Joseph Gordon-Levitt Interview | The Tim Ferriss Show (Podcast) | Transcription
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At this altitude I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Can I answer your personal question? No, I would have seen it at the right time. What if I did the opposite? I'm a cybernetic organism living tissue over a metal entoskeleton. League 10 Paris Show. This episode is brought to you by Four Sigmatic. If you're a long time listener of the show or brand new to the podcast, my favorite Finnish entrepreneurs who founded this company. Of course I don't know that many Finnish entrepreneurs, but they may be my favorites. Have something new that I've been loving. And some of you are familiar with Four Sigmatic. I've used their products for years now. They were introduced to me by an acrobat of all folks. And they tend to mix different types of medicinal mushrooms into their products. I've recently started using their Matcha, which is a green tea, which is designed as a coffee alternative. 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And the founder, Matt Mullenweg, one of my close friends, has appeared on this show many times. Just search Matt Mullenweg, Tequila Ferris, for quite an exciting time. Whether you're looking to create a personal blog, a business site, or both, you can make a really big impact right out of the box when you build on WordPress dot com. And you'll be in good company. It's used by The New Yorker, Jay-Z, Beyonce, FiveThirtyEight, TechCrunch, TED, CNN, and Time, just to name a handful. And one of my friends at Google, who shall remain nameless, has told me that WordPress dot com offers the, quote, "best out of the box SEO imaginable," end quote. And it's one of the many reasons that nearly 30% of the internet is run on WordPress. You do not need experience or to hire someone. That's perhaps the best part. WordPress dot com guides you through the entire experience. They have hundreds of designs and templates that you can use. And it's easy to get started. There's no need to worry about security, upgrades, hosting, any of that. They offer 24/7 support and they're very, very responsive. If you have questions, they get right back to you. And this allows you to create the highest quality with the least amount of headache and friction. So if you're building a website, period, when my friends come to me and ask what I use, what I recommend they use, the answer is WordPress dot com. So check it out. If you want to get started today, learn more with a 15% discount off any new plan, go to WordPress dot com forward slash Tim to create your website and find the plan that's right for you. So learn more. Take a look. WordPress dot com forward slash Tim for 15% off a brand new website. Check it out. Hello, my pretty little mug. This is Tim Ferriss and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss show, where it is my job to deconstruct world class performers to tease out the habits, routines, life lessons, favorite books and so on that you can use. And this episode, we have a true polymath, Joseph Gordon Levitt on Twitter and Instagram at hit record. Joe, like hit record on a video camera hit record Joe and his site is hit record dot org. Joe is an actor whose career spans three decades and ranges from television, i.e. Third Rock from the Sun or say E.G. to art house, mysterious skin brick to multiplex like Inception, 500 Days of Summer, Snowden. He made his feature screenwriting and directorial debut with Don John, which had an independent spirit award nomination for best first screenplay. He also founded and directs hit record, an online community of artists around 600000 now emphasizing collaboration over self promotion. Hit record has evolved into a community sourced production company that publishes books, puts out records, produces videos for brands from LG to the ACLU and has won an Emmy for its variety show hit record on TV. So without further ado, please enjoy this wide ranging conversation with Joseph Gordon Levitt.
Film Making And Acting Experiences
The origin of Joe breathing fire. (05:56)
Joe, welcome to the show. Thanks, man. Thanks for having me. Of course. It's been a while since we last caught up and I have so many questions and now I get to ask them in a public forum. So thank you for taking the time. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Well, I'm I'm really excited to to be on your show. It's I'm I'm a listener, longtime listener, first time caller. And I'm I'm I'm flattered to be in the company of the people that you talk to on this show, man. It's really cool. Thank you. Of course. It's it's completely my pleasure. And I thought we might start. Of course, where I where I start is not going to be where we go since the the format of my shows is generally closest to the movie Memento, as I mentioned before we got started. But I reached out to, as I often like to do with guests, a mutual friend to ask a question that I very frequently ask, which is and I'll tell you the text that I sent and you'll be able to guess who this is. OK, partially because I'm going to say the name Evan exclamation point. Yeah. Ben ages, man. Hope you're great. You know, finally interviewing Joe and we've had a few chats and one dinner in the last year. Might you be able to suggest any particular topics, questions or stories that could be fun or interesting to explore? Does his answer involve balls? It doesn't. But now we have to talk about balls. So balls goes on the list for sure. How could it not? And he gave me a number of different thoughts and recommendations. And then he added like 20 minutes later and he can breathe fire if you tickle his feet. Have fun. So I wanted to I wanted to fact check that first because knowing Evan, I'm suspect. So true or false, can you breathe fire if I tickle your feet? That depends on your state of mind. That's that's that's Evan Goldberg, by the way, for those who Evan is.
Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg (07:51)
Could you explain for people who are like, who the hell is Evan? Who who is Evan and how did you first meet? Yeah, Evan Goldberg is known for being writing partners with Seth Rogen and Seth and Evan are like the comedy pair. And they started by writing Superbad together and they wrote it about themselves. In fact, the character names of Superbad, if you go back and watch it again, are Seth and Evan. And I think I think Michael Cera is playing Evan. Right. And Jonah Hill is playing Seth, if I'm not mistaken, which is wildly inaccurate to who they are. But but funny anyway. And yeah, they're they're just two really hilarious guys. We did two movies together. The first one was 50/50 and then the second one was called The Night Before. And they're really, really smart dudes, which is funny because they make they make humor that probably doesn't get regarded as smart. But as with many things in in movies, I find oftentimes the stuff that is considered lowbrow or sort of mainstream or pop is often the most intelligently constructed. Which applies to them sometimes and not other times. Yeah, they're very, very, very smart guys. And just to paint a picture for folks, Evan always wear shorts. He does all his meetings standing up just about, which can cause some anxiety if you don't know why he's standing and don't realize that's what he always does. Or he'll be in like a deep squat, like an Olympic weightlifter, which is always. He always says sitting is the new smoking. Right. And pro tip for anyone who might bump into these these folks. If you sit down with them and they're brainstorming, I would advise you not to smoke with them unless you consider yourself a really good smoker. Really, really strong smoker. I've had that experience on both sides. I've been working with them in phases of my life where I was smoking a lot and phases of my life where I was not smoking a lot. And the first time I met them, well, it wasn't the first time we met, but with the first time we really hung out. They were asking me to do their movie 50/50 and I flew up to Vancouver where they were. Time was short for reasons that don't really matter for the story. And they had to cast this role really quickly, as happens all the time in show business. So I read the script and that night flew up to Vancouver to sit down with Seth and Evan and John Levine, who was directing the movie. And we had a good talk about the movie and talked about the things that one normally talks about. And then we got to a point where that part of the meeting came to a natural conclusion, at which point Seth pulled out a joint and we went up to the roof and smoked and then had what felt like the real meeting. Even though it was not. It's like meeting with Chinese bureaucrats, except they're not Chinese and you're using a different substance. Is that how it goes? They'll bring out something called baijiu, which is this horrifically strong and unpleasant alcohol. And that's when the real meeting starts. Oh wow. To me, smoking weed and strong alcohol could not be two experiences that are more different from each other. That's not everyone's experience. I mean, look, everyone has their own reaction to different substances and I'm not one of those weed smokers that encourages people to smoke weed because I do think it's different for everyone. But for me, at least at certain times in my life, it's not brain killing. It's quite the opposite. My brain would kind of leap places that it might not otherwise. And those guys, well I should mention a few things for folks. Number one, if you're going to BC, you're going into the dragon's den of high potency plant matter. So you really need to have your wits about you. Second, for those people, we won't spend too much time on this, but who are interested in what Master Somelies of POT, i.e. Evan and Seth would recommend. The pot that they use for creative work, the pot that they use for functions, A, B, C, D and E. We do talk about it in the podcast that I did with the two of those guys. Yeah, I'm not surprised. You can check it out. The reason I brought him up, aside from the bullets and then the balls that I've put onto my list now, that we won't get to. Oh, that's just because they get paid lots of money to make jokes about balls. Ah, yes. He surmounted my expectations. He exceeded my expectations by making the fire breathing joke that was much more tasteful than a joke about balls. The first thing he said wasn't a joke at all. And you alluded to it just a moment ago that I wanted to ask you that.
