“Cool” has basically lost all potency when used as a descriptor. But Spike Jonze, the Oscar-nominated director, Oscar-winning screenwriter (for Her in 2014), producer, creative director of VICE, music video director, skateboard company owner and now, co-president of the new documentary channel VICELAND, is very cool. Whatever shred of meaning you attach to that word, he has it. So it was a pleasure to pick his brain. We sat down with Jonze who was in Toronto to promote the launch of VICELAND (find out how you can watch it now!) to talk creativity and fashion.
You’ve been creative director of VICE since 2007. How did the president role come up? It sounds like a much fancier title.
We [at VICE] have been talking about, Should we do a channel? for the last few years. So about a year and a half ago when we decided to do it, I had just finished my last movie and it seemed like a fun thing to try and do, a fun thing to learn about. I was just going to be creative director initially, but as we worked on it I realized at a certain point that to actually implement what I wanted the creative vision to be, I had to take a less vague title [laughs].
I know you “oversee programming” but what does that really mean? Are you literally involved with all the programming?
We have amazing development teams in London, New York, L.A. and here in Canada. Ultimately our goal is to receive ideas from everyone; we have 37 offices around the world. So they bring ideas to me and we have these meetings where we riff off them. I try to challenge them to think about different formats, and I always go back to What is the show about? What does it mean? The young minds in this company are so sharp and smart, for me it’s an exciting place to come to work every day.
We want to make a channel that feels like it comes from a point of view of the people, and not just a generic thing. We have this opportunity to play, so what can we make with this cable channel that comes into all these people’s houses? Cable is a medium that can be played with and explored. We just have an idea and go, Oh, we’ll do that, and we don’t know what that means or how to do it. We make a lot of mistakes, but along the way we find our own way of doing it.
It sounds like the Internet, in that you can make things and see what sticks and if it doesn’t stick you can move on. Usually with television it feels like it’s success-driven, or numbers-driven. Is that different for VICELAND?
We’re a digital company and we’ve come at it that way. That’s just the way I’ve always made anything: I have an idea, or my friends have an idea and we say Let’s go make this and see what happens. A cable channel, just because historically it’s of value, doesn’t mean we have to treat it like it’s a precious thing. We should be rough with it. It’s like getting a really nice suit and only wearing it on a special day. Break it up [laughs].
Speaking of suits, let’s talk about the new fashion and culture series States of Undress with host and model Hailey Gates. How did she get the job?
I don’t know how we got that lucky. We needed a host and someone recommended her. Some things just work out perfectly. We were planning on shooting in Pakistan and we met her a week before we were leaving. And now Hailey’s gone from, OK, just come to Pakistan with us, to becoming a real voice of the show. None of the hosts are just hosts. No one is just a presenter.
The shows touches on gender, race and politics. Why did you want to make a show about fashion, a topic that people often treat lightly, and make something that is not light?
The thing I connect most to when I think about fashion is creativity. The show is sometimes about fashion, but oftentimes about style. It’s really about identity, how we show ourselves, how we represent ourselves and what that means in different places. I’m really moved by what they’ve been doing. [States of Undress premieres in late March.]