Collaborative Writing And Creative Projects With Jared Geller of HitRECORD

Jared Geller - Collaborative Writing

What is HitRECORD?

HitRECORD is a creative platform where writers can collaborate with illustrators, graphic designers, and other creatives across disciplines on short films, animations, scripts and more.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jared Geller founded the company in 2004. It claims over 900,000 users and employs 40 people in Los Angeles.

I recently interviewed Jared and in this interview, he explains:

  • How writers can use a platform like HitRECORD
  • Why every creative project needs a leader
  • What it takes to start a creative project on HitRECORD
  • Why successful creatives collaborate

And lots more.

I start by asking him how creatives can use HitRECORD.

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Bryan Collins:
So, it's nice to talk to you today, Jared. I was wondering if you could start by telling me how exactly HitRecord works for people who aren't familiar with the platform.
Jared Geller:
Sure. HitRecord is a creative platform where people from all over the world participate in all sorts of creative projects, where they contribute individual elements, like little ingredients, whether those are song projects and they contribute lyrics or whether it's video projects and they contribute short form pieces of video that add up to something that they couldn't have necessarily done on their own. So, what we like to say is we break down the creative process into bite-sized pieces so that anybody feels like they can participate and then people contribute those little piece and the community that's on our platform, they work together, they collaborate to create, like I said, finished songs, videos, animation, short form documentary, tiny stories and that's how it works.
Bryan Collins:
What type of creatives do you find are using the platform?
Jared Geller:
Sure. HitRecord isn't necessarily a place to come for professional opportunities. It's for really anyone. Creativity is a human universal. So, anybody who has that inclination to want to express themselves can and does participate in the process. When I mentioned that we like to think that by breaking down the creative process into bite-sized pieces, it demystifies the whole idea of making things. So, anybody feels like they can participate. And what I mean by that is, if you were to say to me, "Hey, do you want to write a song together?" I wouldn't necessarily know what you meant. But if you said, "Hey, do you want to write a few lyrics about the feeling of loneliness or do you want to draw a picture of the sun or do you want to take a photograph of a landscape or whatever the case may be?"
Jared Geller:
By breaking down the creative process into super bite sized pieces that anybody feels like they can do, that's when people join in and become a part of our community and participate in all sorts of different creative projects.
Bryan Collins:
So, I'm looking at the HitRecord site at the moment and one of the banners talks about audio tales. So, if I had a script for a story, is that something I could share in HitRecord?
Jared Geller:
It's something that you could share. But, what we find is that when people talk about their own experiences, you get some really awesome stories and you get stories that you never would have thought because everybody's experience is so unique to them. So, what we have found is if people write about themselves or if they record audio talking about their own experience, one, it's easier for people to do.
Jared Geller:
People feel like that's not so big of a lift. But also, the stories tend to be more unique. What we've found is, like I said, the more people who contribute, you really do get that rich sense of storytelling. The more inclusive you can be about the opportunities of the creative opportunities. The more interesting the results in our experience are, and that's not just for audio stories. That's for music, that's for illustration, that's for photography, for video. When people are actually contributing their own experiences, that's when the surprise and the magic comes out.
Bryan Collins:
So, the platform is quite big. Do you have any success stories that you'd like to point to or maybe collaborations that really took off and surprised everyone?
Jared Geller:
Yeah, sure. Look, there are thousands of projects on the platform. Most of the projects are people starting their own and rallying community. There's a project that someone started and ... Oh man, I wish I had all of this. I wish I had ... I think her name is Sabine. Started a project called Tracing Scars. This isn't something that we would have started on our own or I would have even thought about. But she had this idea that everybody has scars, whether they're physical or internal or whatever the case may be. And she started a project where she said, "let's all talk about the different scars that we have." And people started recording videos of different ... they would point to scars that they had and or that they have and they would talk about how they got them, whether it was surgery from a cleft palate or a young trans man was talking about his transition surgery and giving. So, people were rallying around this idea of talking about their scars, whether physical or internal.
Jared Geller:
And Sabine has made a series of this project thematic, what are the scars that we have? Talk about whether they're internal, external. And she's created a series. And you can imagine, well, one, this isn't an idea that we would've had. So, the surprise in that and the power of inclusivity is getting people to participate in something that they wouldn't have necessarily had the opportunity to do in the first place. Providing a platform for people to create and lead projects leads to these surprising results. But also, I think one of the things that's surprising and really wonderful about the platform is people make themselves really vulnerable to talk about ... especially with this project. That's a really beautiful thing about creativity and also human connection and understanding is that when we talk about our experience, especially with subject matter that is so personal about like the experiences that I just mentioned, I mean look. If we're talking about humanity, what better way to think about human understanding than to share stories like the scars that we have?
Bryan Collins:
I like that. Do you find the stories and projects tend to live on HitRecord or they take a life of their own outside of it?