On choosing to work on the movie 50/50. (13:20)
First thing he said, and so I've known Evan for a while, we've had plenty of exchanges. So the very first thing he says is, "He's awesome, he saved our movie 50/50." And I'm going to edit what he said slightly afterwards. But he said, "Such and such a person was cast and he had to drop out. And Joe replaced him in 24 hours, which is all the time we had before they shut us down and I forever love him for it." So why did you choose to do that movie? Yeah, I mean I should say, the person who had to drop out, it was a family emergency, so there was no bad blood between anybody. But, yeah, why do I choose? I mean, it's a larger question that I think applies here the same as really any movie. Why choose any given movie? I mean, the first thing to say is, I'm incredibly lucky to get to choose what role I do or don't take. And it wasn't always that way for many, many years. I started acting when I was six. And for a long, long time, up until actually pretty much just a few years ago, well it's more than a few now isn't it, I'm getting old, but I would just audition and take the part that, if I got a part, then that was great news and I would do the part that I got. I went on lots of auditions. And so I come from the mentality of, "It's amazing to get a role." However, in recent years when I've been fortunate enough to be able to kind of pick what I do and don't do, it's sort of the only power you have as an actor in a way, is the power to say no. Because once you say yes, movies really aren't the actor's medium. And that's really cool and can also be frustrating depending on the context. If you're working with a director and other filmmakers who you're on the same page with, it can be incredible to have them there sort of bringing forth and kind of refining and presenting the work that you do. But if you're not on the same page with somebody, it can be really frustrating because you can try all you want to make the performance what you think it should be. But ultimately it's going to be up to the director because what I think often gets overlooked or underemphasized is just how big a role all the other factors are. You think you're watching an actor give a performance, and you are watching that actor, but you're also watching the work of the editor and the camera crew. You're listening to the work of the musicians and productions and all these other factors that all contribute to the feeling that you get when you watch a performance. And so what makes me say yes is when I feel good and on the same page with mostly the director because it should be the director's job to kind of be steering the whole entire ship with all of those elements in the same direction. It's not always just the director sometimes like in the case of 50/50 with Seth and Evan, there's John Levine who is very much the director, but also Seth and Evan who are producing big parts of the collaborative process. And they're very collaborative in general, and that was one of the things I liked about their situation that they create is they really let the actors in. It's a very collaborative thing, and you can feel like you trust them. They're not going to tell you they want one thing and be doing something else or try to trick you into anything. There's a phrase sometimes that gets said, people will say to a director, "Oh, you really got a great performance out of that actor." And I feel like that's not really how I would put it. And some directors do sort of try to take the proactive role and be like, "It's up to me to get this performance out of you." So I'm going to use my manipulation or whatever it takes to force you into feeling what I need you to feel right now, which to me feels adversarial and in my experience doesn't usually work as well as let's all be on the same team. I'm going to, where the director is supporting the actor to help the actor do what they need to do, and then presenting and making sure all the other elements are on the same page so that it all comes together in a cohesive way and the audience can feel it.
Sets and green screens (18:37)
You mentioned directing, and as someone who's never been involved with film, although I've been involved with some unscripted television, which is a totally different animal. Less different than you might think. That's true. A lot of unscripted television is exactly scripted, let's be clear. And just for people at home who might watch some reality TV, if you ever see a lot of people standing in a kitchen and there's someone mixing a random thing in a bowl, they're not actually mixing anything. And why are they all standing in the kitchen? Because there's natural light. No one in real life does that. So that was planned. But the difference between unscripted and scripted is if you call the writers producers, you don't have to pay them as much. I read somewhere that you've talked about the ability to balance a thorough plan with spontaneity being the crux of being a good director. I don't want to misquote you. I think that's true. So I'd love to hear, since you have worn many hats, you're not just an actor, you've done many other things. Could you tell us maybe a story or give an example of directors you've worked well with and things they've done to help you or to help the entire movie move well? If there are any particular stories, and just what comes to mind for me as someone who really doesn't know much about this at all, I remember someone telling me at one point that instead of saying "action," Clint Eastwood would say, or maybe still says, "Whenever you're ready." Not to say that makes a big difference, but Robert Rodriguez, living in Austin, Texas, as I do, I've gotten to know. He'll play music in between takes. He'll actually hire artists to help people learn how to paint while they're on set. That is a painting on Rodriguez's set. That's right. I'd be curious to know what directors you've worked with have done from that perspective to help things that you've found memorable. And then also, what you've done when directing other people and how you've forged your own style as director. Sure. Let's see. Well, the first feature film I was ever in was a movie called A River Runs Through It, which was directed by Robert Redford, who's a great actor turned director.
"I never hit my marks." (21:35)
And I was 10. And I remember—this is one of my favorite stories—we were doing a scene where I had to walk up to my dad at his desk and sort of show him something I had written. And we did a few takes, and I wasn't hitting my mark. A mark is a little piece of tape that they put down on the floor so that when you walk into a room, you hit that mark. And that mark is important for you to hit because they've set up the camera, they've set up all the lights to all look good for the actor to stand in that exact position. If the actor is standing in a different position, well, it'll look different. And by the way, the cinematographer for A River Runs Through It won an Oscar for this movie. And he, the DP, director of photography, which is the same as cinematographer, he walked up to me after the second time or whatever that I missed my mark and very nicely asked me to make sure that I stood on the mark, stood where that green piece of tape was on the floor. And I was nervous. I was 10. And I'd been on plenty of sets before. I'd been working, I think I said, since I was 6. But no matter who you are, how long you've been doing it, it doesn't feel good to mess up twice and have to get a note like that. And you're not the only person on the set. How many people are around you as you're filming something like this? Oh, 100, I'd say. Yeah, around 100. And that's like a standard film crew-ish. And so I really was staring at that green piece of tape on the floor and knew that when we did the next tape, I was definitely going to walk in and stand right exactly on that green piece of tape. And that's what I was focused on. And right before they rolled camera, Redford came up to me and just quietly said in my ear, "I never hit my marks." And that's all he said and he walked away. And that was so important because on the one hand, yes, here's this Oscar-winning cinematographer who set up the shot and if the actor's not on the mark, the shot won't look the way that he wants it to look. But I think Mr. Redford had a lot of wisdom there to know that no matter how good the shot looks, if your actor is focused on a green piece of tape on the floor, it's not going to really be worth watching. Oh, that's a great story. That is a great story. And I suppose that's also part of the gift that someone like Redford brings to the table is that he has so much experience in the shoes of actor. Yeah. He was the first actor/director that I had ever worked for and I really loved that. And that's a perfect example of why because of just what you're getting at. That he could say with authority, "I never hit my marks." Which I'm sure he's exaggerating. I'm sure he does hit his marks. But he needed to correct my head there for a sec.
Shot listing at scale (25:16)
Any other directors come to mind who have lent memorable experiences to your memory banks? I mean, yeah, sure. There's tons. I'm trying to think of a really good example. I mean, this might sound like I'm name dropping, but watching Steven Spielberg set up a shot is pretty special. I remember asking him about shot listing. Shot listing is sort of a standard thing that a director does. It's just you write down all the different shots that you want to get for a scene because in any given scene, you might want to capture it from three angles, four angles, five angles, depending on how you like to do it. So I asked him, and this is actually in 2011 when I was shooting for him in a movie called Lincoln, which was just the year before I got to direct a movie. So I was really thinking about it. I've always, ever since I was young, followed directors and tried to soak up what I can, but at that time I was really, really thinking about directing soon. And I asked him if he shot listed. And he showed me in his script a couple of tiny little lines that were just... no one would have... I mean, a shot list. When I shot my movie, a shot list was a long document with lots of description about all the different shots that we did for every scene. And he had a couple of pencil marks in his script because he just... I figured that he would be a meticulous shot lister as well because his shots are so well composed. And he doesn't really... or at least he didn't on Lincoln. Why is that? Yeah, why is that? Why the difference? I think because he's just got such facility that he would prefer... and this gets back to the original point of spontaneity versus planning. He would prefer to watch what the actors do and figure out how he wanted to shoot it based on that, rather than have the actors have to fit into a pre-planned sort of shot list. And that's what he would do. When we would show up to rehearsal, he wouldn't be thinking about camera yet. Some directors do. He wouldn't. Do you think he had shot lists earlier in his career in the sense that... was he someone who learned the rules and followed the rules for a period of time until he was so expert at following the rules that he realized he could abandon some of them? Or do you think he's operated that way from the beginning? I raise it in part because I recently watched a documentary titled "Spielberg" about his life. It's a fantastic HBO documentary. I enjoyed it at least. It painted a very human picture of him, including his frailties and weaknesses and failures and how he's contended with them. But do you think he's always operated that way or that he later, only having become this virtuoso with confidence, then abandoned the shot list? I would guess the former. I can't confirm that and I never quite asked him that, but I would guess that when he was shooting "Jaws" or when he was shooting "Raiders of the Lost Ark" that he had some shot lists. That would be my guess. Although he was famous for going wildly over budget, so who knows? Well, and you know the story about the shark fin. That's an old known story. Why don't you tell the story? Because it's so good. For those of you out there who, like my wife, don't know the lore of movies, if you've ever seen "Jaws" which is one of the most powerful movies ever, it's about a shark. And you never see the shark, but you see its fin sticking out of the water. And the story goes, and I never asked him about this because I'm sure he's sick of talking about it, but the story goes that they had planned to see the shark a lot in the movie. And they had built this big animatronic shark and they had, you know, nicknamed the shark. Bruce. I didn't know that detail. That's funny. Yeah. And it didn't work. They got on set and like, you know, like anything technical, it fucked up. Right when you needed it to work. And so his solution was, "Okay, well we can't see the shark. Let's just, can we make it work so that we can see its fin sticking out of the water?" And if you see the movie, it's so effective. The shark is so much scarier because you never see it. You just see this fin and it's so ominous and they didn't know that that was going to happen. That speaks to the point you brought up again. Spontaneity versus pre-planning. That's exactly being a film director. You're on a set. Days of production are so expensive. And directing a movie is like a two year process wherein you're actually shooting for like two months of it. But you're spending, I don't know what the actual number is, but some huge percentage of your budget is going into this very small sliver of time. And so you're always on the clock and you've planned everything, but then something else will happen. Either something will fuck up or some new great idea will emerge all of a sudden. And it's up to you to decide at that moment on the clock, "Should I stick to the plan or should I go with this new thing that just came up?" And the ones who can kind of make that decision well, in my experience, are the best directors. So I have a number of follow-up questions, but I'll also mention something that stuck in my mind from a director, even though I've never been directed per se, as you have. I mentioned Robert Rodriguez and he was in the last two of my books. In fact, both Tools of Titans and Tribe of Mentorism was on this podcast. That's when I first met him in person, was to have him on this podcast. And he said to me at one point, "Something along the lines of the following." And you've met Robert, so you can imagine him saying this with this gigantic smile on his face, because he always seems to have a big gigantic smile on his face. And he's a big dude, so it's an especially big smile. He's like the Tony Robbins of filmmaking. He's always optimistic. I shouldn't say always, but in my experience with him, he's a very upbeat dude. And he said, "I have these young filmmakers come to me all the time and they say, 'Yeah, I ran this project, I was working on this thing, but the lighting didn't work, and then the grip fucked this thing up, and then this, and this, and this.'" And he said, "The point I always make is, that's your job, is that nothing is going to work." They don't understand that the job description of filmmakers is like, "Nothing is going to work." It's true. If everything worked, the director would just be able to show up and say, "Action and cut." Kinda. Because if everything was done properly, then the actors will have rehearsed and kind of know what they're going to do, and everything should be shot listed and prepared.
