Episode 24: Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Jared Geller on Creativity in Chaos

Read the transcript below, or listen to the full interview on the First Contact podcast.

First Contact with Laurie Segall is a production of Dot Dot Dot Media and iHeart Radio.

If you could write a note to yourself from the future — after you’ve lived through this pandemic… What would you say?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Oh, okay. Uh, let’s see. How about, uh, “Dear Joe”, right? We’re starting with “dear”? “Dear Joe, you had to slow down and that was scary, but it was all okay. You got plenty done a little bit slower. And as things ramp back up and you feel the pressure to speed back up again, you can remember that things were going fine a little bit slower. 

You might recognize that voice … it’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt – he’s an actor famous for his roles in television and film. And his message to himself, slow down.

A simple concept, but it’s great advice.

This is a moment filled with anxiety and fear — 

Now, I’m not really the kind of person that wants to find a silver lining in all this, or tie the bow. I think there’s just too much loss.

But I will say this — as a storyteller, I’ve witnessed a common theme: moments of pain and  uncertainty have historically led to incredible art and creativity.  

This brings me back to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Now, you know him as an actor, from great films like Looper, Snowden, 500 Days of Summer.

But, I know Joe as a tech entrepreneur who became obsessed with this idea of helping us create and collaborate online more than a decade ago. 

He’s an actor, a producer, a writer, a director…  But at the core his passion has been in creating something from nothing, channeling frustration and feeling into art, and doing it with other people.

In 2005, Joe and his brother started HitRECORD — it was a simple website where he could post things he was making. In 2010 he opened it up, he and his friend Jared Geller turned HitRecord into an online production platform where people from all over the world could come together to collaborate. They made art, music, books, and movies. — And anyone could participate and make money. They’ve since paid out more than $3 million dollars to creators.

And then in 2016 Joe and Jared started doing the Silicon Valley circuit — they met investors, eventually they raised money, and pivoted from a production company to a tech company. With this vision to help us move away from aimlessly scrolling, towards creating together.

And that’s when I met them. 

Now, full disclosure — I’ve heard them talk about the mission of HitRECORD for 4 years now. And I can’t help but think this moment — where we’re all physically isolated and craving connection — is a great opportunity to channel our anxiety and fear into the art of creation — and a way to feel a little bit less alone in the process. 

I’m Laurie Segall and this is First Contact.

Laurie Segall: We were joking as we started this, we’ve all kind of seen each other in different cities from I think I met you guys in Lisbon, right? And then we’ve been in Toronto-

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: …and in San Francisco, all because of HitRECord, and, and this company that you guys have created, which I want to get into because man do you guys have a moment right now, which I think is fascinating. But I, I want to start with the idea behind the show and this podcast which is it’s, it starts with our first contact, and our first contact was in 2016… 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Right.

Laurie Segall: …at Web Summit, and Joe, I, I think back to my first contact with you, and I remember, a very specific moment with you, ’cause I was interviewing you on stage in Lisbon at Web Summit, which for our listeners, it’s just like you go out and there’s just this auditorium, I don’t know how to describe it, it’s like a huge-

Jared Gellar: It was like Madison Square Garden.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: It’s an arena. I was, I was giving a, a talk, we did an interview on stage with I think 10,000 people in the audience.

Laurie Segall: Right, 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, that was sort of bizarre.

Laurie Segall: And, and you’re like, um, you’re like a big Hollywood movie star, like these are things that like probably shoul… make you nervous, and I was on television for so many years, I, this shouldn’t make me nervous, and I remember this moment of like peeking out like as they were about to introduce us, and looking out at the arena, and I just remember being like, ” First of all, this is how Beyonce must feel,” um … and, and then I was just like, “Oh my God, I’m so nervous.” But that was my, my first contact with you, was being like, “Oh my God, I’m, I’m actually like nerve, ” Normally this is like something that’s, comes so easy for me, just going out and interviewing people, um, and interviewing generally tech founders, for me, but I just remember being like, “Whoa!” Like, “There’s so many people out there.” Um, and I was interviewing you because this was, you coming out and talking about HitRECord, which is your passion project turned into, uh, tech company, and that was like this extraordinary moment, but that was our first contact.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, I remember, it, it humbles you to be on a stage with an audience that big, it makes you shut up quicker… rather than pontificating elaborately, you’re like, “You know what? I’m gonna, I’m gonna leave it at that.”

Laurie Segall: Right.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: And when, when the audience is that big you like get concise, which is probably a, a good, good thing for me.

Jared Gellar: That time at the, at, at Web Summit, uh, in Portugal was actually an interesting time for our company ’cause it was really when, an inflection point for us when we started really thinking about ourselves more as a tech company than we had …

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: That’s right.

Jared Gellar: …ever previously done. So, so actually like a really … it, like it was a, it was a real moment for us, I think.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, and you Laurie were a real conduit for, for us wading into the world of technology, ’cause my background is, you know, in show business, and, and Jared’s is as well, and we’d been operating HitRECord for years as a production company, and making all kinds of art, and collaboratively with the world, with the website, but really not leaning into what it means to actually have a platform, and understand how to optimize it, et cetera, we didn’t know what a KPI was, or anything like that, and it, a lot of it started with you, I met you, then you introduced me to … I did that show of yours where I met Ev Williams, and Ev introduced me to lots of different people, and it was, it was a lot through, uh, that connection that, we started meeting people who were able to kind of give us an education over the last number of years about the difference between a production company and a media technology company. And, you know, now, our company is, is 40 people and half of them are in product and tech, and I know what the difference is between user experience … and user interface, and I know what the difference is between front-end, and back-end, and DevOps, and, you know, I’ve, I’ve learned … all these things, I know what an OKR is, like … and it’s actually been really challenging and illuminating and, and I have found it really, funnily enough, really creative. It’s creative in a different way than art is creative, but really satisfying in a lot of the same ways.

Laurie Segall: That’s interesting you guys talk about that being a pivotal moment, because I feel like, um, as someone who I have spent my career interviewing tech founders, and I remember, thinking, this was, for you guys, a moment for you guys to transition to like what a tech company actually was, right? And, and HitRECord, came at such a fascinating time for the internet, because remember when I met you and Jared, um, I, I interviewed you, and we were all in Lisbon, and the next day Donald Trump was elected president of the United States.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yeah. Wait, who?

