It's Wednesday morning, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is asking strangers for help. He needs puppets.
The actor stands in the middle of an office that looks more like a workshop. Assorted cameras and lighting rigs are propped up like sentries, but only the one facing him is turned on. There are banks of computers along the walls, where people toil away editing videos. A nearby alcove is draped in bright green and stacked with crates, which a clever visual-effects artist could turn into anything at all.
But not puppets. Those have to be built by someone. For real.
''Come work on a TV show!'' Gordon-Levitt tells the camera in a jokey accent, though he's completely serious. ''We are doing it. You can do it too! We can do it together!'' The video is one of his regular calls to action for hitRECord.org, the quixotic, crowdsourced storytelling operation that consumes much of the 32-year-old actor's life.
With Gordon-Levitt as their ringleader and benefactor, the hitRECord staff and their far-flung network of contributors are hard at work crafting an offbeat, heartfelt, old-school, new-media TV variety show that will air on the Pivot network Jan. 18. If you are a writer, illustrator, musician, or photographer or have any other creative impulses, like being the next Jim Henson there are lots of ways for you to get involved. Yes, you. He means it.
Once upon a time, Gordon-Levitt was a child star who had to prove he was more than that kid from 3rd Rock From the Sun. Then he was a young man, making his name in indie favorites like Brick, The Lookout, and (500) Days of Summer, not to mention crowd-pleaser blockbusters such as Inception, Looper, and The Dark Knight Rises. And in the past few years, Gordon-Levitt has evolved even further: He is Hollywood's DIY filmmaker, using his newfound clout to get his passion projects off the ground. HitRECord is one of them. The other is his feature writing-directing debut, the sexual satire Don Jon (rated R, out Sept. 27).
Don Jon is a film about porn which is usually all a studio would need to hear before saying ''No thanks.'' Gordon-Levitt stars as a New Jersey tough guy whose love life is falling apart because he can't find a woman who excites him as much as the vixens in his favorite triple-X videos. Scarlett Johansson costars as the frustrated gum-snapping girlfriend who wants their new relationship to measure up to her own screen fantasies the sickly sweet Hollywood rom-coms she idolizes. ''I wanted to talk about how media influenced people's expectations,'' Gordon-Levitt says. ''Pornography is a huge, huge part of our media culture. The message Don Jon is trying to bring to light and make fun of is reducing people, especially women, to nothing but sex objects. It happens in music videos, TV shows, movies, and magazines, and so many commercials. Whether it's rated X or approved by the FCC to sell Doritos, the message is the same.''