For his 21st birthday, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt bought himself a copy of Final Cut Pro, the revolutionary software that allowed anyone with a digital camera and a bit of computer savvy to turn their home movies into polished films.
“I’ve probably made hundreds of little videos since then,” says the actor, now 32. “I would shoot little movies with me in them, put them on my computer, edit them and put music to them. I was just doing it for myself, and I had so much fun. But I also learned a lot. If it hadn’t been for all of those videos, I wouldn’t have been able to make ‘Don Jon’ the way I did.”
One of the most impressive things about “Don Jon,” the first feature film Gordon-Levitt wrote and directed, is how stylistically ambitious it is. The ingenious editing, sound effects, music and camera placements fly against the traditional emphasis on performance most actors-turned-directors use their first time out. The success of “Don Jon” ultimately rests on the strengths of its cast, but the movie also has the craft and technique of a veteran filmmaker’s work.
Most importantly, Gordon-Levitt uses all the toys in his tool chest not to show off, but to underscore the emotional journey of Jon, an online-porn addict and gym rat who tries to go clean after he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a beautiful young woman whose idea of true love is defined by “Titanic” and film adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels.
“Style is not about having cool shots,” he says. “It’s about drawing the audience closer to the story you’re telling and accentuating the evolution of your characters. That to me is the mark of a good filmmaker.”
Gordon-Levitt, who has been acting in TV shows and films since he was 6, says he studied the habits of many of the gifted directors he has worked with, including Steven Spielberg (“Lincoln”), Christopher Nolan (“Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises”), Rian Johnson (“Brick” and “Looper”) and Scott Frank (“The Lookout”). His inspiration for making “Don Jon” — aside from the chance to write himself a kind of character he had never played before — was to explore the rapidly increasing disconnect between the real world and the fantasy reality of new-media websites, magazines and TV ads.