Laurie Segall: And it was such a fascinating moment for tech because we were seeing this pendulum swing around the narrative in technology, people were more extreme than ever online, um, there were filter bubbles, we were seeing these platforms weaponized, and, and you’re talking to someone who was like, I had covered tech for so many years, and I was such an optimist about technology, but folks didn’t feel better online, and, and so you were kind of coming there, um, and saying, “Hey, we have a problem, and the way that we interact online is broken.” It felt like in 2016 there was an opening for a company like HitRECord, right? Especially in the internet landscape, what was it?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: What’s the opening for HitRECord, for me the big difference between what happens on HitRECord and what happens, uh, a lot of other places online is that we’re all about collaboration, and people use the word collaborate on, uh, a lot online, but today’s dominant platforms for art and creativity, they’re not built for collaboration, they’re built for consumption, and they’re built for ultimately feeding ads to the users, that’s how to make money. And, uh, on HitRECord you don’t show up and, and see a feed of content to consume, when you open the app on, on your phone, for example, the first thing you see is a feed of projects for you to get involved with, it’s an opportunity to collaborate with other people, other people saying like, “Hey, I made a beat, I want someone to play bass on top of it,” or, “Hey, I wrote a story and I want someone to illustrate it.”And when you’re collaborating with other people online, not just sharing something you’ve made, not just saying, “Hey world, look what I made.” But you’re like, “Hey, what can we make together?” You begin to relate to people in a very different way than what you often see online,  the snark sort of goes away. When you’ve got a common purpose you’re more vulnerable, you’re, you’re trying to do something together, and so you’re gonna relate to each other, you’re gonna have an empathy that you wouldn’t have if you were just scrolling through a bunch of “content” to consume, sort of like, “Okay, entertain me, what will entertain me? Uh, this doesn’t entertain me, that doesn’t entertain me.” I can say something snarky about this or that, it’s all kind of dehumanizing, and it’s all very addictive, and it’s very effective, at serving ads and making money, but I don’t ever come away from, spending a session on traditional social media and feel like, “Ah, I accomplished something.” And, and that’s, that’s ultimately what we’re trying to build on HitRECord and, and what we’ve been doing for years, and so you mentioned 2016, you know, in 2016 we had accomplished kind of everything we had set out to accomplish as a production company. When Jared and I first started HitRECord in 2010, we made a list of, of things we wanted to do and we said, “Well, could we, could we make a short film in this open collaborative way with people making things together online in disparate geographic locations? Could, could people come together and, and make something that was, uh, a finished short film that was good enough to play it at Sundance say?” And we did that, and like, “Could we publish a book? Could we put out a record ’cause one day we’ll make a TV show?” And, and, uh, eventually we did make a TV show, it, it won an Emmy, and we were really happy with everything we’d done, but we realized that the, the limit to what we were doing as a production company, was how many people we could really include in that creative process, because when we were always the ones leading these collaborative projects, lots of people would come and contribute to our projects, they were making a TV show, they’d say, “Hey world, come contribute to our TV show.” But we couldn’t use all of those contributions in the TV show. So, a good percentage of the people that were contributing were feeling, you know, like, “Oh, I didn’t make it, I didn’t make it in.”

Laurie Segall: Hmm.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: And that was not our intention at all, that’s kind of contrary to the, to the, uh, how I feel the spirit of our community is, and so we set about thinking like, “How could we do it so it’s not exclusive like that, where anybody can come and find collaborators, and have this experience of being creative together with other people?” And we realized, “Okay, well then it can’t always be us leading the projects, we have to, we have to take what we learned leading all these projects, and let other people lead their own projects.” And then we realized, well if we’re gonna do that, we need much better software, ’cause our website at that time was just, you know, it was the work of a, like literally just two or three engineers, we didn’t have any … well, I didn’t know what a product hire was, I didn’t know what head of product meant, like I didn’t know any of that, we didn’t know any of that, we never really tried to know any of that. We would just come up with what we thought a website would be, and we would hire a few engineers, and they would build it, and, you know, it worked well enough, but once we realized, “Okay, we want other people to be able to come and use these tools to lead their own projects,” we realized, “Okay, we have to learn what it means to actually become more of a media tech company,” and that’s when we started going to places like Web Summit, and meeting people like you Laurie, and, and all the different people that you introduced us to, and starting to learn what it would take, uh, to build not just a production company, but a, a, a decentralized platform where people could come and, and collaborate with each other, and, um, that’s what we’ve been doing.

Jared Gellar: And I, and I think it makes sense if you think about it from like, like Joe said, we’re, we’re from the background of like show business, of making …

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Jared Gellar: …movies, or theater, or th- and you, you place the emphasis on the finished piece of “content” or the art that you’re all making together, and so we optimized for, “Okay, let’s just make the really, the best end-product,” and what we realized in the process of evolving into a, into a tech platform, and we, we spoke to our community and we said, “Hey, do you want to make more,” you know, “Music videos?” Or, “Do you want to make more TV shows?” Or, “Do you want to do more branded campaigns?” Like all of the things that we’ve been doing, and their answer was actually surprising to us, and so obvious, and they, our community said, “We don’t care what we make, we just want to be able to make things together.” And that’s when we realized, “Oh, the emphasis should be on the experience of being creative, not necessarily the emphasis placed on the finished content.” So when we talk about product, and we talk about user experience, and user interface, and all of those things, which is tech, you know, that’s the language of tech …

Laurie Segall: Yeah. 

Jared Gellar: …that’s what informed it.

Laurie Segall: We’ll go to the future and this moment now, ’cause I think it’s important, but I love how this company was born, I think it’s so important for people to understand, Joe what I l- I actually love is that HitRECord kind of came out of, um, this idea of rejection, and it is very hard for folks to, to realize that you as an actor were like having some trouble getting work, and were rejected, but you were a child actor, had lots of success, and took a break to, to go to college, but when you came, you were trying to get back into acting you couldn’t get a role, and I would love for you to tell the story, that this company kind of came out of frustration, like and just- wanting a platform, and wanting to say something, which I think is kind of the root of creativity. Talk to us a little bit about how, how that was like the beginning of HitRECORD.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Sure. Well, before it was a company, before it was a, a community, or a website, or anything, HitRECord was just something I was saying to myself making a metaphor out of the, you know, the red circle record button. In, uh, the moment you just described, I’d been an actor when I was a kid, I had quit to go to college, and then I, uh, wanted to get back into acting, and couldn’t get a role, and it could be just so frustrating when you have the impulse to be creative, and you don’t feel like you have permission to do it, and that was when I decided, “Okay, I have to take responsibility for my own creative outlet, I can’t wait around for someone to cast me in a movie, or a show, or something,” and I started teaching myself to edit video, and I started making little short films, and songs, and stories, and things like that, and HitRECord was just this symbol for me, like I’m gonna be the one to do it, I’m gonna push the button. And it sort of play on HitRECord, because, uh, in the past, media was a thing, like a, a HitRECord was what you wanted, was to be, you know, selling lots of records, and think the way that media was going, and this is a while ago and the w- my idealism thought that the way that media was going was it’s becoming less of an object to consume, and more of a, of an action, something to do to HitRECord, and, uh, and I started making things, and my brother helped me set up a little website, this is in, you know, the mid-2000s, just before it was so common to post things on, YouTube, and Facebook, et cetera, and, so we setup our own website, and we called it hitrecord.org. And at first it wasn’t about collaboration at all, it was just a place for me to put up things that I was making, but what happened was, uh, my brother was like, “Hey, do you want to put up like a message board on this website?” And I was like, “Oh, I don’t know, a message board, then other people could post their own things on my space.” Like, leaving aside MySpace I didn’t mean for that pun to happen. But, um.

Jared Gellar: It was a debate though. It was, I-I remember you were really debating it, whether or not to include this message board.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Exactly. Yeah, ’cause I-I thought maybe this should just be my thing. And my brother was like, ” Well, why don’t we just put it up and then if people are nasty then we can take it down.” And I was like, “Oh yeah, okay, fine. Cool. Let’s just see.” And we put up this message board and not only were people really cool to each other, what we noticed was they weren’t just talking about the little songs and stories and videos and things that I was making, they wanted to make things together. Together with me, together with each other. And that felt fascinating and legitimately new. Like, oh, well you know being able to post a video and say, “Okay, here’s my video”, that’s not that different from television or movies or whatever. There’s an artist, they make something and an audience can watch it. It’s still kind of one way, even though more people can do it, it’s still pretty similar. But people using the internet to make things together that they wouldn’t have been able to make by themselves. That-That’s really different than any other time in history. And we thought that was really cool and so we leaned into that and again, this is really before … This wasn’t a company at all. This is just a total hobby thing that my brother and I were doing purely for fun because we were like young and had the time to do it. And the community kind of grew and evolved and it was after a little while that Jared said like, “Hey, could this be something more ambitious. Could you make bigger, larger scale works of art using this kind of communal collaborative creative process?” And, uh, that’s when-when we started HITRECORD together as a company.

