Art and photography are only two of the many ways participants collaborate in Create Together
Jared Geller and Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jared Gellar and their Emmys
Mitzi Jonelle Tan, one of the collaborators on the second season of Create Together
As everyone knows, the pandemic has offered both trials and opportunities.
For Jared Geller and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the opportunities far outweighed the trials when it came to creativity. Their online platform HITRECORD has served as a space for creative people to gather, to work together, and even to discover new talents to share.
This wasn't the beginning of their efforts to bring creative people the world over together. In fact, they have been working on the concept for many years. Joseph Gordon-Levitt explains, "We've been doing this kind of collaborative creativity on HITRECORD for many years. And this is something I started with my brother as a total hobby many, many, many years ago. And then Jared and I launched it together as a production company, also many years ago."
And so, last year, when the lockdown hit, and their creativity kicked in almost immediately.
Gordon-Levitt says, "And so when the pandemic arrived, and we all had to take shelter in our homes, and obviously, not everybody was fortunate enough to get to stay home. I was feeling a need, doing something creative every day just to stay positive and stay productive. It's hard for me when I'm all by myself. I'll get up in my head and everything and just never get started.
"But this is what HITRECORD is all about. Our community has been growing all this time for years. You know, the Emmy we won for Create Together [the series won an Emmy for Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Media in 2020] is actually the second Emmy we won. We won an Emmy in 2014 for HITRECORD on TV [they won the Emmy for Outstanding Original Interactive Program for Are You There, Democracy? It's Me, the Internet].
"We've been doing it a long time. And so it just made perfect sense that once I was locking down at home, I would just start going on HITRECORD every day, and just doing something creative every day and doing it together with other people just to feel like I'm staying positive and staying productive and staying connected with people in a meaningful way. And I made that commitment, actually. It was like, 'I'm just going to do something creative every day.'
"And after a week or two of doing that, I remember the phone call. I called Jared and was like, 'it feels like we should make a whole show out of this exact story, out of all of us being at home and wanting to stay positive and productive and creative and connected with people, and doing it together.' And we put together the concept extremely quickly.
"And it's a tribute to our partners at YouTube Originals how quickly they moved on it, because, as you well know, television development is not usually a quick process. And we turned it all around incredibly fast.
"And we dropped our first episode in a matter of weeks, and we were able to do that because of the technology that we've built over the years. Our app and our website is really built, not just for people showing off their own things, but for collaboration."
Indeed, collaboration is what HITRECORD and Create Together are all about. On HITRECORD.org, users can log in daily to find prompts for writing, singing, voiceover, photography, art, and any other creative endeavor you might think of. A person in one country might start a project, invite collaborators, and end up with a piece of content that has contributions from all over the globe.
Geller says, "I think the thing that was important to us was this was the first time that we were going to be [able to do this], because of the unique situation, people were at home and then wanting something to do in a positive way. We had YouTube Originals, which is an online platform. And then we had new technology that made it so that people can more easily participate in the creative process.
"So the thing that was new for us was we were going to start airing and dropping episodes as we were making the show, and so we could put calls to action within the actual episodes for people to participate in the season so that the audience could actually become participants in the making of the show.
"And that was something we'd never done. We've always had to wait for the next season to happen for the audience to participate because we weren't making the show as it was airing. This was the first time we were making the show as it was airing, which was a unique situation for us."
Gordon-Levitt sees what they are doing as "the promise of the internet."
He explains, "If we're talking about an antidote to loneliness, there's a difference between you can post something on your own or you can see what other people posted and you can like and you can comment and you can follow and you can gain notoriety. And social media platforms - conventional social media platforms, I should say - can bring people together in that way.
"But it really is an altogether different feeling when you're not just looking at what other people did or just posting what you yourself did, but when you're collaborating with a community of people. And you have a common goal. You're making something together. It's a different feeling.
"And I really think that that's the promise of the internet, and that's where the internet is heading, is allowing people to do things together that they might not have been able to do on their own."
Not that it will be an easy feat to realize that potential. Geller says, "I think a lot of it does have to do with, there's the technology and it's the point of view and the storytelling. I mean, Joe said that he called me up, when he had said, 'I want to do something creative every day,' right at the top of the pandemic. And he was doing it with other people on HITRECORD, making things.
"And when he called me up, and he was like, 'Hey, this is a show.' It's not only making things together, it's about people making things together during this time. And I think that was one of the other interesting things that's a really great time capsule, actually, of how the world came together and participated and collaborated and built on each other's creativity during this time of isolation.
