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by Ben Travers
September 24, 2013 10:14 AM
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Joseph Gordon-Levitt's 5 Best hitRECord Shorts and How They Formed His Vision For 'Don Jon'

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.

READ MORE: Joseph Gordon-Levitt on RECollection: Volume 1: "This is the first time that I’ve made something."

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.

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31 Comments

  • Koura | September 24, 2013 7:56 PMReply

    unfortunately no way to know joe's reaction to this, or how he gave the article, but to ben who wrote the article:
    my biggest disappointment with hitRECord in the media is that it is all about joe. that's great and all, but honestly there are a LOT of people who do a LOT of work, for free [unless/until their work gets selected for a paid project] to keep hitRECord going.
    there is a lot i love about hitRECord, but this article misses some MAJOR points. especially how collaborative of a production it is and that a lot of the artists involved are actually professionals, if not in practice than in level of skill.
    while joe's celebrity tends to drive a lot of aspects about it, many 'true' hitRECorders could care less about 'jgl' and sneer at drooly fans. aside from the pr qualities to it, i know people who would prefer if joe really was just a 'regular joe' than a big star.
    i get that this article is about how hitRECord supposedly has a big impact on him - but the way it is written and even the reply still makes it seem like the cited RECords are 'joes' RECords, discredits the people who were involved and is a bit insulting as a hitRECorder.

  • Soozie | September 24, 2013 8:40 PM

    Very valid points here Koura, couldn't agree more.

  • Lawrie Brewster | September 24, 2013 7:16 PMReply

    I'm going to extend you the courtesy of assuming your a grown adult Ben and ask that you extend the same courtesy to me. I am an independent human being... an artist and a professional working in the industry. When I collaborate on a project I do so as an individual and the work that I do is credited likewise. That means... individually.

    If you want to clarify your position start by giving us the respect we deserve as individuals working within the industry. Your distorted puff piece article clearly indicated that these films were produced as the brainchild of Joseph Gordon Levitt.

    They were not. You've been call out on it - take it with some journalistic integrity and issue an apology and correction.

  • Soozie | September 24, 2013 8:37 PM

    I agree with these points completely, regardless of this 'JGL focused' article that he alleges. On reading, it appear that the shorts were written, directed etc by JGL with HitRECord people offering 'some' collaboration. This is obviously far from the case, particularly where one person wrote BOTH Morgan and Turnip Head, was it REALLY to difficult to name such individuals?

    I have lost respect from this site for sure. INDIEWIRE?? Sell outs more like...

  • Ben Travers | September 24, 2013 7:06 PMReply

    Dear readers.
    I'd like to make a brief statement to clarify my position. I didn't feel the need to cite each video's writer and animator by username for two reasons: First, the article's focus is Mr. Gordon-Levitt and how he was influenced by each RECord. Second, every credit is given in the videos that are included in the piece. Attribution is obviously an important part of art, especially online, and it's still there for everyone involved with these RECords. I merely provided context for how Mr. Gordon-Levitt may have been influenced by these remarkable shorts because of the article's focus on his upcoming feature debut.

    hitRECord is a site all about collaboration, finding your voice, and learning by doing. I hope everyone who worked on these impressive pieces knows their work has undoubtedly influenced the thoughts, practices, and work of everyone else who worked on it, including Mr. Gordon-Levitt. These videos, published under his hitRECord handle and with his credited involvement, are obviously important to him.

    Thank you all for reading and responding. We do love hearing from our readers, and I hope this helps clarify any misconceptions. Thanks again.

    Ben

  • Forensic Rae | September 24, 2013 9:10 PM

    Also, to add to the great comment that Tamara made, I'd pay particular attention to the final sentence about how you'd feel with someone using your work with no mention of YOUR name?

    Actually, scrap that, I'm sure if someone DID do that they may actually construct a far superior article, containing actual FACTS, and NOT sweeping statements, hope this has been a lesson to you!

  • Forensic Rae | September 24, 2013 8:30 PM

    Dear Ben,

    Read Tamara's response, then read it again, I would then advise you give it a further read, understand why your response is insufficient.

    This isn't about 'Nerd Rage' if this is what you twitter account was indicating earlier today? Maybe, maye not, regardless, has some respect and integrity! You missed the mark, by a country mile mate!

  • Tamara Piddock | September 24, 2013 7:56 PM

    Ben I think you should reread (or proof read) what you have written. Even if the focus is for one person this does not mean you can take other peoples work that feature that person and make it out that person of that focus was the soul creator. And if you do not think you did this then you should definitely have someone else read your work before posting it.