Laurie Segall: So, okay. If I’m painting the scene. So was there a project back in the day, when-when you and your brother are looking at it, you were like, “Oh my God. Like, this is actually something.” Right? Like that you were like, “Whoa.” And then when you and Jared were talking about it, like where were you guys? Was he like at your house and going, “No, no, no. Like this is actually something cool. Like this is not just like your pet website.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I remember the first time that Jared called me and … ‘Cause we had had plenty of conversations about the pet website version ’cause Jared and I were good friends, had been friends for years and so we would just talk about it. But the first time he called me and proposed the idea of working on it together in a more ambitious and professional capacity, I was in LA and-and you were in New York. You know, speaking of, you know, working remotely. You know, this company has in its bones, from its very inception, its-it has, uh, remote working and, you know, eventually, you know, we would meet up. I’d be in New York and-and we would-we would talk and then of course there’s that-that storied lunch that we had at BNH Deli in the East Village where we made that list. Jared, you tell the BNH Deli story.

Jared Gellar: Well that was, that was, um, I think a little while later we definitely did, uh, list out all of the different, um, goals that we would have for an organization that, wh-where people would be collaborating on different creative projects together. We thought, “Okay, okay. But this has to be a business. It’s not gonna be a not-for-profit. It has to be able to sustain itself and grow on its own.” And we made a list that we thought we could do, make-make books. We could put on-on live shows. We can make music together and then one day maybe, we could make a TV show. And I’m remembering this now, from the very beginning, we said we will not sell ads. We can’t- we can’t create a … ‘Cause at the time, every-every like start-up was like, “All right, we’ll just sell ads. We’ll-we’ll-we’ll just generate a lot of traffic and sell ads.” And from the very beginning, I remember us thinking like, “No. We have to have a business model that doesn’t rely on views and ads, and I’m-and I think that that-that actually ended up working out pretty well for us.

Laurie Segall: I was gonna say but like hold on a sec because this is back in, what, 2000 and…

Jared Gellar: 2009. ‘Cause we-we launched HITRECORD as a company at Sundance 2010.

Laurie Segall: Right.

Jared Gellar: And so a lot of the planning and all that stuff was happening in 2009.

Laurie Segall: So this is long before the conversation that we were having in Silicon Valley about the attention economy and how it’s broken and how we optimize for clicks and it doesn’t make you feel better. So what were you guys … Why were two like-like non-tech people at the time talking about art and creativity online and saying, “But this is gonna be a different business model and we’re gonna do it like this.” Like what do you think you guys, why did you care so much? I mean, and I-I mean this in the nicest way. Like what-what was it about you guys and this deli that just cared so much at the time?

Jared Gellar: First of all, have you-have you ever been to B&H Deli? Like it’s-it’s so good.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Try the borscht.

Jared Gellar: It’s uh, it’s really-it’s really tasty.

Laurie Segall: You, it’s like is it the kind of deli that you’re just like passionate about anything you’re talking about? It’s like the matzo ball soup is like so good?

Jared Gellar: It’s a very romantic … It’s tiny, tiny, tiny. In the East Village and it’s very easy to get passionate and swept away, um.

Laurie Segall: Very fair. If only all the tech founders did their company business plans there, then we would maybe not be in the same position we’re in.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yup. At that time though, it’s an interesting question you’re asking. We weren’t coming at it from the point of view of knowing about the attention economy or thinking through a-a business model, or how does this scale, or what impact does it have. At that time, we were still very much rooted in-in the perspective of pretty much just artists. And I think coming-coming from that perspective, we thought about what kind of collaborative art are we going to make with this thing we’re building? We knew that if we were compelled to have to sell ads, that would really influence the art that we were gonna make. And we knew that we would have to kind of dip down to the lowest common denominator if what we were trying to optimize for was sheer eyeballs. We would have to go to short attention span. We would have to go to sensationalism. We would have to, you know, go to, you know, your basic base stuff and that just didn’t sound interesting at all. We didn’t want to spend our time doing that. We wanted to make art that we found it inspiring and beautiful and fun to make. And so,  we knew that there-there’s a way to find that balance. That’s you know what I think both of us had spent our careers as artists doing, was finding that balance between artistically dignified and inspiring, and commercially viable. And so we wanted to keep striking that same balance as artists with this company, with this production company. But we knew if, again, just doing online ads, and the way the internet was, we wouldn’t be able to do that. And so we had to operate more as a production company.

Jared Gellar: And I think we both had and have, I think, without sounding too hippy dippy, a really good grasp of the creative process and respecting the creative process. I think one of the reasons why the community feels so positive is we’ve always tried to allow for, the creative process to be protected. And, I know, like I said, that could sound hippy dippy but I think it’s really-it’s really important, especially at the very beginning for us.

Ok we’ve got to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors, more with my guest after the break.

Laurie Segall: And tell me a little bit about your background. Like let’s go to this love story of the deli, right? Like, how did you guys actually meet, initially? It sounds like you guys have known each other for a very long time because Joe, you’re talking about Jared being like, “Oh no. This is something larger.” Even when you’re building the website back in the day when you were building it with your brother. So how did you guys know each other?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: We met the summer of 2001. Is that-that’s right.

Jared Gellar: Yeah, yeah.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: 2001. I had just finished my first year of college. I was going to college in New York and I wanted to stay in the city over the summer, and I got a part in an off-Broadway play, called Uncle Bob, ah, in like a 200 seat theater.

Jared Gellar: The Soho Playhouse which is still in operation.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Soho Playhouse. Yup. And, uh, Jared was the Stage Manager on that show.

Jared Gellar: Yes, the Assistant Stage Manager.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Right. I knew he was gonna say that. That’s our bit. I say Stage Manager and then he corrects me and says Assistant Stage Manager.

Laurie Segall: That’s great. That’s great.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Uh, and, um, that’s where we met. And we-we made friends and we actually, I needed a place to stay and his, uh, his roommate was out of town for a couple months so we ended up being roommates. And we were, uh, you know, kids, we were just kids, uh, in the summer in New York City, you know, doing a play and talking about art and thinking about, like, oh, theater and, you know, Jared came-came more from a background of theater and I hadn’t really done much traditional theater before so I was in a show in off-Broadway and talking about old traditions of art and creativity, and new ideas of where things are going. Both of us were kind of interested in technology, and back then, you know, the internet was a thing that everyone was familiar with but it was still quite new. Like I think that-that first year in college, that was the, you know, that was the year of Napster and like Google just showed up, I think, for the first time. 

Jared Gellar: You definitely didn’t-you definitely didn’t have like a camera on you at all times.

Laurie Segall: Right.

Jared Gellar: There wasn’t a device where you had a way to capture life, um, everyday life. And that summer, we would just run around the city. Joe had always had a video camera on him which was rare. 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Which is normal now. Now everyone has a video camera on their phone.

