Every so often, someone at Motherboard (or a few of my former colleagues who have since left Motherboard) will say something like “We should do something with that old Bitcoin footage.” I always agreed, and then started on some email adventure.
I heard about the Bitcoin tapes soon after I started at Motherboard in 2013, which, according to my calculations, was “a long time ago.” We sent a team of people to the Bitcoin 2013 conference in San Jose, which was one of the first major Bitcoin conferences. Bitcoin cost $118 at the time; it’s blown up so much since then that even the comedian who performed at the conference got rich. We also filmed in the basement of the organizer, Charlie Shrem. Shrem would later get arrested and go to jail because BitInstant, the company he founded, was found to be laundering money for users on the Silk Road drug market.
Anyway, we shot this footage and then it never turned into a documentary. People who worked on it left the company or moved on to other projects, we got busy, the footage went onto a server somewhere. Years passed. The legend of the lost Bitcoin tapes began.
My first email record of trying to actually unearth this footage is from late 2017—I sent an email called “Reviving bitcoin doc. Here’s how I framed it: “Sorry for the seemingly random assortment of people on this email list. Wanted to raise the spooky specter of possibly going deep into the vault to unearth some historical footage we shot in 2011 or 2012 (I think) for a documentary about bitcoin that we never ended up running. It should be like 10 hours of footage with some of the most important people in bitcoin, at an early conference in SF (right?). I'm not totally positive this footage is still even accessible? In any case, with people losing their goddamned minds over bitcoin at the moment I think it's worth at least seeing what we have if we can find it, and this idea has been bugging me for months so if we can't find it I'd like to be able to get some closure.”
We did not find the footage. I tried again with some folks in VICE’s post-production team. They were able to find existence of it but could not find the footage itself. More time passed. I sent an email in 2018 called “Bitcoin doc white whale.” No luck.
Anyways, more years passed, and the opportunity came up to do a documentary series about cryptocurrency with our colleagues at VICE News. This would be a current look at all things crypto. But to look to the future I thought we would need to look into the past. And so we tried again to find the Bitcoin tapes. And this time, we did, stored on a drive somewhere (many thanks to the archival team at VICE and, of course everyone who has worked on this over the years).
Over the last few months, producer Jesse Seidman and Motherboard’s Jordan Pearson went through the tapes like they were an archaeological find, identifying people in the crowd and seeing if the predictions made all those years ago came to pass. We also got back in touch with Charlie Shrem and Alec Liu, the original Motherboard host of the 2013 footage, to see what they’re up to now. Both of them are still in crypto.
The result is the first episode of CRYPTOLAND, a series we’re very excited about. Please check it out. This first episode is up, and over the next seven weeks we’ll be rolling out new episodes, all of which were shot in the latter part of last year and which explore the environmental, political, and cultural implications of the crypto gold rush.