think about HitRECord it’s sort of like thinking about SoulCycle or some LA cult — I just don’t get it! Make me understand! 

And I still want to understand.

And I’m dead serious about question six, because I really do think Joe might be using his boyish good looks to charm us while he builds the most powerful AI we’ve ever seen, gleefully learning as people whisper their secrets, post their sunsets, and share their ducks.



PS: Yes, Joseph Gordon-Levitt shot his TV show in New Zealand but for the record he’s now back in the land the free, home of the brave, team USA!