Jared Geller:
Yeah. We have all sorts of different kinds of projects. We've made TV shows. Our television show, HitRecord on TV, won an Emmy award. Multiple projects that we've done have been seen by a lot of people. We work with brands. We did a series of TV commercials for LG that ran on the world series and all over television. Right now, we have a partnership with Zappos that's gone really, really well and we'll be continuing that where we create all sorts of art that is syndicated throughout social media and their platform. We have an awesome relationship with Ubisoft where people from all over the world are creating content, music, visual assets, stories that will actually go into AAA video games.
Jared Geller:
We were just at Sundance, actually, and got to share some of the art and creativity that our community creates at Sundance. I think it was our fifth time there. So, we have a nice home at Sundance. It's a really beautiful thing. I mean, there's all sorts of ways that the art that our community creates has gotten to reach a more mainstream audience and we're always excited to get to share our stuff with a wider audience because not only are we proud of what we get to make and what our community has created, but when people see the stuff that we're making, then more people participate because they see, "Oh, I could do that. I want to participate in that." So, it's a real symbiotic relationship that we have with our distribution partner.
Bryan Collins:
So, that's fantastic. I didn't realize you guys have won an Emmy. That's amazing. Who would own like the final creative project? Because some creatives will definitely be open to collaborating, whereas other creatives might have a few reservations.
Jared Geller:
Sure. I mean, I think, from the very beginning, we always wanted to make HitRecord a safe space for anybody. People who don't have any professional aspirations to be a creative professional or people who do make a living doing it. I think every few years we see a terms of service update on popular social media platforms and we all take a step back and say, "Oh no, what are they going to be able to do with our content?" We're very upfront with our terms of service, which are when you upload any piece of content you provide us with the nonexclusive license to the content and when you do that, you provide us with a license to monetize that content.
Jared Geller:
We will share any of the profits with the individual contributor. But to note, people aren't uploading their finished song. They're not uploading their screenplay. They're uploading individual small ingredients, very bite-size building blocks that create a greater whole. So, I think that dynamic has made people feel super comfortable because look, if you're an aspiring creative professional and you have your screenplay that you're shopping around, don't put it on HitRecord because that's just not the place for it. But if you want to express yourself creatively and you want to participate and collaborate with other people and sometimes have that work be licensed to a larger audience, and that's a great thing, then come to HitRecord.
Bryan Collins:
Do you find somebody will naturally bring together all of the different pieces that have been uploaded? Like they'll almost become the showrunner or director, or does it just organically take shape?
Jared Geller:
Yeah. Collaboration requires some form of leadership. There's usually an individual or a group of individuals who will take on a leadership role, whether that's a story editor, somebody like a writer, a musician starting a project or is helping to guide a project or song that will put the pieces together. Oftentimes, somebody who's really great at visual effects will take individual illustrations or a series of illustrations and put it together. In fact, what we've been developing over the last year and we've been beginning to launch in the last three months, are project tools that will help people who want to lead projects be able to do that using technology and using, you know, you know, feature sets that allow people who want to lead projects to get them completed.
Jared Geller:
Because collaboration, especially creative collaboration, oftentimes does take leadership.
Bryan Collins:
Yeah, I would agree. I would agree with that. You've got some interesting projects as well. You have one where the community are creating soundtracks for a computer game for Watchdogs. That's a pretty interesting project. So, it seems like it'd be a great way to make a name for yourself if you wanted to as a creative.
Jared Geller:
Yeah. Like I said, most people who are coming to HitRecord, they're not coming for professional opportunities. It has happened. There's an artist who started ... Tiny Stories is a huge project on our platform that was created by an awesome artist named Wirrow. And we had a book series with Harper Collins called Tiny Stories. There's, I think, four volumes of that book that it's a really popular project, the Tiny Book of Tiny Stories.
Jared Geller:
And that's a great example of somebody who is really, from a creative standpoint, created a project that's super popular and has gone on to be distributed by a major publisher and that artist has collaborated with the HitRecord community to get that art out there. But what we find is, and this is based on surveys and conversations for years, because our community has over a decade old at this point. And what we have come to understand, and it's not necessarily intuitive because I think most media tech companies place the emphasis on the finished product and there's a monetization plan that's exclusively tied to the content itself.
Jared Geller:
But what we find, and like I said, it's not necessarily intuitive, is the reason why people come to HitRecord is because they love the experience of being creative together. They like making things together. We asked our community, "Hey, should we be doing more TV shows? Should we be doing more branded content? Should we be doing more fill in the blank?" And the number one response was, "We don't care where it goes. That's cool that we're making all this stuff, but what we really want is just to make stuff together and to have whatever we're making be finished and be celebrated in some way." And that's when we thought, "Okay, we'll continue to make TV shows and partner with brands and make projects with Ubisoft and things like that.
Jared Geller:
