Before it was a global media network, web video juggernaut, or an Emmy-winning HBO show, Vice was just three dudes making a magazine in Montreal. And now, thanks to a recently surfaced video made for a one-time Canadian reality show, we can see Suroosh Alvi, Shane Smith, and Gavin McInnes as they organized, stressed, packed, looked for apartments and more for their pivotal 1999 move to New York City. Also it was the ’90s, so goatees.
Director Lisa Gabriele uploaded her episode of a show called Moving Stories, a reality show that aired on Canada’s Life Network in 1999. Gabriele says she never doubted they’d make it big. “They were ballsy, brash and totally original,” says Gabriele, who wrote for the magazine for a few years after shooting the doc. “They worked like dogs and had a finger on a pulse people didn’t even know existed. Gavin was so talented, Shane was a brilliant networker, and Suroosh was always wise beyond his years. You can see all that in the doc. They had ‘it’ then.”
The guys are seen packing up their Montreal space and making arrangements to take the underground mag to the next level. “Vice is done in Canada, we’re never going to get more successful than we are, there’s no challenge,” says Smith. “New York, we’re nothing, you have to start all over again.”
It may all look inevitable now, but there was plenty of anxiety about making such a big move. McInnes had a few specific concerns. “I’m scared of having to be poor there,” he says. “Or another brutal nightmare would be having to move back, coming back here with our tails between our legs.”
At one point Alvi says his biggest fear is that the stress and pressure may cause Smith to quit. “I know he’s not going to leave tomorrow, I know he’s going to leave when it’s time for him to leave, and I just hope it’s not too premature.”
Vice Media is now valued at more than $2.5 billion so, y’know, good call. It’s a fascinating and intimate look at a business and brand that has since exploded in size and scale, but not without collateral damage. McInnes left the company in 2008 due to “creative differences.”
But in 1999 it was still just these three guys, moving to the big city.
“There’s an equilibrium that exists between the three of us, that provides the chemistry, the formula for success,” says Alvi at one point. “And I’m not sure what it is about my own personality or their individual personalities, but all we know for sure is that collectively the three of us are pulling something off.”
Gabriele says the reason she posted the doc now is she finally got around to converting VHS tapes of her work to digital and thought it would resonate with people today. “They’ve had a lot of success, and I suspect a lot of drama and heartbreak, too,” says Gabriele. “I’m not in touch with those guys anymore, but ironically, I’m still in the TV business and my company has a meeting with Vice TV next week.”