Supreme Impermanence (33:25)
I mean, of course, everyone has their own methods, but the truth is that a director does do a lot more than action and cut. And I think it comes back to the same thing that we're talking about, because on the day, things always arise that you don't expect. And there has to be one person who's making those decisions, because it would take too long if those decisions were made by committee. Too expensive. Can't afford the delays. And on the Jaws point, in addition to the fin, for those people who have seen or want to see it, there are these open water scenes, which by the way, much, much more complex than Spielberg expected to film. And so even the fin was difficult to use, and they didn't want to overuse it, so they came up with, on the spot, the idea of using these barrels to track the shark. And for those of you who want to check it out, you can revisit that. But it was absolutely an example of the improvising that you mentioned, the ability to improvise. How did you learn to direct?
Now, putting aside, if possible, the fact that you had been directed so much. So you've been absorbing through osmosis perhaps quite a bit, given your career. But when you knew that on the horizon, you're going to be directing your own film, how did you go about learning more about directing the craft, maybe the technical side, whatever it is that you felt you needed to know? What was your approach to learning how to do that? Well, yeah, first of all, I just had the advantage of being on a set a lot and watching a lot of directors on a set. So that part kind of came naturally. But there's a lot more to directing than the time on the set. I think the other one other thing that I came to focus on, though, was editing. Because as an actor, you never get to be in the editing room. You're not really aware of that whole process. And it's a huge, huge part of what makes a movie. And I love editing. I remember when I was growing up, I always wanted to edit, but you you couldn't yet that wasn't available to consumers yet. Sounds hard to believe now because you can, you know, edit video on your phone nowadays. But when I was, you know, first starting to, you know, make fun little videos with my buddies when I was 10, or whatever, and we were using our family video camera, which, you know, weighed more than 50 iPhones all duct tape together. Editing was sort of a holy grail, because we would try something and be like, Oh, wait, I wish we could do it again. But you kind of can't do it again unless you can edit. And you kind of could if you set it up, it was a real pain in the ass if you tried to like, dub what you would shot on the video camera onto an old VHS VCR and, you know, hit the pause button at just the right moment, and then find the next thing and dub again. And hopefully the cut was sort of smooth, but it never was. Anyway, when when editing finally became something you could just do on a computer at home. I was thrilled. And for my 21st birthday, I got myself a new computer and my first copy of Final Cut Pro. And this is like 2002. And I mean, I ended up dropping out of college because I was just so fascinated with sitting there and editing. Okay, so just just sorry, no, no, no, we're not skipping ahead. We're jumping all over to the right places. So just for people who don't have this context, maybe we should revisit this. So you went from show business, so to speak, back to school. And then the so this was one of the catalyzing events then for leaving school was getting this Final Cut Pro. It was 100% catalyzing event because I would be sitting there at night. And I was supposed to be writing a paper for college. And all I wanted to do was edit. And I was like, I think I have to drop out of school. And I did.
Why graduate school as a break from the grind of acting? (38:08)
All right, you know, there's there's no set script for this conversation. So let's, let's talk about that for a second. We can come back to directing because I want to certainly talk more about your own experience with your film. But why did you of all things? Why go back to school? Why did you decide place us in time? Like, where were you? What were you doing when you decided to go back to school? And why? Because a lot of folks are thinking of you, your name, impressive career. Why do that? What was a what was the scene? If you can set us up with a description of where you were in life and how you made that decision? Well, I mean, I've been acting since I was six years old, and was lucky enough to do it pretty consistently throughout my childhood and adolescence. Is it true? Just as a quick side note, because I've been drinking green tea since we started, so now I have more personality. Is it true that you used to blow out your birthday candles wishing for gigs or something like that? Is Am I making that up? Am I hallucinating? Is that? No, that's something in a magazine that's true. Great. There's a lot in the magazines that may not be true. Okay, cool. So I didn't mean to interrupt, though. So yes, you've had this long career already, starting at age six. Yeah, and well, I'd always wanted to go to college. My dad actually dropped out of college, but my mom really spoke very highly of university and even got her master's. And I was just always really looking forward to that. I'd always liked school. I was always sort of studious. I liked learning. And always, frankly, found elementary school, junior high, high school a little lacking in what I was really wanting. And I was hoping that once I got to college, then I would be in these classes that were just blowing my mind all the time. And I think also besides the academics, I wanted to not know my future. I always had. Right. That makes perfect sense. I was around all my friends who were, some of them were going to college, some of them weren't. But they all were finishing high school and starting off on life and figuring out what they wanted to do or what they wanted to be. And I felt like, wait, I shouldn't just let my six-year-old self make the decision for me of what I'm going to be for my whole life. I should be also making that decision, not just six-year-old me. And so I thought it'd be right to quit acting for a while and just go to school. And that's what I did. And I think it's one of the better decisions I've ever made, both to quit for a while and also to move away from home. Not everybody can afford to move away from home, but luckily I was able to. And living in a new city, while on the one hand really challenging, is a huge growth spurt just for who you are and what you think and what you know. I loved moving away. Where were you moving from and where did you move to? I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, Sherman Oaks, which is a suburb in LA. Although all of LA is sort of a suburb because it doesn't have a center like a conventional city. But this is really the suburbs. And I moved to New York City, like Manhattan. Columbia University is where I went. And I still miss New York. I don't live there anymore. But New York City is just incredible. Walking around. In LA, you don't walk so much. You mostly drive places. And my favorite thing, still my favorite thing to do in New York, is not any particular restaurant or bar or site or anything. It's just walk out your door wherever you are and walk. And see what you see and see who you see. I get so much inspiration from doing that whenever I go to that city.
Why Joseph found language learning valuable (43:05)
It is an amazing city. Now you ultimately, as you mentioned not too long ago, found Final Cut. And that was the end of school. What did you choose to major in and why? And besides moving away from home, why did you find it to be a valuable experience? Well, I was about halfway through a bachelor's when I decided to drop out. So choosing a major was looming. But I never actually had to do it. But it would have been a French major because by that time I was taking my classes in French. And this isn't any sort of slight to Columbia University where I went. I just found myself underwhelmed in the academic setting. There were some classes that really interested me. But one thing that really bothered me was you were supposed to read so much that there was no way you could read it thoroughly. And I felt like that's what I had been trying to get away from. High school where you're having to prove to someone that you read something and it's kind of condescending and not very enriching. I thought college was going to be something more than that. And maybe it would have been if I were using it right or maybe it would have been if I had stuck around and declared a major. But what I really did like was studying in French because then no matter what I was learning, just sitting in the class and listening to the teacher speak French or trying to read something in French. No matter what the subject matter, no matter what the paper was supposed to be on or what the test was or anything, just the fact that it was in another language meant I was learning. And I had always wanted to speak another language. I felt sort of inferior for not speaking more than one language. And I got to the point where I wouldn't say that I'm a fluent French speaker like someone who lives there. I can have a conversation with someone in French. I can read the newspaper slowly. And it really taught me a lot about English and about language to kind of have more than one in my head. Why did you choose French? I think mostly because I liked French movies. That's a perfectly good reason. An aesthetic thing. My mom studied French so I'd always kind of had that in the air, sort of a Francophilia. And she lived in France for a number of years and spoke about it really romantically. That's one of my favorite moments in life is walking through Paris with my mom and her being like, "This is where I worked when I was younger than you are now." I loved it here. There was a real completion there to getting to do that with her. Nowadays, there's probably other languages that would be much more practical to learn. And not just nowadays, back then too. But yeah, aesthetically I just always found it really appealing. I think with language, not to interject or add too much of my own thoughts here, but languages can be really good. Languages can be very challenging. And I deeply feel that if you as a native speaker, say of English, want to learn a language that you should, unless you need to absolutely get a job that requires another language. For instance, if you are an ethnic Indian living in Dubai and you need to speak English to work in the hospitality industries in some capacity, focus on English. Otherwise, I would suggest you follow your interests. In this case, yours was spurred by exposure to French films because they're going to be challenging times. And they're going to be difficulties along the road. And you want to have the enthusiasm and the passion that you feel for not just the language but the culture to help you get over those hurdles. And I remember very clearly when I was just starting as an East Asian Studies major in college to take Chinese. I'd been taking Japanese and I just started Chinese and there were 60 kids in the class. Within two weeks there were 12 kids in the class because the pronunciation and so on is so alien and so strenuous, so stressful I should say more accurately. It weeds out a lot of people who are just there to develop a toolkit for a prospective career that may or may not even materialize later. It's the people who are obsessed with something really odd like the I Ching or obsessed with calligraphy or some weird at not so weird. There are amazing Chinese movies. Oh, and there are amazing Chinese movies. This is very, very true. But I don't want to take us down too far. A rabbit hole on the Chinese and so on. I want to come back to the question of directing or the topic of directing your own movies.
