VBS.TV: The Future Of All Media
- Posted: 8th Oct 2010
- Category: Articles
- Tags: vice,  vbs.tv,  andy capper,  andrew creighton,  heavy metal in baghdad,  the vice guide to liberia,  swansea love stories
VBS.TV is the internet video arm of the renowned Vice magazine, and like to think of themselves as the future of all media. VBS.TV stream original content absolutely free to watch. It kicked off with the acclaimed doc series Heavy Metal in Baghdad and since then VBS.TV have championed D.I.Y., lo-fi filmmaking as a natural evolution of what they recognise as their punk, subculture roots. Meghna Gupta from DFG catches up with VBS' commissioning editor Andy Capper, and Vice's branding director Andrew Creighton to find out more about VBS.TV's approach to docs, and exactly what lies at the heart of a VBS commission.
Meghna: Why does VBS focus on documentaries?
Andrew Creighton: It was not borne out of a strategy, more borne out of what we were interested in. The reason for doing documentaries was because we were interested in the world around us. When we read a story or hear about something that sounds fascinating or interesting, we’re like… let's go! Sounds interesting, sounds freaky, sounds weird, sounds amazing, it can’t be true? Is it true? It's that childlike look on the world, that we have managed to retain throughout the grizzly process of getting older.
Meghna: Can you tell me more about Vice?
Andrew Creighton: Oh god, I’ve been wracked with this question for so many years. In the old days Vice was seen as sex, drugs, rock and roll, an eclectic, sarcastic zine, but underlying it never really was that. I think we just came out of the DIY culture. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a kids’ show…or it’s going to Somalia to hang out on a pirate ship. It’s just that sense of that kid being there and doing there, and being able to experience it. We are not trained journalists and we haven’t been to BBC journalism school - the only authority we feel we have to talk about subjects is, ‘I was there, this is what we saw, this is what we did’.
Andy Capper: I think there is a misconception about people at Vice. We write articles about jeans and haircuts and models but I think it's just because the kids who [read] the magazine like jeans and haircuts and we are in that area of Shoreditch everybody lampoons as being haircut central. But these stories are deferred away from jeans and haircuts. If you could give me a free ad in your organization and send new photojournalists and new filmmakers my way that would be great, I would love that.
Meghna: Would you say VBS content has a gonzo journalism slant to it?
Andrew Creighton: We believe that if you want to tell a story you have to be part of the story. The way stuff resonates with people, is if people feel like they resonate with you. We wanted to tell the story (of Heavy Metal in Baghdad) through the eyes of people whom we understood. We understand a heavy metal band because that’s what we used to do, that’s what we were. They are our peer group in the UK. So if we go to Iraq that’s who we want to talk to and tell their story. The only way we can get to know these people and to tell an honest story is by going to hang out with them and be there with them and let their story come through.
Andy Capper: The first gonzo journalist was Hunter S Thompson and he was taking cocaine and LSD wherever he went - and we don’t take cocaine and LSD when we go to Liberia. We just put a kid, a normal kid, and we put him in a situation and see how the kid reacts to the situation. I think we need to create a new term and not have gonzo at VBS and just call it the VBS way…
Meghna: Can you tell me about VBS.TV’s aesthetic?
Andrew Creighton: The aesthetic is that there is no particular style as we’re not trying to break down any barriers that you can. If you stick a camera in someone’s face then it automatically makes people feel uncomfortable. So sticking a camera in someone’s face with a light rig attached, 16 people around you, a make up artists plus something else is probably the most unnatural situation you can imagine in your life. We want to make the cameras a background thing, and create as natural and real environment as possible. That is definitely an aesthetic that we have, which is I guess is handheld, conversational and honest…I [also] think the user generated sites are a great thing for filmmakers generally because they have got people used to viewing content that’s not high quality technically. The only reason that VBS can exist is because of the democratisation of technology.
Meghna: What is involved in a Vice commission?
Andy Capper: It’s all about the access - just get the access. Get right next to the Sargent Major trooper or go to Liberia, meet a war lord, go to North Korea or go to Iran, sneak in through the back gates and get a story without anyone’s permission.
Andrew Creighton: My commissioning process is probably very different to most companies that exist. It is partly based on if people want to watch it, and its commercial value, but largely and more so, based around 'is it Vice? Does it feel like something that is interesting? A lot of it makes us think, ‘Great let's go and do it!’, and then we figure out that we don’t later! It’s a little bit more on the hoof and hopefully that comes through in what we do… I would like people to come with ideas and do a little short on it.
Meghna: Do you fund the short or do you expect filmmakers to come to you with the short?
Andrew Creighton: Either way. If they have something already then, great. If they have contacts, great. If they come with an idea, we can go and do a short together, not spend a huge amount of money on it, put it on VBS or out into the open internet to see if it gets attraction. If that works, we…go deeper into the subject or maybe go to one of the commissioners. We like people to feel like they are part of what we are doing and try to build something that is an alternative to the mainstream broadcast fodder that we are getting. We are one of not that many people who are doing it that has any sort of scale.
Meghna: What is the average VBS.TV budget?
Andrew Creighton: It depends on the story. We made Swansea Love Stories, Andy’s film with Leo, for a production cost of ten grand. If it’s under £10K, you know, you can make the films for that money these days. It can go through our little system faster - a system of ‘Holy shit can we afford that?!’ So the higher the budget the less likely it is to get through quickly. That’s just the reality of our situation…we don’t have the commissioning and aesthetic process that some filmmakers want. I think there are a lot of filmmakers who have great ideas who want to make a very beautiful documentary film…and we don’t have the necessary investment to put in £500k.
Andy Capper: We do it cheap with good cameras and good people. [However] we don’t want it to look cheap, we want it to look like we spent a lot of money on it. If people want to work with us, we pay good rates for people who want to make films. We just don’t pay for the bullshit that nobody needs. I’m from Liverpool, we’re all working class… we will pay people a decent wage, we will go to their house and we can make a roast chicken, I would give them a hug. They can kiss my cheek, but that’s where it ends.
Meghna: Can you give us an example of where the money goes on a VBS shoot?
Andy Capper: It all depends... There is a quality to them, but there isn’t a 15 guy crew there’s a 2 guy crew. Liberia, I went there for the first two days on my own. I hadn’t shot anything before, I had a half-day camera school and I shot the first two days on my own so that cost nothing. I think the biggest expense in Liberia was giving money to kids on the beach. And in the casino on the last day when we were blowing off steam being crazy because we were so freaked out by everything. Or the malaria medicine, I don’t know. But we don’t get stupid things that nobody needs to spend money on.
Meghna: Can you describe your audience?
Andrew Creighton: I think it’s very prescriptive to say we have one type of viewer. We broadcast around the world, in every country. We take our content every Wednesday to a page on CNN.com. People would probably say that the average CNN viewer and the average Vice viewer are probably very different but the reaction on both channels is cool. People are fascinated, interested, excited, annoyed, confused, angry, disagreeing, agreeing if you look on the comment boards on CNN.
Andy Capper: My mum and dad… I don’t think the people you think watch it [actually] watch it. I don’t think the skinny jeans haircut guys actually watch it. I think it’s more like other people. Normal people, I want normal people to watch it.
Meghna: So are you actively looking for filmmakers?
Andy Capper: If I can get anything out of this interview it would be great if you could send people my way.
Read DFG's Q&A with Sarah Harris, VBS.TV filmmaker, and the review of her film: Prostitutes of God.
Watch this and other VBS.TV programmes on www.vbs.tv
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