Today is February 29, which means that the TV channel we've been building for the past few years is finally hitting the airwaves. In honor of VICELAND's launch, our own Andy Capper sat down with Co-President of VICELAND Spike Jonze to talk about the development process that brought the channel into being, what success for VICELAND will look like, and Spike's vision for the future of the channel.
VICE: Have you ever created a TV channel before?
Spike Jonze: No, no, no, I have never. I've been working on VICELAND for about a year, and I think I'm just starting to understand how to make a TV channel. Over the last year, we've hired a few people that have worked at other TV channels, but most of us are learning as we go.
You're teaching yourself.
It is a DIY company like that. We made a TV channel in that frame of mind. It seems like a rare thing these days that the creative people get to actually control the production and distribution of what they're doing.
Is that one of the motivations to do it? To change the system of how TV is made?
No, not to change the system exactly, but the opportunity here is insane. We've got a TV channel, and we get to do whatever we want with it and make what we care about. I think we've just now built the foundation of what it can be. We're just at the beginning.
It's VICELAND 1.0 right now, and I'm really proud and excited about the first shows we're doing, but I'm even more excited about this organism that we're building, and what is going to come out in next year or two or three.
What would you say the aesthetic of these first shows are?
I think from the beginning, when we first started talking about this over a year ago, we'd have these long roundtable meetings where everyone would just talk about what we wanted to do with a TV channel: what would it be, what would we want to film, who we would want to work with. One of the things we kept talking about was how curiosity and empathy would drive what we wanted to do. It's not that different from the idea that we started with when we created VICE's original online video channel, VBS, ten years ago.
It's really about making sure everything on the channel exists for a reason. We didn't do any market research. We didn't do any focus groups. We just made things that we are interested in, that we think are funny, and that we care about. We also thought of people with a strong point of view who we admired and wanted to support, like Ellen Page with her show GAYCATION.
How did GAYCATION come about?
Ellen and I had been friends for a long time. Back in the fall of 2014, when we were just starting to to figure out what a channel would be, Ellen was staying with me. I came home from work one day and was telling her about it and said if she had any ideas for something she'd want to explore to let me know. The next morning she woke up, and it was crystal clear—the show would be called GAYCATION, and it would involve traveling to different places to explore LGBT culture. She already had a list of places she wanted to go.
This is less of a TV channel and more of a laboratory.
So it wasn't like you just hired a famous Hollywood person to be in a show for us.
No, I think we were going to people both inside the company and outside the company that have something to say and have something they care about. Like filmmaker Lance Bangs, who we've worked with forever, the show FLOPHOUSE was based on him. Lance finds young voices that he admires and documents them. FLOPHOUSE really came out of that, where he goes into these houses where young comedians live together and captures them and films them putting on a show in their garage or basement or whatever it is. We just hire people with the right sensibility and the right judgement, and then they can learn the specifics.
What does success mean for VICELAND?
To me, success for the channel is executing our intention, and our intention is to make things we think are good. It's also an ongoing project. A lot of the things I work on, like a movie or a skate video or whatever, usually the day it comes out is the day it ends. But the day this comes out is the day it begins, and that's a really different creature to get to be a part of.
We're just playing and experimenting.
Are people's reactions to it going to be a measure of failure or success, too?
This is less of a TV channel and more of a laboratory. We are thinking about this as an experiment in terms of the ways ideas are being made. When we went to our first press conference, we all got up on stage and there was Zach Goldbaum. Ellen was there with her co-host Ian Daniel, Thomas Morton was there, Action Bronson was there, Eddie Huang was there, Krishna Andavolu was there. Seeing everybody for the first time in one place was exciting, because none of us come from television production companies, or television channels, or television studios.
I think we'll create the shows that we know how to make, but we should always be experimenting and trying to figure out what else we're doing and what else we want to do. I feel like a lot of our shows are an extension of what we already do in terms of immersive docs. But I'm also excited for us as a company to start growing and creating and learning new formats. I think this is just the beginning.