The creation story of Don Jon (48:39)
You've directed quite a number. You mentioned when you were working with Spielberg, I suppose it was maybe a year later or a year and a half later, you were going to be directing your own film. Which film was that? That movie is called Don Jon. So Don Jon, you, as I understand it, wrote, directed and starred in Don Jon. How did that? What's the creation story? Why did you choose to make this movie? To write, direct and star in it? Maybe you could give a synopsis of the, not necessarily a synopsis, but a sentence or two or three or four or five, however many you like on the subject matter. Yeah. Well, Don Jon's sort of an off take on the old Don Juan story, who's a mythical womanizer. And it's about a guy who's addicted to pornography. And who, I think, more than just being addicted to pornography, sort of objectifies everything in his life. Not only women, but his friends, his family, his own body, his car, his God. He treats everything as sort of an object much the same way as he treats the women that he jerks off to when he's watching porn. And has to sort of have a self-realization about that. It's sort of a coming of age story. A coming of age story. And why? Why did I want to tell that story? Well, it's in certain ways a story about media, which is something that I've focused on my whole life. And like I was saying, a story about how people objectify other people. And I guess without trying to sound like I'm complaining, I have felt kind of objectified myself throughout my life because of being in the media. Sure. And besides that sort of feeling uncomfortable for me, and there were times in my life when I felt really uncomfortable, I had real anxiety about it when I was younger. And I've gotten more comfortable with it now. But besides that, I also think that it's not really good for the objectifier either. For people out there who watch these faces on screens and see them as these, I don't know, almost deified, special. Antities that are more important or more attractive or more worthy of celebration than the watcher. I think that's a really prominent idea in our culture and one that deserves to be attacked and made fun of. And so that's what the movie is sort of about.
The hardest parts of creating the film (52:07)
What was hardest about making that movie? Or getting it distributed? It could be anything. What were some of the hardest aspects of that, if any come to mind? Yeah, well, writing's really hard. It's super fun. I love writing, but it's hard, I think partially because it's more of a loner sport. At least that one was for me. I wrote it myself. And I had a great time doing it. But I think probably, if you ask what's the hardest part, it's those moments where I'll be sitting there having spent who knows how many hours on this over the last X years trying to make this script something that I think is good. And hearing a voice in my head saying, "This has all been a waste of time. You should probably just stop now." That kind of thing. That's kind of the story of my life right there. There's no one you can really turn to to fight that voice. In those moments you kind of have to ignore it. Or if the voice is really getting the better you, I found, I would just have to be like, "Okay, I'm going to have to stop for now. I'll come back to this later."
Handling Fame And Personal Projects
Screenwriting resources (53:42)
Were there any books or resources or screenplays that you found particularly helpful or motivating in the process of writing this? I never read a book about screenwriting. I know they're out there. I've glanced at some. I skimmed through one recently called Save the Cat, which was, I thought, smart in a lot of ways. But also, with all due respect to the smart guy who wrote it, it's sort of cynical and off-putting in times. I don't want to say that I don't recommend people read those books because there are probably some really good thoughts in those screenwriting books that talk about conventional structure and the three acts and things like that. I guess I got to take a long cut because I've just been around it and I've read so many scripts over the years. My mom was reading me scripts before I could read. It's a good advantage. I've had a certain osmosis, I guess. I probably learned as much from the bad scripts as from the good scripts. I've certainly read way more bad scripts than good scripts. For me, writing is a lot like acting. When you're acting, you spend a lot of time with your script. When I'm writing a scene, I'm treating it much like I do when I'm preparing to act in that scene. And then I can read it and be like, "Mm, no, that doesn't feel good." And I've had so many experiences as an actor where you're sitting there with a scene and being like, "I just wish that this line was phrased a little differently." And when you're the writer, you can just rewrite it, which is nice. And depending on the director you're working with, sometimes you can come in and say, "Hey, can I say this a little bit differently?" And that goes back to what we were saying about a director before. That's exactly one of those moments where a director has to go, "Huh, we've been sitting with that line that way for all this time, and now I have to tell the actor yes or no. Yes, you can change it, or no, don't." And there's ways to approach that. You can always say, "Let's try it both ways." Or sometimes I found usually the actors were right, and the dialogue that I wrote was much improved by the actors in Don Jon, Scarlett Johansson, and Julianne Moore, and other ones too, who said lines that were ultimately sometimes subtly different, sometimes quite a bit different than what I wrote. And I think really benefited.
Managing around the maelstrom of fame, and being objectified (57:05)
So Joe, you mentioned being objectified, having experienced being objectified. And this leads me to want to ask a question about fame in general, because I have many listeners, many readers who say are on Instagram, or on fill-in-the-blank social networks, Snapchat, whatever it might be. And their very explicit goal is to be as famous as possible, to have as many followers, among other things. There are different indicators that they would use to determine whether they are famous enough or not. But that is a real explicit goal for a lot of folks. Could you maybe share what you would say to someone who is currently holding in mind being famous as a goal? Yeah. This is something I think about a lot. Because I guess I've experienced it to some degree. Being famous? I would say so. Well, from what I've seen and experienced, fame doesn't necessarily make you happy. And I think the assumption on the part of the people you're describing is that if they get a certain amount famous, then they'll be happy. Because that's really what we all want, is to be happy. Depending on how you define the word happiness, but I think that sort of is the definition of happiness in a way, is what we want to be. And the people that I know that have whatever amount of fame, some of them are happy, some of them are not happy, and the fame isn't what makes them happy. What makes somebody happy, I think, is do you have your health, do you have good people around you, do you get to do things that you like doing? And that's where it gets complicated because sometimes having a certain amount of fame does allow you to do the things that you want to do. So it's not a simple answer. And there are trade-offs also. It's not like you just get the upside when you have a lot of public exposure. I know even in my tiny, fake, famous, 14 minutes into my 15 minutes of fame capacity, I've had to sell houses before because a crazy person has gotten ahold of the address and shown up. Certainly without any announcement. And there's been a perceived level of threat associated with that. And that isn't one one-hundredth of what you've experienced. So there are commensurate, with your degree of fame, very real trade-offs. Yeah, for sure. There are real-life trade-offs like that. Although I would say the thing that's much more impactful isn't real-life invasion of privacy in your physical space. It's more an invasion into your mental space, into your own identity. And I don't think this is just restricted to being famous. And especially now that the lines have been blurred so much between who's famous and who's not famous. It used to be much more clear-cut. But nowadays, you can be, like you said, on Instagram with a certain number of followers. Fame is much more of a spectrum now. And I think it can be really toxic because it's really addictive, I think. And I think there's a reason for it. I don't think it's evil or something. I like to think of things in terms of how it evolved. And I like to think of early humans, like at the beginning of 2001 or something. And if you go back to early, early human-like creatures out on the savannah trying to survive, it probably was an advantage. If everyone in your tribe or your pack or whatever you want to call it knew you, that probably meant that you were more likely to survive and pass on your genes. And so I think there is something biological in us that wants that attention. And so it's not evil if you feel that urge. I think it's pretty natural. But I think that urge now in the context of modern civilization can be really addictive and sort of poisonous because what happens is you start seeing yourself through the eyes of others more and more of the time. And I think social media has really created a giant leap forward in this direction and is the kind of thing that used to be reserved for very famous people who were maybe stalked by paparazzi or whatever. But now everybody is their own paparazzi. And so I feel like I see it a lot where there's a good word to describe it which I learned recently which is intrinsic versus extrinsic. If you're intrinsically motivated it means that your motivation for whatever it might be is kind of coming from within yourself versus being extrinsically motivated is when your motivation is coming from without, from other people, from wanting to do things because of how other people will perceive it. And I think that's a recipe for unhappiness usually. Not absolutely. This isn't a case of black or white and there's plenty of virtue to wanting to do things that will make other people happy, etc. But when it really gets that deep inside your head where your whole identity becomes a performance, I think that can be unhealthy. It can really do a number on your head and I've seen it. And I've spent my whole life kind of trying to avoid that. Sometimes probably overzealousy and I'm sometimes kind of overprotective or overly allergic to the trappings of fame, etc. But I'm so scared of falling down that rabbit hole of becoming overly extrinsically motivated that I really try to stay away. And especially when it comes to art, which art and fame are sort of odd bedfellows because if you want to be a musician and you want to be an actor, a lot of people, I imagine the people you're describing who really want to be famous, they want to be famous by becoming actors or becoming musicians or becoming some other kind of artist. And again it's complicated because on the one hand it might mean that my work is resonating with lots of people and that's not necessarily bad. But if you're only doing it for that, I feel like that's kind of hollow. And I personally feel like I can hear it or see it in someone's performance. I won't name any artist in particular but sometimes I'll see a performance in a movie or I'll hear a song and I'll be like, "Mmm." I just feel like they're performing for their fame, not for themselves, for something that's inside of them. Well you're alluding to something that has always impressed me about you. You know what, sorry, I want to also add, I think it's important because I just sort of pointed my finger at others. I want to say I'm not entirely innocent of that at all. And that's probably why it scares me also is because I've felt it in myself. It's very seductive and I'm sure I've been guilty of it in moments or in big times. I've been very guilty of it at times, I'm sure, but I really try to keep an eye on it because I've seen what it can