Jared Gellar: Now, and he would do things like he would-he would hit the record button, uh, at whatever moment and then on the same tape with like fast forward, record, rewind, so then you would end up with this like couple hours of just like this collage of random moments. And he would edit in the camera. And that was before you had like final cut. Anyway, the my point is is that there was this like moment of just like running around just being creative, doing weird things and making weird art. And yeah, that’s how, I I think we sort of set up a-almost like a language, of-of like this creative process that we-that-that we sort of became familiar with each other. Yeah.

Laurie Segall: And it also sounds like you became protective over that process to a degree but.

Jared Gellar: I remember, I don’t know why I just thought of this but I remember like we were-we would-we were living in this apartment for like a couple months and if we were playing music, Joe, you wouldn’t you would hate to like cut off a song. Like you wouldn’t want to like hit stop on us. Like he would either want to fade it out or let the song finish before we could leave the apartment.

Laurie Segall: Why? Is this a … What does that say about the creative process?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Well, someone took the trouble to make a song, and they thought about how they were gonna end it and here we were listening to it and, I don’t know, I just felt, I guess, uh, abrupt or disrespectful or no good to like just stop it in the middle. These are, you know, I was also, uh, probably stoned, to be honest. I was also probably stoned.

Jared Gellar: No, I think it’s actually be-because like another-another, you really placed the emphasis on the artist and the artist’s intent.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Jared Gellar: So like he hunned, ah, compilation CDs. Like now, you could pick and choose what you wanna listen to, in Spotify or whatever. But like would never-would never the endorse the purchase of a-of a-of a compilation album.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: A greatest hits CD.

Jared Gellar: Yeah, exactly. You’d want like, okay, this is the artist, um, intended to release this music in this format and that’s how the audience should experience it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, we definitely lost that battle. That did not go our way.

Laurie Segall: There is something so fascinating when you go on HITRECORD and I do kind of want to explain to folks like, um, what HITRECORD is. Like when you go on the site, when you experience it, um, it is really just interesting. I went down a rabbit hole last night and was like looking at poems, and like feeling all sorts of things. Can you explain like what exactly that looks like now? Like what did HITRECORD, in the time that I saw you guys in 2016 and it was a production company, and you’re selling things, like it did become a platform. Like it did. You guys went to Silicon Valley. You raised money. You have 40 employees. You raised over six million dollars. Like you totally became a tech entrepreneur and not just like, um, I say this in a nice way. Like not just like a celebrity who comes in and says they’re gonna have a company. Like you actually went to the meetings and I can say this because I-I cover technology and I-and I know a lot of the venture capitalists and whatnot, like you actually, you and Jared went and got heavily involved and-and created a-a tech company. You know, what does the platform look like? Explain it to our listeners.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Sure, well, like i was saying a second ago the platform’s really emphasizing collaboration and that’s very different than other media tech platforms. If you look at Instagram or TikTok or YouTube, etc., those platforms are really consumption platforms. And yes, you can post on them, but a creator on those platforms is all sort of, um, being funneled into the larger business model of, consumption of bite-sized fragments of content with ads, ’cause that’s how those companies make their money. You mentioned the attention economy. It’s all about attention. Everything is sort of optimized for, keeping the attention and serving the ads. And on HITRECORD, everything is optimized to try to get people to participate and to collaborate. And not just post something of their own and, uh, be incentivized through likes, followers, etc., um, but to collaborate. To participate in projects. So what is it specifically look like? I might’ve mentioned a second ago, when you open up our app, the first place you land is, uh, a projects feed. So you’re not just looking at content to consume, you’re looking at projects that people have started. Probably like you mentioned, you were seeing poems. Laurie, I imagine wh-what you saw was people who had written poems who were looking for others to illustrate those poems. Or you might have seen like someone who started a project and they were like, “Hey, here’s this really cool illustration. What kind of writing could be inspired by this illustration?” It’s-it’s all about people building off of one another and, uh, and ultimately collaborating with one another. And what we found over the years of doing this versus a production company and-and now is a-an increasingly decentralized platform. Is that when people are collaborating, when people are making things together and they have a common purpose, they relate to each other in a really different way then when they’re just consuming stuff. And that to me is the fundamental difference that defines our community and it cascades in any number of ways. And-and when you add those-those, uh, feelings you mentioned, like the feelings, I think those feelings come from- from that basic premise. People are more open with their feelings. People are more ready to be vulnerable with each other because they’re partners. They’re collaborating. They’re trying to do something together. They’re-they’re not just kind of competing for likes. And so this is the kind of North Star that-that drives all of our decisions as we form a product roadmap and we-we decide what features we’re gonna build next. 

Jared Gellar: We also-we also just, you know, in terms of Hollywood, v-versus Silicon Valley, we knew that we-we didn’t know, you know? We didn’t know how to find a, you know, tech leader or product-head of product or how to lead a product and tech company. And so when we did go, to raise venture capital, we went to Silicon Valley, one, to raise capital but, two, to have, you know, a partner. Or partners who are in that world who could help guide how we would lead this company because we know how to make shows and we know how to make-

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Jared Gellar: …um, you know, uh, TV shows and things like that but we didn’t necessarily know how to lead a product and tech company. 

Laurie Segall: Like how do you do that? You know? I’m just like I- I think it’s so fascinating when we like hear these stories, and even you Joe, like you’re, um, a big Hollywood actor and I’m sure people are really nice to you a-a lot of times, like, and all that stuff. Right? But like even … I don’t think people understand. It’s like even when you go into a room in Silicon Valley, like people are still gonna ask you really hard questions and you still, both of you guys, like might not know the playbook. Right? Like, can you explain, you talk about, like, we didn’t know how to do this but now you guys have a platform and you’ve raised money and you’re doing this stuff. It’s easy when we read about it. It’s easy when we talk about it, even four years later after I met you and you’ve gone and raised this money and done this. Like what-what are the things you kind of learned, um, from this process of kind of going Hollywood, even though you’re still in Hollywood, but like Hollywood, Silicon Valley?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Well, one of the big things I think we had to learn, which gets to what Jared was talking about is sort of the difference between, you might say, art and science. Or you might say, um evidence backed decision making versus intuition backed decision making. And in Hollywood, there isn’t much science. You don’t go in a and pitch a movie with, uh, you know, any kind of study or polls or any of that stuff. I mean, I guess maybe like you might go into like a marketing campaign in Hollywood with-with those kinds of numbers. But when you’re going in to pitch a movie, you don’t. And, um, I don’t think a lot of the leadership in Hollywood, really thinks in those terms and maybe they shouldn’t. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to go with your intuition. Intuition can be powerful. But if you’re gonna build a more decentralized platform, if you’re building a software product you have to have more science to your thinking. You have to have numbers to back up what you’re saying. And I actually feel like I’ve really have benefited, just as a human being, from adding onto my thinking this sort of scientific method. Like I have to be able … If I’m gonna say something, if I say this is true, I have to be able to say, “And here is my evidence for why it’s true.” And you don’t say that when you’re pitching a movie. You don’t say, “Here’s my evidence for why the ending of this story is gonna be great. You just tell them the ending and you perform it right, and you’ve written it right, and if they feel it, they feel it and that’s that. In rooms in Silicon Valley, it-it just can’t be based on feeling. That said, it’s not-there’s not no feeling to it. There’s still an art and this is actually  funny to learn as well was ’cause I-I went into the whole experience in Silicon Valley thinking, “Okay, I just have to leave my artist self at the door. These are-this is just gonna be about math and science and-and evidence, and-and that’s it.” And once I started getting into rooms, I realized like, “Oh, you know.” There actually is, there is, this is like halfway like pitching a movie. Half way. It’s like it’s half art and half science.