    If I were to reference someones music/pictures/video in some article then I would need to credit those who created them. You cannot assume people will go looking for the real creators if you have basically said it was down to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, thats a very weak argument that no one else would get away with.

    I really hope JGL doesn't share your views of this piece as you've basically gone against the ethos of what HitRECord's is about and may cause damage to its reputation if creative people start to wonder if their work will be portrayed as someone else's so easily.

    An amendment to this article is what you should do in this case. I don't think you would take it so lightly if someone used your work without mentioning you once.

  • Lawrie Brewster | September 24, 2013 4:22 PMReply

    Yep... and for the record Joe directed the 'Sundance' version of Morgan M Morgansen... there are multiple versions... with various 'directors' including mine. The term director (despite the imdb credit) referred to a project management role on hitrecord.org

    There is no 'one' director of any 'one' Morgan M Morgansen but there is one creator... Sarah Daly... and there is one popular look.... created by me. To credit anything from Don Jon to me is flattering but completely inaccurate.

  • Lawrie Brewster | September 24, 2013 4:49 PM

    In fact... I might as well do this properly.

    Written and Conceived by Sarah Daly.
    Live action co-directed by Joseph Gordon Levitt and Lexy Hulme shooting themselves in an apartment. Footage taken by me of my own accord and then directed in liaison with *drum roll* the writer Sarah Daly. Not in consultation with anyone... just my fat Scottish arse in front of a computer making my own thing with help from prominent artists - in particular the illustrator Jenyffer Maria.

    I uploaded that film onto hitrecord and Joseph Gordon Levitt tweaked it a bit for Sundance... that's it. After it played well I suggested making a sequel and we did. I then directed everyone on the visual/design elements, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Lexy on the live action and and myself and Joseph on the final edit.

    That is how it happened... I should know, I'm good friends with the creator....

  • ramona | September 24, 2013 4:13 PMReply

    The silly thing is, it would take about 5 minutes googling to find out who actually wrote and directed these pieces. It's just lazy journalism that I'm sure JGL himself would be happy to correct.

  • Soozie | September 24, 2013 2:21 PMReply

    Awwwww.... This is SOOO disappointing. I am an avid fan of the writer and musician, who of course, wrote Turnip head and the Morgan short. I cannot believe the way this article implies that they were a vision of JGL, I'd go as far as to say that someone new to these works might think he wrote them, when of course he didn't! This is the complete fault of Mr Travers, I hope and not JGL, who I am pretty sure would be disappointed to see contributors to HitRECord so poorly represented, and completely disregarded, you can't ignore that!

    If the article wanted to discuss the effect these projects had on JGLs recent feature film, in terms of pacing or whatever, then the writer of turnip head should at the very least be named. This article is written in such a way to imply JGL wrote everything, as his vision.

  • Grayson Moore | September 24, 2013 1:53 PMReply

    I think this is more a case of bad research and poor writing. Clearly this Ben Travers hasn't attempted to find out who actually wrote the works etc? How you can you compare visions between say turnip head and his new movie etc when you don't know who wrote or designed these shorts. Utterly poor form, this 'journalist'... Blogger? Whatever, seems to have not even done a basic web search, wow seriously?, laughable... Clearly just write what you want, minus any facts lol... Glad not every profession works this way.

    I doubt that JGL probably as any clue about this article or it's assumptions and statements. I imagine this story is more a case of this travers trying to create a casual mainstream-independent link, pity it might be detrimental to the HitRECord and JGL fans, who will feel this article kicks them in the face, for all they have worked for and contributed from the smallest component to the examples of individuals mentioned in these comments, who WROTE and DESIGNED the shorts. That seems a MAJOR oversight on this articles part, and astonishingly incompetent!

  • SNAP UN-HAPPY | September 24, 2013 1:43 PMReply

    This article should be taken down and started again from scratch. It reads like a piece of homework rushed on the bus to school. Its introduction starts off by making a cursory nod in the direction of the creative force behind these shortfilms but then proceeds to attribute all the creative and inspirational work to Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

    In particular I make reference to the much lauded Morgan M. Morgansen shorts and The Man With a Turnip for a Head. The storylines and scripts were written by Sarah Daly, which include the beautifully poetic rhythm and fantastically quaint use of the English language.