do to other people and even to myself. Right, unabated, unarrested, uninterrupted. If you allow that, I'm not going to say infection because like you said, there are some very plausible explanations for why we want or crave social acceptance or validation. But if you apply jet fuel and steroids to it in the form of these technological tools that we now have at our disposal, if all you want is your face to be recognized by 200,000 more people on Instagram, or a million and a half more people on Instagram, whatever it might be, it can be very toxic as you noted. And what I was leading up to is the observation, and this may be incorrect, but at least in a few cases it seems to be true, that you've taken very deliberate breaks from acting, from your career in entertainment, let's call it. And that goes back to your break for school, where you didn't want to, in an unquestioning way, continue on a path that you were put on at age six. So it was a deliberate pattern interrupt. And then later, you took a bunch of time off when you had kids. And I would imagine that in entertainment, perhaps like in technology and the world of startups and venture capital and so on, there has to be, and I want you to poke holes in this if it's not true, but there has to be a degree of fear of missing out in the industries that are associated. There must be people who continue to take whatever jobs they can get because they have a fear of becoming irrelevant. That if they step outside of that slipstream, that no one will remember them X number of years or X number of months later. So they make compromises. And I'd love to hear, you could talk about any number of them, but how have you decided, what has been the self-talk and the thinking as you decide to take breaks? Yeah, well, certainly you're right. The FOMO is real and it's not just a fear because I think maybe even more in show business than maybe any other industry in a certain way. It's who gets a job as an actor is very emotionally driven. Studios have some metrics and stuff that they look at and they have their math formulas about what actors are in, what movies that make what amounts of money. But compared to say what goes on in Silicon Valley, which is really, really data driven, I'm by the way only having learned what that even means fairly recently, but it's really emotionally driven who gets hired as an actor. And so it's a lot about quote unquote heat and if you stop, your heat's gonna die down. And it's a real opportunity cost of taking a break, but the two big breaks that you're talking about, one when I quit acting for a while to go to college and another recently I had kids and took a lot of time off.
When Joe forewent work to be with his kids (01:10:30)
And I'm still kind of taking up, I'm working a lot less right now than I was before I had kids. Of course there's a professional opportunity cost there, but it's a pretty simple comparison. Like what do I care about more? And I don't want to say that, I mean look, talking about parenting is really, really tough because I have found as a parent because everybody's got their own life, everybody's got a unique scenario and everybody makes their choices. And those choices are, they're such high stakes choices that I feel bad even already just saying what I said because I don't want to imply that if someone wasn't able to take as much time off as I was that they were somehow doing a disservice to their kids. I don't think that's necessarily true. I think that's too reductive and it's not that simple. Everybody's got to do what they've got to do. That said, I love having had the chance to work less and spend more time with my kids. And I do think it's wonderful that there are some countries in the world that afford people maternity leave and even paternity leave. That's a lot less common in the US and I was just fortunate enough to have made money in my life where I can afford to do it. Have you had people try to talk you out of taking breaks or has that not really been something you've encountered? Or you commit to taking a break and then you get a call from a manager, agent, whoever it might be and they say, "I know you're on break but we've got this one thing and I think it's worth considering. Let's talk about it." That's funny because what that makes me think of is I have a long time agent named Warren Savalla who was actually an agent of mine assistant when I quit acting and went to school and he was the one calling me when I was at school saying, "I know you're going to school but you might want to consider getting back into acting."
Acting through challenging periods of self-doubt without a backburner (01:12:51)
And then once my heat had died all the way down in my early 20s and I wanted to get back into acting. And by the way I had been known for being on a TV comedy and stuff and I didn't want to do that anymore. I wanted to do dramatic and independent films and stuff and no one really thought that I could do that. No one really thought that I was going to have much more of a career. I think pretty much all of my agents thought, "Well, you're that kid that was on that show and that's where it ends and that's what happens with most kids who are on shows for better or worse." What was the show in Ruffling? I was on Third Rock From the Sun from age 13 to 19. Big show. Thank you, thank you. And one I'm very proud of and remember very fondly but Warren was the only one really who kind of kept calling me and saying, "I think you could be good at doing the things that you want to do." And he's still my agent. And he was the one sort of trying to coax me back into acting when I was taking a break for college. But all these years later when I had kids, he didn't say one thing like that because he knows me too well and we're friends and he wouldn't. He had nothing but respect for me taking the time off that I did and any agents out there listening take note. That is proper etiquette. Yeah, really, really, really well done I think. Which isn't to say that he didn't tell me about the opportunity cost because he did. That's his job. But when he would tell me about the opportunity cost, he wouldn't do it in any kind of passive-aggressive way or threaten me. He would just be telling me the truth and that's what's so good about him as an agent. He really just tells me his perception of the truth of the business which is not always kind but is the most useful information. When you were at that point at 19, let's just say, and there are many non-believers in your ability to explore these other types of acting and so on. And I'm looking at a piece from The Guardian. And feel free to correct this because there are misquotes everywhere about everyone. But when you were asked what type of acting you would like to do, you wanted to be in a movie that might play at Sundance or something by Quentin Tarantino. That's true. And then it comes to if there was a good year or if not more being turned away by casting directors. And then the quote I want to explore is this. There were moments, days even, of listlessness. You know, wallowing in self-rejection and loathing in despair. It closes with I also had pretty strong moments of intense optimism. But aside from Warren's belief in you during that period, the one guy who keeps calling, what helped you get through those periods of rejection and self-doubt? Are there any tools in the toolkit or any particular tips you might give to people who are going through or certainly at some point will go through that type of experience of doubting themselves? That's a great question. Well, the first thing is simply just having good people around you. And I had that, but I think the people who love you no matter what. And I'm lucky to have had that. But beyond that, this goes back to what we were just talking about a minute ago of being intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. I think those are the moments. Hey, it's easy to be extrinsically motivated when the world's just giving you a bunch of thumbs-ups. But it's in those moments where it's just you. In the darker times or the moments of rejection, right? Yeah, I remember… If I may interrupt for a second, what brought up this intrinsic, extrinsic motivation recently or in the last few years? Is that a book that you read that explored that? Was it something else? I believe Grit by Angela Duckworth is a book that explores this in some capacity as it relates to parenting, so how to talk to your kids. Yeah, it might have been that. I think I just heard it from my wife, honestly. If not that book, she might have gotten it from… She's read a fair amount about child development. And that is something that we talk about in terms of parenting, wanting the kid to be intrinsically motivated. And when you overstimulate a kid, it can lead to always chasing that sort of outside approval, which then leads to when you're an adult. If you can't find satisfaction in yourself, you're always going to go looking for it elsewhere, and that might take shape in any number of forms, whether it's looking for ending up in a codependent relationship or an addiction to something or who knows what. Or something much more subtle than that. I think actually you thought of it, and I think it probably was in terms of child development that I learned those words. But I did interrupt you. I apologize for interrupting you. Then I interrupt you. Now I'm going to segue out of my interruption. So you were talking about having good people around you as a support structure and anything else that might come to mind, because you're saying it's easy to be extrinsically oriented when everyone is giving you high fives and making it rain with money for great gigs. But on the flip side, it's very punishing and painful to be extrinsically motivated when you're on the other side. That's just it. I remember it was during this same time that I was trying to become an actor again and failing. I was getting rejected a lot. This is right when I started really taking seriously editing and making my own stuff, because I kind of came to realize I can't just wait around for someone to give me a part. It's too painful. I have to be able to get the joy that I get through creativity on my own. I remember it was around that time I made a little short film and I submitted it to the Cannes Film Festival. It was in French and I did it anonymously. I didn't go through my agent or anything. I wanted to see what would happen if I just didn't pull any of the strings or use any of the connections I had from having worked in show business before. And the short film did not get into the Cannes Film Festival. I was actually surprised because I thought it was really good and I kind of thought it would. A dear friend of mine who's a filmmaker, Ryan Johnson, I've been in two of his movies. His first movie, Brick, and his third movie, Looper. He recently just made Star Wars The Last Jedi. He's a great, great filmmaker, but also a dear friend. And I remember at that time, having just gotten rejected by the Cannes Film Festival, he recommended that I read Letters to a Young Poet. Real Gay. Rainer Real Gay. Sort of a known book, but there's a passage in there all about solitude. I think it gets a lot of what we've been talking about in terms of being intrinsically motivated, which is so important, especially if you're gonna be an artist. Although maybe no matter what you do. And it's all about how you have to just go into yourself and do your very, very best to let everything outside of that fade away. And find what's really, really going on in just your own, whatever you want to call it, your own psyche, your own self, your own whatever. And I think in terms of the kind of dark moments you're talking about where you're facing that kind of rejection, when the world is telling you you're not going to do what you want to do or we don't want you. What really worked for me was just kind of ignoring that and finding motivation to want to keep making things not for them. And taking the power into your own hands to create, start to finish, which I think we're going to spend a lot of time on. We are going to spend quite a bit of time on. And I'm not sure if this is a timing connection. I'd love to ask you.