Laurie Segall: In what sense was it like pitching a movie? Did you and Jared have a bit? Like we talk about your college bit.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Oh, of course.

Laurie Segall: Did you guys have a Silicon Valley bit?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, of course. You tell the whole story. You’re pitching a-a … When we … By the time we were like really pitching, we had a whole story. It was-

Jared Gellar: We had a show. It was a show.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: …like a show. Yeah, it was a show. We put on a show.

Jared Gellar: We did-we did the math. I-I think we pitched it like 60 times. It wasn’t, you know.

Laurie Segall: Wow, you pitched 60 times.

Jared Gellar: Yeah, something like that. But not all. Not-not 60 VCs but ’cause like when you-

Laurie Segall: Sure.

Jared Gellar: …when you go, you have to do it again for the same VCs and partners.

Laurie Segall: Yeah. People don’t-people don’t realize how many times. I actually think that’s interesting. People don’t realize how many times. Like, you don’t just get like funding. Like how many times you have to tell your story, and how much you do have to perform it, and how much that is a part of it too. And believing it. So I mean 

Jared Gellar: Yeah. And from what I understand, doing it-doing it 60 times is actually a low number for-

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Understand doing it, doing it 60 times is actually a low number for-

Laurie Segall: I know. I actually think it’s many, many more. I mean, I think like people would say they pitched thousands of times, you know?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, yeah. They didn’t know how to put on a show as well as we did. 

Laurie Segall: They don’t know, they don’t know have the performance background.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yeah. So it’s, it’s that balance and, and I find that not, not just pitching for fundraising, but day-to-day, um, in, in the operations of the company, whether it’s, you know, we were just in an all hands in a department heads meeting earlier this morning and all the decisions we make, there’s always a balance of art and science and we are, we’re really striving to become more and more of a, of a data-driven company. And, you know, we’ve got new people on our team who have that as a background and very, you know, that really helps. You know, our, our new head of product and technology who comes from, Pics Art and Discovery, Vivo, et cetera. He knows about this is, this is how you track KPIs. And he even, he knows it so well that he actually has intuition about it because he’s seen it so many times and that’s valuable experience. But, but it’s always a balance of saying like, okay, what evidence can we point to that this is the right decision to make? What numbers can we look at? And at the same time, let’s do just a human animal check, you know, like check our intuition to make sure that this feels right. I think you really have to have a balance of both. Um, I’m maybe saying that with, with, you know, too much authority because I’m still just, still just relatively new at doing the tech side of it. But, um, but yeah, I think that’s one of the biggest changes for us as we’ve evolved from more of a, production company into more of a platform is incorporating data into our decision making without letting it, rob us of our intuition.

Jared Gellar: And, from a practical standpoint, you said like how, how do you actually do it? Like how do you go about raising VC in Silicon Valley? Like it, it, this, gosh, the, you know, the, the web summit people are really gonna love the fact that we’re endorsing them so hard. But I met this guy, Suchit Dash. He’s um, CEO of Dubsmash. We have the benefit of having like some really awesome and supportive advisors and people around us who give us really great advice. And I remember we sat down at a coffee shop, with Suchit, and he said, okay, when do you, when are you thinking about making this evolution into a tech company? He basically wrote, I swear on the back of a napkin, like what the process would be. Okay, here’s, when you start soft pitching, it’s like, take coffee meetings, don’t make it seem like you’re actually pitching. And then you go for your, your partner meetings and then this, that, and the other. Oh, and, and you know, make lists of potential VCs who might be aligned with you and, you know, ask, ask for introductions-

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Have a timeline.

Jared Gellar: Have a timeline. Get introductions through other founders, VCs love, not necessarily VC to VC, but founder to VC who can vouch for you. And the funny thing was, was that we had met, um, uh, Alex Gurevich of Javelin, um, uh, socially, Joe had met him socially and he said, “Hey, we’re about to go and pitch, Silicon Valley VCs, would you have breakfast with us and just take a look at our pitch, just to give us notes.” And we seriously were not pitching him. And so it really was and then we sat, we had breakfast, he, we went through our pitch deck really just for feedback. And over the course of that breakfast, he was like, wait a minute, I think this might be something that we would want to invest in. He’s on the board of Masterclass and Thumbtack and, um, Meantech and all sorts of really wonderful companies. And the funny thing is, is that Alex became, you know, the lead investor in our company and now we speak to Alex almost every day. and it was almost exactly how the napkin went, you know, is how it actually turned out.