But what we really want to lean into is optimizing the experience of being creative and really support the creative process, which is why we're really investing in project tools. So, if you're a project leader, how can we really create an experience that'll allow you to collaborate with more people and make that experience really great? A key part of that is figuring out how to help people finish their project, because if you keep on asking people to participate and nothing feels like it's getting done, then it's frustrating and people won't want to participate.
Bryan Collins:
So, you're talking about the tools. Could you give me an example of some of the tools that you've rolled out? I understand HitRecord completed a funding around last year and YouTube used it to build out the platform. So, could you talk a little bit about some of those tools?
Jared Geller:
Yeah. So, a couple things. One is one of the questions that we would always be asked is I want to start a project, but I don't know what to do next in what sequence. So, we've created tools for people who want to start projects and we have all sorts of categories, whether you want to make a song, music video, documentary, a short form documentary video, things like that. Creating a little bit of a template to say like, "Hey here in our experience, collaborating with people from all over the world, here's what we think the steps are and here's a basic template for how you can do this." Of course, it's all customizable, so there's tools for people to lead projects.
Jared Geller:
We're also developing new ... you can have all the tools in the world, but sometimes not everybody feels like they can make an animated short film or a music video, but they want to lead a project. So, we're also developing simpler formats. Like I said, an audio tale. For example, I couldn't lead a project for animation because I'm not an animator, but I know how to tell a story. I know what makes a good story and I could probably identify different audio stories and put them together. So, we are also starting to create and at least propose to the community simpler creative formats so that more people feel like they can participate in leading projects.
Jared Geller:
On the mobile side, what's super interesting is you carry a phone in your pocket every day, all day and there aren't a ton of collaboration tools out there with a community attached to it. So, we've developed some really super simple contribution flows and, I would say, creator/contribution flows. And what that means is let's say there was an audio tale project and there was a bit of writing that you were looking for people to voice. Like, you were looking for people to do voiceover. Just the simple user interface of having the script and the audio record button and a way to contribute your audio file directly to that project all on the same screen is so huge. It sounds like such a simple, of course, idea. But if you have a piece of writing and you have to toggle between your mic and then you have to find ... it creates actually some friction and we just rolled out this new contribution for voice acting.
Jared Geller:
The contributions have gone through the roof. I mean, in the last two weeks. I can get you the stats because I don't have them at my fingertips right now. But, it's something like 10 X in just two weeks. So, what we're doing is developing tools that will make it way easier for people to contribute to people's projects and collaborate. Like, if you had a song and you said, "I want everybody to sing this chorus." What if you were able to listen to the click track in your earbuds, sing into your phone's microphone, and it automatically contributes to the project and your isolated vocal stem? So, the project leader has all of these things and then they can put it into their Pro Tools session, and it makes it more simple.
Jared Geller:
So, those are the kinds of tools that we're creating.
Bryan Collins:
I like that. How many people work in HitRecord at the moment?
Jared Geller:
Right now there's 40 people.
Bryan Collins:
Okay. It's a quite big. Are they around the world or based in Los Angeles?
Jared Geller:
We're all in Los Angeles. We're able to work remotely, of course, during this time, but it's important for us in terms of creative to sometimes really come together and be under one roof. We find that works for us.
Bryan Collins:
And is Joseph Gordon-Levitt still involved in the day to day?
Jared Geller:
Oh yeah. Yeah. His desk is right next to mine.
Bryan Collins:
Okay. Very close. Very good.
Bryan Collins:
So, if somebody wanted to get started creating on HitRecord, where should they go?
Jared Geller:
What I would say to do is download our mobile app and you'll be provided with a few very simple creative prompts that hopefully will inspire you to participate immediately. The App will start to get to know the kinds of projects that you like to participate in and serve you up with creative prompts and little projects for you to participate in and to get you started and then maybe one day you might want to start your own project.
Bryan Collins:
I like that. Actually, just one last question. One thing that struck me is the role of constraint in a creative project. Do you find that's important? Do you think constraints free creativity?
Jared Geller:
Yeah. I think blank canvas syndrome is a real thing. I think a lot of people want to express themselves, they just don't know how. But if you said, "Tell us about your first experience behind the wheel of a car or how do you stay active or what does the color of green make you think of?" If you can get really specific, people have ideas they want to express themselves, but they don't necessarily know how. If you give them the opportunity and the occasion, if you give them a creative prompt and then also "Hey, we're doing this thing right now and you only have a week to do it." It really motivates people to participate.
Bryan Collins:
Finally, you're quite busy obviously, but do you have an ideal early morning routine?
Jared Geller:
Me personally?
Bryan Collins:
Yeah. Or even an ideal morning routine if it's not an early morning routine.
Jared Geller:
My morning routine, it's pretty regular. I need an iced coffee. That's it.
Bryan Collins:
There's nothing wrong with that.
Jared Geller:
I wake up, have a nice coffee. I'm pretty active, but I do most of my physical workout stuff at night but try to roll into the office nine or nine 30 and then it's off to the races.
Bryan Collins:
Okay. Well, it was great to talk to you today, Jared.
Jared Geller:
Thank you. It's great to talk to you too. I appreciate the time.

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