    The visual aspect and style of the films were the creation of Lawrie Brewster, such as the animations and their amalgamation with live action, as well as the old film style grading. Lawrie did these alone overseeing the contributions of other hitRECorders without direction from Joseph Gordon Levitt.

    To state explicitly and implicitly that the key creative ingredients to these films, and indeed any of the other hitRECord shorts mentioned in this article, are the sole brainchild of Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an absolute mockery and complete disservice to all that hitRECord is supposed to stand for.

  • Spacey | September 24, 2013 1:40 PMReply

    Spacey here, AKA Spaceship, artist and hitRECord contributer/resident curator. To be perfectly short and sweet: The creative output of hitRECord and that of JGL cannot and should not be loosely lumped as being one and the same. Though this is quite self-evident from the article's blurb regarding hitRECord being a "collaborative production company," I choose to be Captain Obvious in light of the remainder of the article's disregard of the aforementioned factoid.

  • Amy | September 24, 2013 1:31 PMReply

    Glad to see hitRECord showcased, but very disappointing that the main creators of many of these works are not credited.

  • Disgruntled hitRECorder | September 24, 2013 12:04 PMReply

    Rian Johnson, writer/director of Brick and Looper actually wrote the script for Love: A Tragedy. And Maria Ivanova applied her unique (award-winning) visual style to the animation of The Man With a Turnip for a Head. These examples show Joe's taste for sure in that he chose these HitRECorder conceived ideas and scripts to develop, but they certainly don't express him as an auteur since he was more of an exec producer/overseer than a creative driving force in most of them. He didn't create the concepts or choose the themes as you suggest here. Escargots and Pictures of Assholes are the exceptions. Those are very much Joe's personal projects and express his vision well.

    HitRECord gives amazing opportunities to artists both 'unknown' and on the up - but what's the point if their involvement and input is then dismissed in the media? Surely Indiewire wants to help promote the work of independent artists? Not dismiss them as 'unknowns' unworthy of credit. Maybe they wouldn't be unknown if it wasn't for even the so called 'independent' press's obsession with mainstream celebrity.

  • Lawrie Brewster | September 24, 2013 11:54 AMReply

    Here Ben... let me help you do your job on this article. Here is a short film Joseph Gordon Levitt actually wrote and directed, 'The Blue Dildo' www hitrecord .org/records/656423

    The only relevant short film and the single film you managed to miss.

  • Forensic Rae | September 24, 2013 11:48 AMReply

    This articles misses the key players, who wrote and animated/designed the works... Which is really sad, lazy journalism without a doubt, have you actually watched these shorts? Otherwise HOW could you miss the contributors? Or is that the point, just a celebrity article? Regardless, you completely obliterate the writer and creative input, without which, it would just be JGL in front of a green screen... Poor show Ben Travers... Poor show, maybe consider how you would feel with such blatant disregard? A shame, I believed you guys had some integrity!

  • Sue Levay | September 24, 2013 11:48 AMReply

    And let's not forget Jen Moreno, whose hand-drawn "doodles" were the visual basis for the Morgan characters!

  • Forensic Rae | September 24, 2013 11:47 AMReply

    This articles misses the key players, who wrote and animated/designed the works... Which is really sad, lazy journalism without a doubt, have you actually watched these shorts? Otherwise HOW could you miss the contributors? Or is that the point, just a celebrity article? Regardless, you completely obliterate the writer and creative input, without which, it would just be JGL in front of a green screen... Poor show Ben Travers... Poor show, maybe consider how you would feel with such blatant disregard? A shame, I believed you guys had some integrity!

  • Tamara Piddock | September 24, 2013 11:44 AMReply

    Hey guys, there is a pretty big thing missing here. You have not credited the creators of Turnip Head and Morgan short films.

    I think you'd agree that just because someone with a well known name has taken part in something does not mean they were the only person present or even that they were responsible for bring it into being.

    From what I know of HitRECord its there to help up and coming artists show off their talents and even collaborate together to create some pretty awesome things.

    I would hope Joseph Gordon-Levitt would feel the same way that even though he took part in the Morgan films, their actual creators Sarah Daly (writer) and Lawrie Brewster (director and visual manipulator) need to be mentioned here and given credit for their creative and magical works.

    I hope you correct this oversight soon, I think Joseph Gordon-Levit is an amazing actor and would not want to be seen as someone stealing all the lime light of someone elses work.