"And we knew that's a really interesting story to be told. That was what was really exciting for us. And it's so cool to get to do it again in celebration of Planet Earth for season two. "
If getting together to create to combat the isolation of the pandemic was the overarching theme of season one, season two is all about the planet we all share. Gordon-Levitt says, "Our initial idea was really in response to season one being all about the feelings we were having as a globe being stuck inside. For season two let's go outside.
"And as soon as we started thinking about going outside it was obvious that we wanted to talk about what do you find outside? You find our planet. You find Mother Earth. There's so much to say and there's so many feelings, and the impact that we had, it felt really suited to premiere on Earth Day."
Geller adds, "It's a human universal that everybody experiences the natural world. Everybody has a point of view on it. It dovetails nicely with this notion of the storytelling of the human experience that we did in season one.
"I think when we were thinking about what are the stories that we can tell? Well, everybody is going to be able to go out. Everybody's going to have a version of going out, being able to go outside safely, of course. And people are experiencing the natural world in different ways. And there are so many beautiful things to experience depending on where we are in the world.
"And that's what's the other exciting - or another exciting - thing about our platform is that it's global. So we can ask the same question and get just thousands and thousands of different answers and different perspectives based on where people are living and how they're experiencing the planet."
Gordon-Levitt and Geller see their platform as a brand new way to use and experience a form of social media.
Gordon-Levitt explains, "That does come back to the technology, which is what we won our Emmy for in 2020. It was really for the technology that we built. If you compare the technology of conventional social media with the technology that we've built, there's a reason why you get that different feeling of community and collaboration on HITRECORD versus conventional social media.
"And it's because conventional social media is set up in such a way where you post something and it goes into people's content feed and their options are they can like, they can follow, they can comment. Things aren't organized into anything that's meant to be productive.
"Whereas on HITRECORD, when you open our app you're not presented with an endless stream of content to consume. You're presented with an endless stream of projects that you can get involved with that were started - some by us in the HITRECORD office and some by your fellow community members. You can start your own project.
"But the whole framework of the platform is geared towards bringing people together through collaborating on various creative projects. And when you reorient the premise of how people are interacting with their media, with their social media - this is why we tend not to use the word "social media" when we describe HITRECORD. We call it "collaborative media."
"Because the point isn't just to socialize. The point is to collaborate. And all of our product design, user experience, all of that thinking is geared towards that goal. Let's make it easier for people all over the world to be creative together."
Gordon-Levitt continues, "It's stuff I really love thinking about, is how technology impacts media, and then how that media technology impacts people's creative process and self-expression. It's not neutral. The technology you're using changes how you tell stories.
"The invention of the technology of movies changed how people tell stories. It changed how people wrote. It changed how people acted. When you're an actor and you're performing on a stage, the way that you act is very different than how you act for a camera.
"It's not neutral. And you get a lot of technology companies nowadays that say like, oh, we're just neutral. We're just a neutral technology platform. We don't have a voice here. So therefore we are not responsible for what content our platform might house because we are just a neutral platform.
"But I don't believe that that's true. I don't believe that any platform can be neutral. There's a famous Marshall McLuhan quote. It goes 'The medium is the message.'
"And it's just what we're talking about. If you gear your platform towards the attention economy, as it's called, that will generate one result. And if you gear your platform - like we try to on HITRECORD - if you gear your platform towards collaborative creativity, it's different. It yields a different result. And you can see it.
"When you come hang out in our community, people treat each other in a different way than what you'll see elsewhere online. People have more intimate relationships with each other. And it's not just a coincidence. It's because when you have a common goal, when you're collaborating, it's a more intimate experience that you're having with people than when you're just chatting. Or saying, well, 'here's my snapshot, let me see your snapshot.'
"It's different than 'hey, if I take my snapshot and you take your snapshot, how can we put it together and make a short film?' Those are two different premises. And it creates different dynamics of how people relate to each other. '
Geller adds, "It's also worth noting, we've been doing this for a long time. We've been doing this as a company for over 11 years.
"But I think the culture is getting not only more and more open to having this, to being more collaborative online and seeing, understand this is more of a thing. I also think it's more needed than ever. People are looking for an alternative to other areas of the internet that can feel negative when you participate.
"And so it feels really good to be that space for people to express themselves and perhaps support one another in a positive way that might feel a little different."
See - and contribute to - Create Together on YouTube Originals.