ABU DHABI - Vice Media, which has most recently made waves with Snoop Lion documentary Reincarnated, is looking to expand its film business.
For 2013, the company targets more film releases, CEO and co-founder Shane Smith told The Hollywood Reporter.
"One of the things we learned was we were doing all this film marketing for the major studios very successfully," he said. "But why are we pushing these films for studios, when we can push out own films, so that's what we are doing."
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Smith said the company's film activities have been growing "exponentially." The company didn't immediately commit to a specific number of releases, but Smith said he is eyeing several features for next year.
"I don't know if that's going to stay static or double in 2014," he said. "You want to do it in such a way that you keep quality control and have enough people who are excited about it to make it work."
The Vice rockumentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad, which followed two Vice filmmakers as they track down Iraqui heavy metal band during the Iraq War, helped get the Snoop project started, and Smith expects that to help keep the company in the spotlight. "Snoop saw Heavy Metal in Baghdad and said, 'I want that,'" Smith explained. "Now people are seeing Reincarnated and saying, 'we want that.' So, we are doing a lot more features -- not just in America, but all around the world. We're doing some stuff in India right now, stuff in Germany and England."
Vice Films produced Reincarnated with Snoop's Snoopadelic Films.
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Smith didn't share the titles or subject matters of the 2013 slate, but it is expected to include recently announced feature Fishing Without Nets. Reincarnated also has no release date so far.
Asked if documentaries will be the firm's focus, Smith said his team is thinking more broadly. "We are not just doing docs, we are doing scripted as well," he said. "Right now, we are shooting two scripted features -- one is Fishing Without Nets as a full-length feature. It won Sundance as a short and is set in Somalia and about Somalian pirates [with some of those pirates as actors]."
Smaller budgets are the key focus for Vice. "We believe the sweet spot for a doc is $1 million-$2 million and for a feature narrative is $3 million-$5 million," Smith told THR. "Most of them will cost around $2 million-$4 million."
Do future Vice films require recognizable stars or certain topics? "It can be anything," said Smith. "Fishing Without Nets has nobody [recognizable], it has Somalian pirates as extras. It will be a great movie. We did a film The Fourth Dimension, which was at the Tribeca Film Festival. It was three great stories with great directors. So for us it could be a narrative, it could be a doc, it could be with stars, it could be without. As long as it's interesting and a good story and we can get behind it as a brand and market it, then we want to do it."
What does it take to get Vice behind a film? "We think that passion breeds success," Smith said. "You need passion - not just from me and the executive team, but also the kids in the trenches who do the events, magazine and advertising. Of course, film expands what we do. Everything builds on everything else. When you have a good film, everybody gets behind it, and you push it into the magazine, so you have great content in the magazine, and the magazine gets more popular, and the film gets more popular and your online stuff gets more popular. But you have to pick and choose very wisely. You have to get behind them because they are good, not because you want to make money or something else. Obviously, you want to make money, and that only comes when something is successful."
Vice has expanded from a magazine brand to books, online video, music, live events, film, TV in a partnership with Time Warner's HBO for news magazine series Vice, which will debut in the first quarter of 2013.
Vice focused on original Web video years before such online giants as Google/YouTube and AOL, and it has started crossing over and working with media giants like Time Warner. It also has another tie to the traditional media world - former Viacom CEO Tom Freston is an advisor for the firm.
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Smith said Vice has changed its approach in the digital age. "We are just a media company, so when content comes in, some of it can go to records, online, TV or features. Some content can go to it all," he explained. "Heavy Metal in Baghdad wasn't a feature film at first, but then became one and won all sorts of awards. Because of that, we came out and said we should be able to shoot things for any type of use."
That means that the company now shoots all content with the thought that it could potentially become a feature film. "Everything has to be shot at the quality of a feature film," Smith said. "As we do more feature films, it definitely helps our skill sets and helps our people get better."
WME, which reps Vice, helped with the financing of Fishing Without Nets, and Smith said the company has been looking at ways to finance its slate. He is attending the third annual Abu Dhabi Media Summit this week.
Of course, the company's core business remains the production and distribution of online video. While nowadays a slew of companies and celebrities have YouTube channels with professional content and Vice has one as another outlet, Smith emphasizes that the company was in that game earlier than others.
"We were really pioneers of premium video" on the Internet, he says. "And we will continue to provide that" even as Vice expands its business into new areas.
The next big focus is the launch of HBO show Vice in the first quarter.
"They have already started advertising it. We have been shooting for the past six months," Smith told THR. "We finish shooting probably by the end of November, and we will be posting into January. It launches between HBO's other show launches. They concentrate the whole company on a whole show launch - it's pretty impressive."
For Smith, the show means more travel ahead. "I just got back from shooting in Kashmir. I'm shooting in Pakistan right after Abu Dhabi -- and Iraq," he said. "We have great footage from Afghanistan. We were just shooting with eight-year-old assassins in the Philippines. It's great, great content. We're really excited about the show. The content is shockingly good. It's by far the best stuff we have ever done."
What will the first episode focus on? "We have two big scoops, big bombs that we can't talk about," Smith said. "One of them will be the first episode."
Georg Szalai will conduct a Q&A with Vice CEO Shane Smith at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit on Oct. 10