  • sue levay | September 24, 2013 12:28 PM

    It's a misconception that hitRECord is about showcasing up-and-coming talent. It is more about USING such talent to further JGL's own output and celebrity. What might have been a radical online experiment in creative collaboration has, in JGL's hands, become a massive vanity project to feed a massive celebrity ego. And this article plays the game perfectly!

  • Forensic Rae | September 24, 2013 11:54 AM

    Totally agree here Tamara, I would personally find it very daunting that it was this easy to eradicate all the input by sarah and lawrie, I mean it would make me doubt HitREcord as a platform in creative works if it was this easy to have all you've done ripped away... It's not small creative input we're talking... It's the words and design/look, it's the soul!

  • sue levay | September 24, 2013 11:41 AMReply

    It could be added that this article points up one of the largest frustrations of working for hitRECord - the tendency to credit JGL with EVERYthing, when really he is being inspired by the very creative minds who actually do the conceiving, writing, and artwork behind so much of the output there. Not to say he isn't a creative guy in his own right, and the producing force behind this output, but 2 of the productions mentioned, "Morgan M Morgansen" and "Turniphead" must definitely be credited to Sarah Daly as writer and Lawrie Brewster as director. It's just completely wrong to credit JGL for their vision, creativity and hard work.

  • Gavin Hugh | September 24, 2013 11:48 AM

    To be fair to JGL, "his" version of Turnip Head (with the Gary Oldman voiceover) is visually very distinct from the Brewster/Daly version (which can be seen below via the Vimeo link). Both versions are composed with contributions by various artists and musicians on HitRECord.

    However, the point stands that Daly's original writing is the basis of that story and it's rhythm, which it is not mentioned once in this article.

  • Gavin Hugh | September 24, 2013 11:21 AMReply

    There's a pretty significant oversight here, as the article refers to these as Joseph Gordon-Levitt's films. HitRECord has always been sold and marketed as a team effort which lead by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Let's not turn it into the Joseph Gordon Levitt appreciation group at the expense of crediting the writers and artists who have also contributed.

    I think this article particularly fails to note the significant contributions of Sarah Daly (the writer of two of the shorts listed) and Lawrie Brewster (who compiled and directed the visual components of both Morgan films).

    While Joseph Gordon-Levitt certainly contributed massively to the Morgan project, it would be grossly unfair to say that it wasn't a team effort developed within the HitRECord community and lead by the two Fife filmmakers. Daly's writing should really be better credited for both the Turnip Head and Morgan concepts, and without Brewster the finished Morgan films wouldn't have anything like their unique visual feel and flair, which fit very much into his unique aesthetic.

    JGL should, of course, be given credit for being able to give the Morgan films the exposure and attention they deserve, and for contributing and championing them, but they are not simply "his" ideas.

  • Amy | September 24, 2013 2:11 PM

    Sarah and Lawrie do need to be credited, absolutely, but also Marie Ivanova who did all the animation for The Man with a Turnip for a Head, and Greg Abrahms who did all the editing for Love: a Tragedy. And Rian Johnson who wrote Love: A Tragedy. Actually, Joe had very little to do with that film aside from acting.

    And as for the links at the end - wirrow (writer, creator) absolutely needs to have credit for and a new earth, Miranda Brooks (stop-motion animation) needs to be credits for Mum and Me, and David Sugarman (writer, voice over actor) needs to be credited for Strawberry Bootlaces. And I'm pretty sure Marie did the animation for that too.

  • Gavin Hugh | September 24, 2013 11:42 AM

    Um... nope? I can assure you I am not Lawrie.

  • Jen | September 24, 2013 11:27 AM

    Lawrie, is that you?

  • Lawrie Brewster | September 24, 2013 11:00 AMReply

    This article is a travesty and I've already contacted Indie Wire for a correction.

    Morgan M Morgansen was developed by Sarah Daly and Lawrie Brewster. Joseph Gordon Levitt came on board when a script was pitched to him. He shot his segment seperately and independent of our creative input. Then we edited his visual segments independent of his creative input. The finished film is the invention of Sarah Daly's writing and the creative direction and animation of Lawrie Brewster.

    Joe directed himself as a performer and made some minor adjustments to a specific version he exhibited.

    Further more - Turnip Head was written and conceived by Sarah Daly also. A version (alongside Joseph Gordon Levitt's) has in fact exhibited at festivals around the world too. Produced by myself (with a non-coincidentally similar style of artwork to Morgan M Morgansen...) https://vimeo.com/56623972