Laurie Segall: It’s funny, they sometimes say, you know, if you ever want to get investment, just ask for advice, don’t ask, actually don’t ask for, uh, investment. I want to talk about the actual platform and creativity during this time because I think for me personally, I dunno how I put this, like what a weird time. Like I feel like we’re all living, we’re all living very different versions of this. But as a journalist, I think I’ve struggled, like we’re all living this the same story, right? Like I, I’ve always considered myself like a pretty empathetic human and that I can, no matter what person and like what they’re going through, I can interview them and feel empathetic towards them, but I’m generally not in the same situation, right as everyone on the planet – and not same situation, but you know, we’re all facing this global pandemic, right? Like I think everyone is dealing with their own version of fear and anxiety and, and worry to a degree. So I think that, um, that for me as someone who I, I like to say I’m creative. I think about my own creative process and the way that I deal with fear and anxiety is I create.  I tell stories and that’s my therapy. So that’s why I was excited to talk to you guys because I think that, um, and not, not just because I’ve known you guys for many years and it’s pretty cool to see, to see HitRecord, you know, come into fruition and, and become this, this thing that I saw you announce on stage and our Beyonce like moment. Um, Joe, but, but also, you know, this moment to a degree, unfortunately for better for worse feels like a Superbowl for you guys, you know, because I think there’s so much fear and there’s so much anxiety and I think a lot of people do feel a need to create or collaborate in some way and, and, and there is that outlet. So I’d be curious to know what projects are you guys seeing on the platform, um, that are coming out of this anxiety and this pain? Like what kind of creativity are you seeing?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, that’s a, that’s a great question. It’s really true. We’ve been doing creativity and collaboration remotely as it were all these years. And it’s been a bittersweet thing to see this tragic, dark moment in history, descend upon everybody and see our community kind of rise to the occasion and watch as it fulfills a need that a lot of people are having right now. When I started quarantining, I was in the middle of production actually. I was shooting a show and the production got put on pause, like all the film and TV production and I came to a resolution like, okay, I have to stay doing something or else I’m gonna, I’m going to start, you know, uh, getting, getting negative. And, uh, I said I’m going to, I’m just going to do something creative every day and always do it with other people. And HitRecord was like built for that. That’s, that’s what it does. And so I’ve been just doing that every day. And so many different people are really resonating within coming to it. And we are seeing a real surge in people coming to HitRecord and engaging in this communal collaborative process. And, and I think a lot of it is to do with the pandemic, although, uh, it’s actually not just that, it’s, it’s all this work that we’ve been doing for the last couple of years building a better product we just, you know, we had just shipped new mobile apps, um, that are, that are just, you know, now getting user-friendly and all of this work that we’ve been doing. It’s, it’s sort of a bizarre storm of events that, that now a lot of people are stuck at home and looking for something to do besides just chat about the headlines online and, uh, doing something creative and doing it together with other people it really does fill that need. And uh, and so you, you asked about like different projects that we’re seeing. You know, we’re definitely seeing a lot of stuff surrounding this current moment. One of the first things, more ambitious things I did and make, make sort of a, a short film out of, you mentioned poetry, someone else’s poem that was just sort of about taking stock as you slow down and being grateful and lots of people contributed various cinematography and voice acting and it came together into this beautiful montage short film. Uh, we made a music video about, uh, a song that, um, this songwriter, uh, wrote and she was kind of being optimistic, which is nice to have a moment of, of optimism, little, you know, darkly tinged optimism. We’re, we’re right now we’re in the middle of, uh, making a short documentary project that’s about how different people with different economic realities are impacted differently by this pandemic. And that was sparked by a, a woman lives in Oklahoma who is a single mother supporting her kids and she can’t work from home. And she had just learned that there were confirmed cases of COVID-19 in her workplace. And she was understandably really scared and freaked out about it. And she just wrote this piece about how she, it was so frustrating to hear over and over again, stay home. You have to stay home. And she’s like, she said in her writing, I would love to stay home if I could. I can’t, I, if I stay home then I can’t support my kids. And that really hit me hard because I had honestly just really hadn’t even considered that. And so she and I are now leading this documentary project together and we’re getting contributions from people, you know, throughout the spectrum, people talking on camera or writing their experience or if they don’t feel comfortable getting on camera, just talking into the microphone about whether or not they are staying home. And you get people talking about their life in quarantine and you get people talking about, you know, hey, I’m, I’m an assistant manager at a grocery store. I can’t stay home and here’s the trials and tribulations of my day. And it’s been, it’s been really fascinating seeing all the different perspectives come into this collaborative project about who gets to stay home and how, how, how grateful those of us who are staying home, you know, that, that that’s actually a luxury that we ought to be grateful for. So we’re, we’re putting that together into some kind of short documentary and we actually are, are we just announced that this is all gonna come together into a show that, YouTube Originals is, gonna present. And they really liked what we were doing, which is great to get support from them. And they’ve got this initiative with YouTube Originals where, um, they’re doing a bunch of these shows all around, you know, kind of how people are coping with this pandemic. Various artists are doing their art and ours is all about collaboration, about, you know, not, it’s not really about me and my art so much as, it’s about, um, me trying to help all sorts of creative people, whether they’re skilled artists or not so skilled just learning. But people with the creative impulse who want to connect and collaborate with each other, um, not just to share something they made on their own, but to makes things together. And, uh, and so we’re, we’re making a show about that right now for YouTube Originals and, uh, and anybody can come be a part of it. Come to HitRecord right now and, and, and jump in and help us make this show or, you know, okay. Episodes are gonna start coming out in May. But we’re making the show right now. So, so it’s, it’s been, uh, like I said, um, it’s been really rewarding to see this thing that we’ve been working on for so long come into this moment and, and, and, honestly kinda help and, and help to a, to a degree. I mean, it’s not helping, you know, it’s not a nurse on the front lines, but I do think that that nowadays, the, the kind of sincere connection you can get through creative collaboration is something a lot of people are looking for. And, um, and yeah, that’s, that’s what’s going on in the community right now.

Laurie Segall: How’s it helping you?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Me, I, I mean, like I said, I was in the middle of shooting a show, you know, so I was in the middle of my, my bliss like that’s, that’s where I grew up doing. That’s what I love to do is just, you know, making something all day. And if, if I didn’t have HitRecord when that show stopped, if I just came home and I was like, ah, okay, now what am I going to do? It’s not easy to just self-start and, and, and say like, well, I’ll do something else, not the show, but I’ll make whatever. I’ll write, I’ll, I’ll start writing a new thing or I’ll make my album or whatever. Like I find it hard, you know, to do that all by yourself. But on HitRecord every day, I just look around and see what other people are doing. And I’ve started some of my own projects, but mostly I just like, I find other people’s projects and that inspires me and I can just, I can get into that flow state of creativity, so much easier because I, I’m doing it kind of in collaboration with someone else. They provided that spark.

Ok we’ve got to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors, more with my guest after the break.

Laurie Segall: And Jared, how are you coping? I know you are a, Broadway producer too, right? I was a big fan of Oklahoma. Um, and-

Jared Gellar: Oh what a beautiful morning.

Laurie Segall: Oh God. What I would give just to like hear that like booming from like everywhere. Um, and, and you know, a lot of your livelihood is, is just the theater and the arts and people gathering. And so I ask you personally like how are you coping with like the uncertainty of art in this form? In the form that you love or that I know that you love and that I’ve actually seen come  together? Like how are you coping with the uncertainty of that?

Jared Gellar: Well, you know, well, I mean I think Joe and I both share a passion for like live, you know, the, the live performance. And I think, I think one of the reasons is because the separation between audience and artist, if you’re in the same room, you’re breathing the same air. And so it is actually feeling like a collaboration in a sense because the audience is participating, especially like in that production of Oklahoma, the audience is an active participant because the lights are on. You’re seeing how people are reacting. And so you know, I think the thing that that is great for me, I like one of the things that I’m passionate about is to try to figure out how to support how to support creativity in any kind of way and in all different kinds of ways.  And so I think what’s exciting for us is by embracing the product and tech side figuring out the different ways that people could get involved from a standpoint, creating collaborative tools. We’re seeing that more people are participating, not only because of this moment in time, but as Joe said, it’s easier for people to participate like our, our mobile app,  it’s way, way more easy to use right now. More people are doing voiceover projects or writing projects and things like that because we’ve just hope, hopefully, hopefully we’ve helped to demystify the creative process or more people and participate. And so figuring that out you know, having a really awesome team at HitRecord and being able to figure out how to, provide an occasion and opportunity to have more people experience and participate in the creative process is something that’s keeping me going I think.

