By Lindsey Bahr
September 26, 2013 at 02:00 PM EDT

Wanna make a movie with Joseph Gordon-Levitt? All you need is a computer and a great idea.

With hitRECord, Gordon-Levitt’s ever-evolving collaborative production company, you don’t have to start in the mail room or cut your teeth as a personal assistant. You just have to create a profile on the totally free website and start submitting your ideas, whether it’s a poem, a film, a piece of music or a drawing. Nearly all forms of art are fair game. You don’t even have to be the most popular user to catch the attention of Gordon-Levitt and his small core staff. You just have to be one of the best, which is actually a fairly big hurdle.

“I think the most important thing about anything that we make at hitRECord is ‘Is it good?'” hitRECord producer Jared Geller told EW. “At the end of the day, if the piece isn’t effective or entertaining, then it kind of doesn’t matter how it’s made. It becomes a gimmick. The method can’t be the most interesting thing about what you’re making. The piece itself has to be great.”

Check out the animated short below for an example of one of hitRECord’s most popular collaborations, and walk through the steps of how Gordon-Levitt helped turn the original poem into a Sundance Film Festival-worthy animated short, all through crowd-sourced creativity.

Step 1: The Writer

“A lot of what we do starts with the writing,” said Geller. The U.K.-based artist Sarah Daly (a.k.a. Metaphorest) was an early hitRECord adopter, writing and uploading the original narrative poem The Man With a Turnip for a Head to hitRECord. “People tend to pay attention to things she contributes to the site. She contributed this short story poem, and not only did it get the community’s attention, it got our attention as well,” Geller said. And, importantly, “Joe loved it.”

Step 2: The Star

It’s no secret that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s fame is an asset to hitRECord. In 2011, he hosted a “Fall Formal” at The Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Anne Hathaway sang. Neil Patrick Harris performed. And his Dark Knight Rises co-star Gary Oldman took the stage to read the poem that had so captivated the hitRECord community. “We use our live shows as an opportunity to make stuff together,” said Geller. “Oldman told the story in front of a live audience and people used their cameras to shoot it.” Twenty of those audience members uploaded their videos to hitRECord after the show, and some angels were used to supplement the shots they got from the three professional cameras filming the performance.

Step 3: The Illustration

Oldman’s reading could have been the end of the poem’s public life, but Gordon-Levitt had bigger plans for The Man With a Turnip for a Head and decided that it could make a great animated film. He uploaded a video REquest for illustrators to figure out what this guy looks like. “I think he needs to be a very kind of prim and proper, buttoned-up, straitlaced, vanilla type of guy. Except for the fact that his head is a turnip,” Gordon-Levitt told the hitRECord community. One-hundred-and-forty-five contributions were submitted, and Gordon-Levitt and his team narrowed it down to one representation of Turnip Head.

Step 4: The Animation

Next, Gordon-Levitt asked for animation tests so they could figure out how the character should move. He also called on the community to submit hand-done background elements — supporting characters, props, cityscapes, and more. User MarieIv drew on the best ideas and animated the final product.

Step 5: The Score

Gordon-Levitt challenged users to create “music composed and performed to really follow all the nuances of Gary’s recitation.” Once they settled on a composition by musicinyourhead, which she performed on a synthesizer, Gordon-Levitt asked musicians to play specific parts of the score and submit their recordings with real instruments — a piano, a violin, a clarinet. A music producer arranged the score, a sound editor synched it up with the animation, an editor put all the pieces together, and the product was finally ready for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

“While it’s true that there are 295 contributions to the collaboration, it’s sort of an amorphous thing. Even though you might not see an actual element in the final product, it might have informed something that you see. Everything works together,” said Geller.

Believe it or not, two years after Metaphorest decided to write her poem, The Man With a Turnip for a Head is still evolving. A casual search will turn up a host of different animated takes with different scores. And that’s the point of hitRECord. In art and creation, nothing is static or final. Not even a short that played at Sundance.

Richard Cartwright/CBS

For more on Joseph Gordon-Levitt, pick up the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly on sale Friday and check out an exclusive interview with Gordon-Levitt on our Facebook page.