By Ben Travers | Indiewire September 24, 2013 at 10:14AM
While we're still a few days away from Joseph Gordon-Levitt's feature-length directorial debut "Don Jon," you can watch his first efforts behind the camera right now.
The child actor turned adult filmmaker has been plugging his collaborative production company hitRECord for years, wearing the company's red logo to various premieres and recently launching a hitRECord television show. Though he's certainly the face of the organization, most of his efforts are focused on spotlighting his lesser known—or completely unknown—collaborators. Yet the two-time Golden Globe nominee has done plenty of work for the company as a director, actor, editor, and more.
Below, Indiewire has selected the five most illuminating RECords produced by hitRECord's founder, with a special look at how they formed his vision for "Don Jon." ("Don Jon" opens wide this Friday.)
"Morgan M. Morgansen's Date with Destiny"
One of the more accessible short films found on the often-experimental site is also, unsurprisingly, its most recommended. Gordon-Levitt stars as mustached Morgan M. Morgansen, a smitten gentleman embarking on a date with Destiny. Mirroring the initially-hidden-if-almost-immediately-obvious double meanings of the short's addictive diction, Destiny is both a woman and a life-changing moment in Morgan's mesmerizing universe. The duo's date could be summed up matter-of-factly, but the embellishment given to Morgan & Destiny's dinner makes it memorable for more than just the meal.
The short played at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival where Gordon-Levitt used it as a kind of introduction to what hitRECord was all about. Approximately 180 collaborators contributed to the five-minute short, with Gordon-Levitt serving as narrator, lead actor, and director. The love story and pun-y title certainly allude to one of his more popular films from 2009, Marc Webb's breakout hit "(500) Days of Summer," but many aspects of "Morgan M. Morgansen" are applicable to "Don Jon," as well.
As much as the film's marketing plan wants you to think "Don Jon" is about sex, sex, and sex, Gordon-Levitt crafted a film very much about how popular media alters our ideas of what we want from relationships. The film isn't so much about an obsession with pornography as it is about a man searching for connections, a fact made even more apparent when the title was changed from "Don Jon's Addiction" to "Don Jon." Romance is not dead in "Don Jon." Gordon-Levitt is just seeing it from the eye of a character who starts off as the complete opposite of Morgan M. Morgansen. As Morgan, he's an overly sensitive innocent looking for love, but as Jon he's a brash Lothario without a clue what he's looking for. Without spoiling anything, each character ends up in the same place. The lens may have changed, but Gordon-Levitt's perspective remains the same.
*Joseph Gordon-Levitt made a sequel to "Morgansen" that played at SXSW in 2010. Titled "Morgan and Destiny's Eleventeenth Date - The Zeppelin Zoo," the short co-stars fellow RECorder Channing Tatum as Destiny's former lover who competes with Morgan for her affection. Based solely on the preceding sentence, you have no reason not to watch.
"Love: A Tragedy"
While Gordon-Levitt may have used "Morgan M. Morgansen's Date With Destiny" to introduce people to hitRECord, I believe "Love: A Tragedy" is an even better example of the company's collaborative powers. This live performance from the company's 2011 Fall Formal was recorded on dozens if not hundreds of phones, video cameras, and professional equipment by a bevy of average Joes (oh, puns) and then edited together with archival film footage to create the short film now available online. What started as a five minute script from username rcjohnso became a two-man live show and then a short film created from a theater filled with participating audience members. It's simple, short, and incredibly sweet.
While "Love: A Tragedy" wasn't written by Gordon-Levitt, it perfectly parallels the battling expectations of love put forth in the director's feature debut. When "Don Jon" starts out, Jon sees love as sick joke instilled in our minds from bad rom-coms. He's your prototypical bachelor whose heart is as closed off as his fly is wide open. Jon's journey to the other side is a unique one, but the rote traditions established in each genre arc from "Love: A Tragedy" remain.