Laurie Segall: You know, something I worry a little bit about on this, at this current moment is we were having this conversation about tech and the negative impact of Facebook and Instagram and what it was doing to our mental health. And people were trying to figure out a way to regulate screen time and then this happened and it’s like we just swallowed the red pill. Like we just went all in and like, I mean, I’m literally, you’re staring into my work for our listeners, we’re on Zoom. Like you’re literally like staring into my living room right now. Like there’s just like no off button. It feels like right now. And we have an excuse because this is the only way we get human connection right now. Um, and we are so reliant on it, never in our generation, our parents’ generation did we have to self isolate like this. And so now there’s not as much of a negative conversation around Facebook or TikTok or Instagram and it feels like the pendulum swing that had gone all the way, one way when we met in 2016 is beginning to go all the way in the other direction. And I do think that’s, that’s dangerous. Um, because when we come out of this and hopefully we will come out of this, I wonder, like will they let us go? And also I think we’re going to be facing a mental health crisis. I think that people, you know, isolation and, and how we feel about ourselves. Like these are things that are going to be very much to the surface, because of this moment. Um, and so I’d be curious, Joe or Jared, you’ve spoken a lot about how these traditional tech platforms, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook don’t necessarily, because their business models make us feel better, how are you feeling about this moment where I think we’re even, we’re on these platforms even more? Do you think that they’re gonna get it right, they’re gonna also do good while, while they’re at it? Like, is this an opportunity for tech to redeem itself?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Hmm, well, first of all, I would say that while I think it’s important to criticize the downsides of some of these dominant platforms, but that’s not an absolute thing and lots of good does happen on Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and so it’s, it’s, it’s not a black or white thing. But I, I think you’re raising a really great point, Laurie, I’m happy you’re saying it. Uh, we are all spending more and more time online because right now, because so many of us are not going out into IRL. Um, not everybody, of course, a lot of people are still going out into the world, but for those of us that are staying home, we’re probably spending more and more time online and I think this could perhaps serve as a, a good preview for our future because this is the direction we’re headed as the human race. We’re going to become more and more and more integrated with technology. It’s going to become a bigger and bigger and bigger part of our lives. That’s I think, inevitable. And the question is, how is that technology going to be oriented? Who is it going to be serving and to what end? And I’m not alone or unique or innovative, in saying- There’s, there’s lots of people who know a lot more than I do that are saying that, if we let the framework of our lives be defined by this attention economy, by the notion of sort of path of least resistance towards just more and more engagement and, you know, third parties behind the curtain sort of manipulating your will, that’s no way to build a society. And I would stop there because my expertise doesn’t go into how it, how it impacts, um, our democracy, our economy, et cetera. But where I would keep going is to talk about how that framework impacts our creativity because creativity is something I think I can speak to with some amount of authority, it’s what I’m doing my whole life. And I, I really do think that you talk to a lot of people talk to or just observe a lot of people. And, and now, right now, this moment where people are more people are at home, creativity is flourishing, can flourish. But I feel it in myself that the, the more time I’m at home and the more time I spend online it really can spin you out. Like I’ve been making these videos every day about what I’m doing creatively and, and we post them on HitRecord and it’s, and I feel great, but we also do post them on Instagram and, and, and it’s great to post them on Instagram. It reaches a much larger audience on Instagram of course, ’cause the whole world’s on Instagram. But so I’ve been spending more time on Instagram because I’ve been posting these videos and I have the same experience every time I go on, I look at those numbers, I feel inadequate. I compare myself to other people. And I, I, I don’t think I’m the only one doing this. These platforms are built for that. And I’m really quite concerned that a whole generation of people who are growing up generation of creative people, a generation of people who have that creative impulse to, to be artists are growing up where this is the framework of creativity is like if you want to make a movie, if you want to tell the story, if you want to express yourself well, how many likes is it going to get? Think about what you’re writing, is it gonna, is it gonna get retweeted? Like if that’s embedded into your creative process, I don’t think that’s positive. And a, I’m doing my best to really limit my time that I expose myself to that kind of sort of framework. And we’re building an alternative to it. Um, I’m not saying that it’s ever going to go away, but I, I really do think that it’s, it’s, it’s one of the more important tasks of our generation is to figure out how is our digital life going to work? How are we going to organize ourselves as a society online, and, uh, I don’t think this attention economy and ad model should be the driving force. I really don’t think so. And again, I’m not alone in saying that. Read Jaron Lanier. Read Tristan Harris. Read, you know, plenty of other people, and so yeah, so it… Like I said, it, it feels gratifying to be able to, uh, have, a haven, away from, from that kind of, uh, popularity contest. And our community really focuses less on how many likes, how much attention, how many ads can we serve and focuses more what do we, what do we make together.

Laurie Segall: I want to end in a more kind of personal way. Jared there are just good days and there are bad days with all of this, and you were saying that there have been… and you know, there have been symbols of hope throughout this. And something for you was the Navy ship arriving in, in New York City to help. And that was something that was personal to you. Can you explain why that was personal to you?

Jared Gellar: Oh, yeah, sure. Um, my dad was in the Navy. He’s one of the… He’s one of the only folks that was in Vietnam and also Operation Desert Storm back in 1991, I believe. He was, attached to the USNS Comfort. I think it’s the USNS Comfort. And so my dad was… when I was, I want to say nine or ten… was taken away to go and, and be apart of Desert Storm. And, and he, unfortunately, passed away almo-… I think like a year and a half later. I think, um, when he was away on, on active duty for Desert Storm… while he was participating in a war, he was helping people. He was, uh, a nurse and forever, as long as I can remember, I remember the Comfort, the, the, the ship that he was attached to. And a couple of weeks ago, I saw in the news that the Comfort was… You know, I didn’t, I, I, I didn’t that this was… I don’t know really very much about, about Navy operations, but, uh, but the Comfort which is a, a medical ship, basically a huge floating hospital was docked in Manhattan to help. And it was almost as if my dad was coming back you know. It really got me thinking, about him. My mom sent me, uh, uh, a, a text message with, um, a photo of his hat that said the USNS Comfort on it. And the fact that she, she sent that to me… I don’t know. It, it, um… I don’t have a ton of memories of my dad, but I do remember him as being somebody who was universally loved by… just everybody loved him, and he was always there to help. And so to see this ship sort of come back  in my life and to, and to make that connection between the Comfort coming into help New York and then, also, having that memory really helped me made me feel really good, having a really good memory of, of, who my dad was even today. Because he would have been so proud to have been associated with something that is providing help and, and,  comfort,, to New York. He would be just beaming, so it, it felt really good to, to see that on the news.

Laurie Segall: What do you guys think, um, when, when you look back at, at HITRECORD? How do you want HITRECORD… what do you want the contribution for HITRECORD to be during this period?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Oh. I mean, Jared was just mentioning the word comfort. I, I find art and creativity really comforting and, there’s, there’s a lot of important things that a lot of people are providing now. You know people in the medical industry, people in the food industry, all the essential workers, and I certainly won’t claim that art and creativity is the same as that. But I know for me, it’s, it’s really helped me keep my head on straight. And, uh, I’m seeing that a lot in our community, that people are finding a moment of comfort, finding a moment of peace and focus and positivity and productivity and humanity and being creative together with other people. And that’s the whole point of HITRECORD and, uh, and it, it sort of just so happens to be acutely needed right now in this, this moment of pandemic and quarantine.

Jared Gellar: I think it’s really cool that there’s a place to document and archive all of the experiences that people are having. You know, they’re, they’re recording their experiences and they’re doing it as a creative conversation. So we have all of these different perspectives and stories of people’s experiences. And what a wonderful way to share that.

