It takes six seconds to read a short tragedy about an upbeat orange and a suicidal egg in The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume I. One of 33 bite-sized narratives culled from nearly 8,600 submissions to actor-slash-crowd-sourcing impresario Joseph Gordon-Levitt's hitRECord website, the tale is told with haiku-like precision in 26 words and one drawing.
"This is very much an exercise in brevity," says Gordon-Levitt, who edited many of the collection's wee pieces. "How economical can you be with your storytelling, how much fat can you trim, how much redundancy can you eliminate?"
Tiny Book, which will be followed by two sequels in fall 2012 and 2013, also is an exercise in group-authored works. Four contributors share credit for the untitled orange/egg bit, which started as a short video by an anonymous contributor named "oddtree" before moonbug, Marke and Gordon-Levitt himself, known on the site as RegularJOE, got their hands on it.
"I'm shit at drawing," Gordon-Levitt laughs. "I could not have illustrated this book, at all, and that's the beautiful thing about it: When you let go of being the unilateral creator and let in a collaborative community, things take on qualities that never would have happened through the old-fashioned, ownership-oriented creative process."
Raised by left-leaning parents -- his mom ran for congress as a Peace and Freedom Party candidate and his journalist father wrote for the L.A. Free Press -- young Gordon-Levitt co-starred for six seasons on TV comedy 3rd Rock From the Sun, then studied French poetry at Columbia University before making the rare transition from juvenile sitcom player to serious actor in movies, including Inception, (500) Days of Summer and upcoming Batman sequel The Dark Knight Rises.
"Having grown up in the established 20th-century media castle," he muses, "I see my privileged position as a special opportunity for me to build bridges for artists all over the world, who don't necessarily have the connections to get their work into the traditional entertainment industry. They don't have agents, they don't live in Hollywood, but they're doing great work."
Gordon-Levitt started hitRECord in 2005 to showcase his own videos and later added a message board to solicit comments. "I was worried initially because people on the Internet can be pretty shitty to each other, but what happened instead is that people were actually pretty cool," he says.
In 2010 the actor upgraded his site to function as an "open collaborative production company," which now numbers nearly 70,000 members and pulls in about 1,000 videos, songs, text pieces and artworks daily. He explains, "As the community grew, it became: 'Rather than just talking about the videos that I'm making, why not start making things together?' "
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And by "making things together," Levitt does not mean "anything goes."
"HitRECord is not a democracy," he says. "If something gets recommended by a lot of people in the hitRECord community but I don't like it, it's not going into the book."
The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume I (It Books; $15) goes on sale Dec. 6.