Zooey Deschanel (01:23:10)
You mentioned Looper, which I'm looking at your filmography. I believe it was 2012. You were a busy, busy, busy boy in 2012. Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush, Looper, Lincoln, lots going on. Now, I was looking at a GQ piece that came out August 2012. And I've only read this name, so I'm probably going to butcher it. Is it Zoe Deschanel? Is that how you say the name? Yeah, Zoe. Perfect. So Zoe said that when the two of you did 500 Days of Summer together, eight years after first working together, you were lighter and less burdened. She said that you changed a lot. Why do you think she said that? And what contributed to the change? That's funny. Well, I think she's comparing it to Zoe and I have done two movies together, 500 Days of Summer. And then, I guess eight years prior, we did this movie together called Manic. It was a little-known, tiny-budget indie drama, which was really, really heavy. So that might have contributed something to it. We were making a movie about kids in a psychiatric lockdown facility. But yeah, I mean, I think I probably felt like I had something to prove. When she and I first met, I was 19. And I was up against exactly that moment that we were just talking about, where I wanted to do a movie that might play at Sundance. And all my agents thought that I should just sign up for another TV comedy for the next five years and had no belief that I could do anything other than that. And the casting directors seemed to agree with them.
The start of HitRecord.com. (01:25:29)
And yeah, I was really worried, I guess, and feeling insecure about that. When did HitRecord enter the picture? And can you tell us how it came to be? Exactly the same time. All right. So I thought there might be a correlation. Not saying it's causative, not saying it's causal, but what is HitRecord? And why? Why did it manifest? Well, it was in the midst of those exact times when I was wanting to get jobs, trying to get jobs, failing to get jobs and feeling like, fuck, I can't keep waiting around for someone else to let me be creative. I have to be able to do it on my own. And HitRecord became this little turn of phrase that I would say to myself in those moments, like a little wordplay about the record button. You know, harkening back to the little videos I would make on the family video camera that had a red circle with R-E-C over it. And when you hit record, you start to do it. And of course, it's sort of a play on a HitRecord. And that was just my little almost kind of personal mantra or something that I had to be the one to do it. I wanted to push the button. I wasn't going to wait to just be an actor and stand in front of the camera. I wanted to hit record. And the play on HitRecord is that HitRecord is an object, but to HitRecord is an action. Anyway, these are the kinds of things that I would stay up late at night amusing about. What has HitRecord become? It's changed a lot since then. Well, I guess I'll just tell the whole long story, right? That's the beauty of a podcast like yours. Yeah, I'm always telling the short version of this story. No, let's do the long version. Well, so I mentioned earlier that right around that time I learned to edit. And so I was finally able to kind of start making things on my own, finish things. And this is like 2004-ish. So a little before YouTube. And I wanted to put the little videos I was starting to make on the internet. And my brother helped me set up a little website called HitRecord. And we named it after this little mantra that I was saying to myself. And it was nothing. It was just a page of HTML where you could download a couple of quick times of videos I had made. And over the next few years I would sometimes put a new video on there, things like that. And then we put a message board on there. Like one of those old PHP message boards for the techies out there. And it looks not too dissimilar from popular message boards nowadays like Reddit or something, but kind of the ancestor of that. And anybody could kind of start their own. It was easy if you knew how to do a little code. My brother was a coder. So he helped me put up this message board. And we watched as this little community formed on a message board at first around these little videos that I was making. But what we noticed that was cool was while some people came and posted on the message board just to talk to me about what I was doing or what I had made. What a lot of people actually wanted to do was make things together. Both with each other and with me. And we saw that. When I say we, I mean my brother and I were like that's cool. That's really new. That's unlike anything you could have done prior to this new technology. And it's different than just playing videos on the Internet because that's kind of just like TV except on a different screen. But if people were actually making things together through the screen, now you're really kind of like doing something new. And we leaned into that. And at this time it was nothing but a hobby. We weren't spending any money. We had no intention of making any money. It was just something we were doing for fun. We spent a lot of time on it and had a lot of fun. But it grew. And then I started thinking and talking with friends of mine about how this sort of collaborative process that was happening within this community on this message board. Would there be a way to have that operate on a grander scale? Could we make things that were sort of at a quality level? Could we make a short film that would get into Sundance? Or could we make music that we could release as a record? Could we make a book that we published? Or could we even maybe one day use this methodology to make a TV show? These are the kinds of things we were wondering. And we set about figuring out how to do it. And we started a company and hired lawyers to figure out the terms of service for the intellectual property of it and everything. We really wanted to maintain the collaborative spirit of people not just sort of submitting a short film and being like, "Hey, I'm now posting my short film to your website. Will you try to get it into Sundance for me?" But instead, having there be a community of people that are working together and saying, "Well, I can do this. I can do this. Oh, you wrote something? Well, maybe I'll rewrite it. Or maybe I'll draw something based on what you wrote." And then maybe someone else will be like, "Oh, I like your drawing. Maybe I'll animate your drawing." And seeing what can kind of come out of that. And it started working. And that was in 2010. We launched it. And it's grown a lot since then. We did those things. We made short films that got into Sundance. And we published books. And we put out records. And we even made a TV show that won an Emmy. And we've paid artists a couple million dollars now over the years. And the funny thing, actually, what comes to mind speaking to you is because you really come from the world of entrepreneurship and business. We never treated it that way. It was always more of an art project. Even though it's become profitable over the last four years, it's paid for itself. I bankrolled it at first, and then it started paying for itself. But I remember people years ago would say, "How are you going to build it to scale?" And I'd be like, "Oh, I don't know what that means." So I'm going to pretend like I don't care. And it's only now that we've accomplished some of the things that we looked to accomplish. And we're now looking to accomplish even more ambitious things that I've come to realize. If we're going to do more than just one TV show at a time, if we're going to make lots of things and involve more and more people and really try to set an example for how the internet could be something besides just a showcase, but actually a place where people are productive together. We need to make this thing work as a business in addition to an art project. And it's something that I'm actually excited about recently. What I've been focusing on is figuring out not how to change it, but just how to figure out how to arrange it and make it work so that it can really grow and make it more accessible to more people. That's what we've been focused on recently.
Acting, Hitrecord And Self-Expression
Art projects versus business startups and the lessons that can be applied in practice. (01:34:33)
Well, it seems like you're well on your way. I mean, you've had, certainly with the successes on the platform and the collaborative model where you're paying out to various contributors who add their skill sets and so on to given projects, you've attracted the attention of some very big brands who have come to the site for help with creative projects. And I want to, before I keep traveling on that thread, underscore something that you said, which is this didn't start off as a business. It started off as an art project. And if even though I can put on the business hat and I can run different perspective projects through a business set of filters, my retrospectively, and this is often the only way that you can see things clearly, hindsight being 20/20, but my best business decisions, if someone were to look at the things that have turned out financially to deliver the most value to me personally, and to the world, quite frankly, they did almost all of them started off with no financial considerations. Yeah. And I'm not saying that if you need to make rent payments, that that's the best way to figure out how to solve that problem. It isn't. But if you look at the, for instance, even my involvement in tech and startups, it began with me planning out two years of what would be a real world MBA, because I wanted to develop certain skill sets. And I was quite frankly just fascinated by this new world. I knew very little about that a friend of mine was very deeply involved with or the podcast. The podcast began because I was completely burned out after completing this book called The Four Hour Chef, which was an intense, intense project that should have taken three years. It was crammed into a year and a half. I'm very proud of the product. I don't think we sacrificed there, but in order not to sacrifice there, I just had to kill myself effectively for the entire period of time. And the podcast was something I wanted to experiment with because I enjoyed being on the interviewee side of the table so much on shows like The Joe Rogan Experience and Nerdist and WTF with Marc Maron, that I thought it would be a relaxing but productive way to decompress. I would be able to focus on getting better at asking questions while simultaneously doing something that was completely different in some respects from writing a book. And no monetization model, no plans to have any type of sponsors, nothing. That's how it started. And I think that the reason, people ask me all the time, they're like, "Do you still want to do the podcast? Are you still having fun?" And I'm like, "Yeah, I am actually still having fun." And I think in part it's because it began with that being one of the sole criterion for continuing it. Was, "Am I actually enjoying this? I'm going to commit to doing six episodes, and if I hate it, I'm going to stop. And in fact, if it just bugs me a little bit, I'm going to stop." And lo and behold, I enjoyed it more than I expected and I kept doing it. So I think that you're in a great position because this platform, born out of passion of yours and the others involved in the very early stages, was adopted. You've proven out the model in many respects, which by the way, a lot of the best entrepreneurs I know adopt as their path, whether it's Garrett Camp, co-founder of Uber or others who help get projects to a very, very viable stage before looking for, for instance, any kind of outside funding. You've, I think, checked off the preliminaries in a very organic way that sets you up potentially now if you want to create something that is not just self-sustaining but, say, fast-growing to then bring in partners or outside funding if desired, if that makes sense, to really multiply how large this can become and how quickly it can become that. Well, that's really, really exciting to hear you say that.