Laurie Segall: Joe, when I, when I… I started out in 2009 interviewing, uh, entrepreneurs and, and I would always do this thing where I would try to, um, figure the, like figure out why like they were obsessed with what they were obsessed with because to be a good entrepreneur, I have found you have to have two things. One is you have to be obsessed with something. And the other one is you have to be resilient. Like it’s not… I, I think like, for me, just having interviewed a lot of entrepreneurs throughout my career, it’s never just being the smartest person in the room despite what everyone thinks. Like I think it’s just you have to be obsessed and you have to be resilient. Because a lot of people, no matter who you are, are going to say no to you all the time. Those are just like the two patternsI’ve seen. So when I met you, uh, four years ago now. I think I was trying to figure you out as an entrepreneur, not as an actor. And I looked… and this was before you raised $6 million in funding and before you had, um, 40 employees, um… And there is a theme to the work you do. There’s a constant battle, I think, to help people who are feeling, isolation or loneliness,and, and I would also say… and this maybe even came out in some of the themes of like your… the quarantine documentary you’re doing, right? Um, a desire to look at like all the different layers in life, like and look at different textures, and nuance. You know, you could have taken Hollywood money. You didn’t You went out and got Silicon Valley money. It would have been easy to make this company, make this just a hobby. But you didn’t. You know, you went and built this. So I think, as every entrepreneur that has an obsession, if I could define it, you could be like, “Laurie, you’re totalling wrong.” which I totally could be 100%, and I’ll just cut out this whole portion. You are drawn towards helping people feel less alone, um, through the creative process. Um, why is that?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Why is that? Uh, well, it’s probably just what I feel, you know. To go back to the beginning, or the why, uh… Why does anybody who’s creating anything do that? Feeling less alone is kind of big. That’s why you express yourself. You put yourself out there. You hope that there’s something you get back. You hope it’s, it’s not just a one way thing where you’re, you know, shouting into a void. But you hope that there’s something that comes back and that… and what comes back results in something. And that’s what I love about, all the things that I get to do, and I probably have loved it ever since before I can remember, you know. Doing little acting or stories or songs or stuff with my mom when I was a tiny kid, my son’s age. And that kind of continues to be it, I think. And, and I love getting to do what I do in the conventional means, you know, making movies, acting in stuff, getting to write or direct sometimes. I, I really love doing that, um, but there’s something that I’ve gotten out of HITRECORD for all these years now that’s just different. It’s it’s different than making something and, you know, showing it to an audience. It’s, it’s that two-way thing. It’s a feedback that’s unlike what I get in, in more conventional acting or film making. And it’s evolved to this point of now, you know, we’re, we’re really leaning into the technology right now. I, I think eventually I’m gonna keep doing this and the technology will, you know, find its place and will be focused on how that technology can enable further creativity and It’s, it’s really kind of what I’ve always just loved, and I don’t, I don’t know if… It’s funny. You talked about being obsessed. You could say obsessed. You could say loved… sorta the same thing. It’s compelled beyond any reason. And maybe this gets back to the art and the science that we were just talking about a minute ago. At a certain point, I don’t think you can really quantify or give a, a scientific reason why, if, for what I love… Why do you love being a journalist? I imagine there’s probably a similar, a similar answer in there. You couldn’t necessarily boil down why if you had to. It’s something you’re compelled to do. Um, and, uh, and, uh, so yeah, I don’t mean to give you a non-answer, but I, but I think, um, you asked such a deep question there like… there isn’t always like a, a finite answer to that. It’s just something I, I really love.

Laurie Segall: Well, I look forward to seeing what you guys are gonna do with HITRECORD, and my last question to both of you is a HITRECORD prompt. This is like revealing something very dorky about myself, uh, in the process. But someone, um, put like a prompt on HITRECORD where it was like write yourself a note from like… or write a note to your younger self, right? That was a, that was a- so, part of HITRECORD is that you can answer other prompts, uthat, that users kind of put in and, and Joe sometimes you answer them. Jared, sometimes I guess you answer them. So I want to end this one on a prompt. Something I’ve always done when I go through very hard or weird periods in my life… and this is not for HITRECORD, um, this is just in general is I write myself a note from my future self. So this is like, I was very inspired when I saw that they were doing this on hit record.  I was like, what?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: You know, so- I would love to end on a, a, what would you tell, you know… We don’t have to write a note, but, you know, it’s you 20 years from now where we’re looking back at this period. What yo you, what do you write in a letter to yourself?

Jared Gellar: 20 years.

Laurie Segall: Okay, not 20 years. Two years.

Jared Gellar: No, no, no, no, no, I don’t– this is your prompt. I’m, I, I was just… I was just sort of thinking out loud.

Laurie Segall: I mean, it feels like that just wasn’t as collaborative of a creative process as I envisioned. It’s write a letter to your.

Jared Gellar: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Oh, man, that was bad.

Laurie Segall: That’s okay. Write a letter to your current self from your future self that got through this global pandemic.

Jared Gellar: Ooh. You’re gonna participate as well, right?

Laurie Segall: Do I have to? 

Jared Gellar: This is hard.

Laurie Segall: It is. It is hard. It doesn’t have to be… whatever. But, I mean, what would you tell yourself? Do you want me to start? To, to rip the bandaid?

Jared Gellar: Sure. Then I know how long to do it.

Laurie Segall: I would say, uh, “Dear Laurie,” ooh, God. This is like the other side of the questions. Like now I know what it feels like. Um, “Dear Laurie, um, you had no idea how resilient you were, and this was the reset that put it all into focus. Um, you had so much love in your life, and you had no idea how much you could do and you could have all the things you really wanted. And this really made you believe that. Love, your older, much wiser self, who got it together. Also, you learned how to make scrambled eggs, and I cannot believe you didn’t know how to do that before”. 

Jared Gellar: Uh, I would say, uh, “Dear Jared, this moment in time really did, give an opportunity for the world to focus on what was most important. Not in just our personal lives, but globally, really placing emphasis on, uh, you know, income inequality, climate change the health and human services, and hit the reset button so that people would  and really provided an opportunity for, for us to examine those issues and make a better, uh… and, and, and provide, uh, better, um, resources to, uh, our fellow human beings. 

Laurie Segall: Okay. Joe, you’re up.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Oh, okay. Uh, let’s see. How about, uh, “Dear Joe”, right? We’re starting with dear? “Dear Joe, you’ve had to slow down and that was scary, but it was all okay. You got plenty done a little bit slower. And as things ramp back up and you feel the pressure to speed back up again, you can remember that things were going fine a little bit slower. And maybe, you know, slow is smooth, as they say in the military. You know, nod to the USNS Comfort. They say slow is smooth and smooth is fast. So maybe just a little bit slower overall is not a bad way to keep going, even after the world speeds up again.” How about that?

I like this idea of ending this episode where we started, with the luxury of perspective. One day i think we’re gonna have it. Right now it’s a bit hard. So as we end this season of First Contact – I have an ask — write yourself a note from your future self. I promise, in a couple years you’re gonna look back on it and be grateful you did. 

We’re winding down this season of First Contact — but don’t worry, even social distancing is not gonna keep us apart for long.

Afterall, if you’ve stayed with me this season – you’ve heard about hacking your dreams. You’ve listened as I developed a relationship of sorts with a chatbot, you heard some of the most powerful people talk about what it means to be human — looking at issues like anxiety and fear — through the lens of technology.

Tech has always been my lens into the human condition. And what an extraordinary time to be covering it. 

I hope you’ll stay in touch with me – we’re building out a media company called Dot Dot Dot where we’re developing docuseries, this podcast, books – you name it. And keep an eye out on your podcast app. You never know… you might find a surprise episode or two between seasons. Also, sign up for our newsletter – at dotdotdotmedia.com/newsletter and visit our site for extras.

We’re launching the newsletter this summer and it will be your best source to stay in the loop about any upcoming episodes, virtual Town Halls and other future projects I’ll be working on. 

Email us your thoughts on this season, of you can send me your note to yourself, anything at firstcontactpodcast@gmail.com.

And you can contact me directly — my number is -917-540-3410. 

I think the theme here is stay in touch. 

And follow along on our social media. I’m @LaurieSegall on Twitter and Instagram. And the show is @firstcontactpodcast on Instagram on Twitter, we’re @firstcontactpod. 

First Contact is a production of Dot Dot Dot Media, executive produced by Laurie Segall and Derek Dodge. This episode was produced and edited by Sabine Jansen and Jack Regan. The original theme music is by Xander Singh.

Okay… That’s a wrap – I’m thinking about you guys as we navigate this messy period. Stay healthy. Stay human. And stay in touch. 

I’m Laurie Segall, and this is First Contact.

First Contact with Laurie Segall is a production of Dot Dot Dot Media and iHeart Radio.