At a freeform radio station like WMFO, we support all sorts of creative endeavors – large, small, and in-between. However, some stand out. Some people and organizations make headway in the creative world at astounding rates and experience astounding growth because of it. They’re cropping up more and more often of late, these meteoric rises, with companies like Netflix expanding their brand to include their own TV shows, indie bands like Young the Giant going from a Facebook page of 3000 likes and a few free songs floating around the internet to almost half a million likes on Facebook and an endlessly full tour schedule, and devices like the Kindle and iPhone making it easier to be a content creator than possibly ever before.
This ease of spread, however, comes with some pitfalls. More and more people are creating things, so competition to actually succeed is stiff and it can seem like many people are out of the running before they even begin. When there’s so much talent out there, we tend to devalue our own, even though the people who make the media that we are constantly inundated by had to start somewhere. With that in mind, what is it like to make something wildly successful from scratch, after all?
“Great,” according to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. “It feels great.”
Few people can boast a creative career as successful as that of actor-producer-director-writer Joseph Gordon-Levitt (JGL); he probably deserves even more hyphenated descriptive titles after his name than that. There seem to be few things he can’t do, so I guess it was only reasonable for him to write, direct and star in his own movie, Don Jon.
The movie stars JGL as a man named Jon who lives in a certain way and embodies a certain concept of masculinity – a “classic American character,” the player who has sex with a lot of women but doesn’t really let himself feel anything for them. The plot may be typical – character learns how to have emotions due to intervention by others – but I can assure you that it isn’t presented in a typical way. It came out a couple days ago, on September 27th, but at the risk of spoiling anything, I’ll just say: go watch it. It’s very good, very spot-on in its criticism of how young Americans go about their relationships, and very Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
The film came about after Gordon-Levitt had already been working for several years on his own production company, hitRECord. With a mission statement of “making things together,” the collaborative art company is basically a playground for creativity.
He’s made many short films with it, and he credited hitRECord with his directing ability. “It’s taught me a lot,” he said. He also said that hitRECord plans on going into TV in the spring, coming out with its own show in the vein of Netflix, but more audience-driven. With hitRECord, the audience and the creators become the same – users can build on the art of other users, or they can make their own to be built on. Gordon-Levitt has invested a lot of his time into it, and is rarely seen without the trademark little red circle pin.
Don Jon was also, in its own way, a collaborative enterprise. Though it was mainly Gordon-Levitt’s brain that went into the movie, to make it happen he needed other people – experience with hitRECord helped with that, as well.
One such other person was composer Nathan Johnson, who wrote the score for the movie and chose the hip-hop interludes. I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the movie’s music – in our interview, Gordon-Levitt said that the soundtrack was one of his favorite things about directing.
“I wanted Don Jon to have a rhythm to it… to be one piece of music,” he said. Johnson, he also said, accomplished that.
Despite the fact that it hops from synths to orchestral music to sparse guitar, the soundtrack flows seamlessly. The whole movie is about stereotypes, and the soundtrack is no exception, playing with the same expectations. Romance is grandiose, sweeping orchestras and hook-ups are sudden synth beats. Even with those drastic changes, though, recurring melodies are cleverly woven into the tracks, regardless of what instrument they are played on.
Overall, the grab-bag soundtrack plays into the entire eclectic film – a combination of romance and sex, and a distillation of the difference between the two. Gordon-Levitt has spent a lot of time critiquing the Hollywood idea of romance, but his advice on love boils down to this: “Everyone is unique, and that’s important… you can’t quantify human relationships.”