Launching his film career at a young age (01:39:01)
Yeah, yeah, I know. I believe that. So, at this point… But you know what? I wanted to just jump back one second because what you said reminded me of something that I think sort of ties a lot of what we've been talking about together. And that's when I first, first, first started acting, I was young. I was like six. Right. Very young. Yeah. And my mom asked me if I wanted to do it. I think it's still, you know, I had been singing in a choir and was in some like community theater and having grown up in L.A., some of the kids that were in my community theater were going on auditions for commercials and shows and stuff. And she asked if I wanted to do that. And I said, "Yeah." And I always really liked it. But there would be moments sometimes where I'd be like, "Oh, I don't feel like going on an audition today," or whatever. And she would always say, "You really don't have to do this. I want to make sure you never feel like you have to. We're only doing this because you're enjoying it. I can tell that you really enjoy it. But if at any point you don't want to, you should just stop." And she wasn't saying it in any kind of manipulative way. I realized that sounded like, "If you want to stop." No, I think she really wanted to make sure I had that out. And I eventually did take the out later in life. But it gets back to what you were saying of doing something because you really want to do it. And that's that intrinsic motivation as opposed to extrinsic. If it's really, really something you want to do way down there, there's kind of no substitute for that.
The evolution of HitRecord and Joseph's goals (01:41:01)
How are you thinking about the next few years of your life and HitRecord and all these things? You have a family now, certainly in a different place than you were 10 years ago, certainly 15, 20 years ago. Where is HitRecord going and where are you going, do you think, in the next few years? Yeah, I mean, look, I love movies and I hope I get to keep working on them. And by movies, I mean, whether it's movies or TV or whatever, it's all kind of blending together now. I hope I get to keep doing that my whole life. But what I would really like to do is try to find a way to ultimately blend my conventional career and show business with what we're doing on HitRecord. And I think that's still a while away before those two sides will really meld together. But one does kind of feed the other. Certainly, whenever I have some success, if I'm in a movie that comes out that does well, HitRecord sees a spike in interest, etc. But I really love the idea of the media being something different than what it's been. And I think, frankly, maybe 10 years ago or so, or even a little more, when what's been called Web 2.0 was starting up, when YouTube emerged and things like that. I was really optimistic about that. And I think everyone was. This is going to change the media, this is going to democratize media, this is going to make it so that the media is no longer about celebrity and narcissism and things like that. It's going to be about substance and beauty. And that obviously hasn't quite come to pass. I think I was maybe a little over optimistic. And I don't think that HitRecord is necessarily like the antidote, the be all and end all. But it is our, and I say our, a community now of 600,000 people, it's our stab at a different way of doing it where you don't come on and just say, "Hey world, look at me, look at me, look at me, look what I'm doing, look what I made." It's about like, what can we make together? And to me it really feels like that's the promise of the internet as a whole, is people connecting to be productive together. Not just to be endlessly entertained and fed ads. And that's what I hope to try to foster.
How HitRecord can be an educational and networking tool (01:44:22)
I find HitRecord fascinating also, people can check it out, hitrecord.org if that's the best URL to use. But in part because you can peek under the hood and see how different types of projects are made. And the constituent parts and the team that is involved. And I'm looking at the site right now, you have the project development site, right? You have a list of projects that are in concept development. Then you have a list of projects that are in advanced development. Then you have a list of projects and funded projects. And people can get a better understanding and education about how creative projects get made from the earliest stages to final product. And it's an opportunity, I'm asked all the time, what type of company should I start? From say college seniors. And I taught a lecture in high tech entrepreneurship, which was oddly enough an electrical engineering course. Not oddly because of the title, but because I have no electrical engineering background whatsoever. But I took this course, ELE 491 with an incredible professor named Professor Shao. And I was invited back to talk to students. And I would get asked very often, what type of company should I start? Or even worse, I hate to say this, but even worse would be, what are the trends right now? And what industry should I go into? I'm like, Oh God, that's that's setting you up for a lot of pain if that's the that's the only filter you're using. But it presupposes that people should out of the gate start their own company. And I'm not saying that they should or should not. But also what type of movie should I make? What type of album should I put together? One recommendation... The same thing happens in movies for sure. Absolutely. And one of the recommendations that I often make, it's not always the best fit. There are some people who are just like, Okay, this is the next Zuckerberg. You know what, like you do not need to spend five years at someone else's company to learn the ropes. But for a lot of folks, maybe it is worthwhile to spend, in the case of startups, a year or two years at a fast growing startup, so that you see exactly how this puzzle looks when it is put together in the early stages and to really build an education and skill sets and relationships that will then help you when you decide to start your own thing. And I think that HitRecord is also an opportunity to do that collaboratively. It's like, all right, you think you might want to launch a career as a musician? You think you might want to launch a career as a filmmaker? Well, why not kick the tires by contributing on a project in one of those categories before you decide to bet the farm or jump headfirst into one of these things? So I think that it's really a fascinating opportunity to educate yourself and develop skills and relationships simultaneously, even if you are not aiming to start your own project, if that makes sense. Well, it's funny you say that because actually that's one of the things we tell people who just join is don't start out by starting your own thing. Find someone else's thing that you like and help them and contribute because there's lots of people on there, talented people who've got their own projects going and they need contributions, whether it's music or a writing project or a film project or a design project. We kind of do all kinds of media, but they need those contributions to come in. And that's the best way to start getting involved. If you show up on HitRecord and immediately say, "I'm starting my own project," it's sort of like walking into a production company as the first day on the job entry level and saying, "Okay, everybody follow me. I'm going to lead this whole company in a project now." It might work sometimes, but more often it's better to, like you say, work on other people's stuff first. Get your feet wet and learn how it goes because the way things get made on HitRecord is really different than the way things get made anywhere else in the world, sort of, because it's this open, collaborative process. It's very different than... I mean, there are similarities and differences to, say, a conventional movie set. But on a conventional movie set, not anyone can just stroll on and offer their ideas, throw in their two cents or write a scene. Those doors aren't open. Whereas on HitRecord, anybody can, and then there's the whole process of finding, "Okay, well if anybody can come in and try to make stuff," you need people that are going through all the contributions and finding the ones that are the most applicable, that can be useful in the final production. It's sort of its own beast and one I've come to really love. But it takes some getting used to for sure, and so I totally agree. Get started by finding someone on there who you admire, you think is good at what they do, and see what they're up to and see if you can help them.
Y Combinator (01:49:55)
And this applies to so many different domains also. It makes me think of Y Combinator, and for people who don't know what Y Combinator is, you can think of it as the Harvard meets Navy SEALs of startup incubators. That's one way to think about it. The acceptance rate is exceptionally low. And they start off with very short, actually I should say they filter applications first, then the next round is, at least last I checked, this is constantly evolving. And Y Combinator has become incredibly powerful. Also a lot of great essays by one of the co-founders, Paul Graham. If people want to look up one of my favorites, I think it's manager's schedule versus maker's schedule. Also very helpful for creatives. One of the questions, and I'll paraphrase, but a paraphrased version of one of the questions that they very commonly ask, or at least did for a long period of time was, "Tell us about something you've made, or something that you've made recently." That doesn't have to be from blank slate. Just as you noted in your undergraduate experience, some of the classes might have been super compelling, but a lot of them were very abstract and based on rote memorization and not putting the rubber to the road. In my experience, if you want to learn how to do X, go do X. Particularly if there's a way to do it with minimal risk, where you have the opportunity to observe other people who are attempting the same thing. For some, that might take the form of going to RISD and learning design and having active critiques. I'm actually sitting on something called CritBuns, which is literally an ass-cheek supporter that was the first real product made by Joe Gebbia, co-founder of Airbnb. Ass cheeks need some support. Yeah, CritBuns. There you go. Joe, please give me my customary 5%. Where I'm going with that is that HitRecord and other environments that allow this type of open collaboration, for instance, I'm an advisor at a company called MATT Automatic. For those who are wondering how that was named, well, the founder's name is Matt Mollenweg. There you go. Insider. He has his first name and the company name. But he was one of the, if not considered the lead developer on WordPress. And you can see this type of beautiful collaboration. And you also see, look, in any large community, you're also going to have some strife and the occasional village idiot. That's going to happen. But this incredible dynamic of organic creation that comes out of an open source project like that. I think you can also see on HitRecord, but in some cases a very visual medium. So, in any case, that's just my way. And I don't have any secret equity stake in HitRecord. I think it's a very, very exciting environment and sandbox in which creatives can experiment. That's cool what you're saying, man. Thank you. Yeah. So, you said 600,000 or so people. Let me know when you hit a million and I'll take a short video of me taking a tequila shot and shoot it back over to you. Nice. And I want to be respectful of your time. You have so many different things that you can spend your time on. So, I really appreciate you taking time to have this conversation, first of all. Oh, man. My pleasure. Sincerely. And do you have any parting words, requests of the audience, anything that you'd like to convey or suggest or ask before we wrap up?
Self-expression without burden or the necessity of being the next superstar (01:53:51)
You know, the last thing that I might say, and it does connect to a lot of the other things we were saying, is just then when you were talking about how if you want to do X, go and do X. If you want to learn to do something, if you're considering a career, for example, as a musician or as a writer or an animator, maybe HitRecord might be a cool step. So, I would just talk about the other side of the coin, which is without any goal at all, if it just feels good to you. Maybe you don't want to be a professional artist of any kind. But I think there's a lot of people out there who have that urge to make stuff that don't necessarily want to dedicate their entire life to it. I think that's equally important. That's sort of a part of creative culture that in a certain way, I feel like we lose track of sometimes in this world where Silicon Valley is so excited to say to everybody, "We're democratizing media and entertainment, and now anybody can be a superstar!" That's cool, but in older times, if you wanted to hear music, well, there wasn't a radio, there wasn't a gramophone. If you wanted to hear music, it was going to be because your uncle happened to play an instrument or something. And you would hear music not because you were listening to professionals play it or a recording of a professional playing it. You would hear your close people around you, friends, family. That's the original meaning of folk music. And in fact, it's also the original meaning of pop music. Popular music. Popular meaning people. It's people. And I think that's the same goes for storytelling. Or for art of any kind, really. There's something really beautiful about people who aren't necessarily trying to be the next superstar, but who have that creativity in them and want to do stuff with it. I think that's also really important to let out of you. You don't have to measure it up against, "Well, if I put my song on the internet or my story, is it going to get enough likes? Or do they think that I suck?" Who fucking cares? That's not what's ultimately going to make you happy. That ties back to the fame question. What's going to make you happy is if you have that urge to do it. And that's kind of where HitRecord came from for me. And that's what I hope that it can continue to be for most of the people that come aren't necessarily trying to be pros. There are some that are. And oftentimes those are the folks that end up leading. But most people are just having a good time making stuff together. And I never want HitRecord to lose that. For what it's worth. I think it's worth a lot. And I'm trying to pay more and more attention to what I would do if I couldn't tell anyone or show anyone. Or maybe it's limited to two or three friends who come over on Friday nights to have a glass of scotch and just say, "Hey, what the fuck have you been up to?" "Alright, what do I show them?" And that's it. That's the limit of the audience. I'm not doing market testing. And that can lead to some really beautiful places. So I'm spending more time thinking about that myself. So I appreciate the reminder.
Other Notable Topics And Personal Anecdotes
Connect with Joe (01:57:58)
Where can people say hello if they want to try to say hello on the interwebs? If you're on the socials, if there is anything that you'd like to put out there to the world, if people would like to wave a hand. Or you can leave it at HitRecord.org. Are there any other places that you would like to mention before we put a pin in it? Yeah, if you want to make stuff together, HitRecord, that's kind of what it's for. And I am on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. So you can check those out too. Alright, I will link to the real accounts in the show notes. Just a fan account. I don't want to have people go through 17 of those. So for people listening, as you know, if you're a long-term listener, but if you're not, let me tell you a little bit about how the show works. We will have links to everything, including HitRecord.org, including the books that were mentioned, Letters to a Young Poet, very powerful book that I recommend to everyone. And just a side note, Save the Cat, which I also actually think is one of the, despite some of the cynicism and sterility of a few aspects of it, a very helpful book as a starting point when thinking of screenwriting. And also calls me on my own bullshit, meaning I've been talking about and thinking about screenwriting for so long, to the extent that I have fans who are hassling me about it. And thank you for hassling me about it, everybody out there. So, taking a page from this conversation on if you want to learn it, just do it. I think I have to stop reading books. I have to stop asking people for advice and just actually sit down and stare at that intimidating blank page. Write a few shorts first. That's exactly, that would be my advice. I'm going to get on it. So a few shorts. And Joe, thank you so much again for taking the time. This was a lot of fun. Thank you, Tim. And to everybody listening, until next time, thank you for listening.
Five Bullet Friday (02:00:04)
Cheers. Hey guys, this is Tim again. Just a few more things before you take off. Number one, this is Five Bullet Friday. Do you want to get a short email from me? Would you enjoy getting a short email from me every Friday that provides a little morsel of fun for the weekend? And Five Bullet Friday is a very short email where I share the coolest things I've found or that I've been pondering over the week that could include favorite new albums that I've discovered, it could include gizmos and gadgets and all sorts of weird shit that I've somehow dug up in the world of the esoteric as I do. It could include favorite articles that I've read and that I've shared with my close friends, for instance. And it's very short. It's just a little tiny bite of goodness before you head off for the weekend. So if you want to receive that, check it out. Just go to 4hourworkweek.com. That's 4hourworkweek.com all spelled out and just drop in your email and you will get the very next one. And if you sign up, I hope you enjoy it.
This episode is brought to you by WordPress.com. I love WordPress. I have used it for so many years. It's my go-to platform for blogging and creating websites. I use WordPress.com for everything, every day. My site, Tim.blog, is built on it. The websites for my books, including Tools of Titans, Tribe of Mentors, all on WordPress.com. And the founder, Matt Mullenweg, one of my close friends, has appeared on this show many times. Just search Matt Mullenweg, Tequila, Ferris for quite an exciting time. Whether you're looking to create a personal blog, a business site, or both, you can make a really big impact right out of the box when you build on WordPress.com. And you'll be in good company. It's used by The New Yorker, Jay-Z, Beyonce, FiveThirtyEight, TechCrunch, TED, CNN, and Time just to name a handful. And one of my friends at Google, she'll remain nameless, has told me that WordPress.com offers the "best out of the box SEO imaginable." And it's one of the many reasons that nearly 30% of the internet is run on WordPress. You do not need experience or to hire someone. That's perhaps the best part. WordPress.com guides you through the entire experience. They have hundreds of designs and templates that you can use. And it's easy to get started. There's no need to worry about security, upgrades, posting, any of that. They offer 24/7 support and they're very, very responsive. If you have questions, they go right back to you. And this allows you to create the highest quality with the least amount of headache and friction. So if you're building a website, period, when my friends come to me and ask what I use, what I recommend they use, the answer is WordPress.com. So check it out. If you want to get started today, learn more with a 15% discount off any new plan. Go to WordPress.com/Tim to create your website and find the plan that's right for you. So learn more. Pick a look. WordPress.com/Tim for 15% off your brand new website. Check it out.
Sponsor Introduction Four Sigmatic (02:03:10)
This episode is brought to you by Four Sigmatic. If you're a long time listener of the show or brand new to the podcast, my favorite Finnish entrepreneurs who founded this company. Of course, I don't know that many Finnish entrepreneurs, but they may be my favorites. Have something new that I've been loving. And some of you are familiar with Four Sigmatic. I've used their products for years now. They were introduced to me by an acrobat of all folks, and they tend to mix different types of medicinal mushrooms into their products. I have recently started using their Matcha, which is a green tea, which is designed as a coffee alternative. And if you're trying to cut back on caffeine, as I am these days, the Matcha is a great option. And one that I originally learned to love in Japan. It has a very smooth texture to it. Their Matcha blend, in particular, includes the amino acid L-theanine, which helps to provide a, let's call it, balanced boost of energy without jitters. It also includes the Adaptogen Australagus, if I'm pronouncing that correctly, which may help with overall stress tolerance. And for those of you who are wondering, no, the products don't taste like mushrooms.
Francis has always liked light-yellow coats. (02:04:17)
If they say mushroom coffee, for instance, another product that I use doesn't taste like mushrooms, it tastes like coffee. But you get the nutritional benefits of some of these special ingredients. So the products don't taste like mushrooms and are enjoyable. I offer them to my houseguests and use them myself, and I don't particularly want to drink anything that tastes like mushrooms. So, moving on. The folks at Four Sigmatic have designed a few special deals for you guys, my listeners, which include many of my favorite products of theirs. So check it out. Visit foursigmatic, F-O-U-R-S-I-G-M-A-T-I-C dot com forward slash Tim Tim. That's T-I-M-T-I-M, no space. To see these special deals, which are not offered anywhere else, remember to use the code Tim Tim. I don't know why they chose Tim Tim, but there we go. Remember to use the code Tim Tim at checkout to receive your special discount. Again, that's foursigmatic dot com forward slash Tim Tim, and enter the promo code Tim Tim.
Personal Traits And Characteristics
Francis considers himself a skeptical person with a curious nature. (02:05:17)
Check it out. the group Fifteen This is My