Plenty of ink has been spilled over VICE, the media company that drops its tattooed correspondents into various hellholes to shed a light on the stories the mainstream media are too pussy-whipped to tell. But precious little has been said about this reckless cadre of gonzo docu-journos.
And Andy Capper, VICE magazine’s global editor and arguably its most prolific documentary filmmaker, might be the ballsiest of the bunch.
He rubbed shoulders with warlords, cannibals, and prostitutes in The Vice Guide to Liberia, a controversial Webby Award–winning docu-series that helped foster an editorial partnership with CNN. He also published the 2003 VICE story “Heavy Metal in Baghdad,” about the Iraq heavy-metal band Acrassicauda, that was later adapted into an award-winning documentary. In his first film for VICE, 2010’s Swansea Love Story, he befriended a gang of hopeless young heroin addicts in South Wales and examined the area’s largely ignored heroin epidemic.
“When you’ve got a camera on you, those dangerous situations are kind of cool,” says Capper. “You’re not scared.”
A scrappy roughneck from just outside Liverpool, the 40-year-old, flat cap–wearing filmmaker is at SXSW, where he’s screening his first feature-length documentary, Reincarnated. The film chronicles the gangster rapper Snoop Dogg’s transformation into the Rastafarian reggae artist Snoop Lion and follows him during his trip to Jamaica, where Snoop spent 3 1/2 weeks recording his new reggae album with super-producer Diplo. Snoop had been a fan of Capper’s work, including The Vice Guide to Liberia, and his team said he wanted to team up with VICE to tell his story.
“I remember it was Christmas at my parents’ house and I had just broken up with this girl, and I was considering just ending it, and then I got the call,” says Capper. “They said [Snoop] was recording an album in Jamaica and asked me if I wanted to come on board, and I was like, ‘All right!’”
He adds, “I figured I’d make a film about his life story as well, since I had him in the corner and I wasn’t going to let him get away, so I just thought, I’m going to fucking go to town on this.”
In Reincarnated, Snoop Lion shares intimate tales ranging from his life as a pimp, where he controlled “three to four girls physically” and “a hundred virtually”; how his murder charge left “a black spot in his heart,” even after being exonerated; and how he made peace with a dying Tupac Shakur, clearing up their “minor misunderstanding” as the rapper lay in his hospital bed after being shot. It also covers the funeral of his beloved cousin Nate Dogg, and how torn up he was over Nate’s death.
“The trust thing took a while,” says Capper. “I’m a huge fan of his, but I’m not from his world. He has all these 6-foot-5 Crips around him, and I’m 5-foot-7 from Liverpool. But we showed him rushes, and then once we showed him that we did the second, deeper interview.”
The director had only two months to cut the documentary from more than 200 hours of footage in what he calls “a race to the finish.” But there was also plenty of fun to be had. He was hanging out in Jamaica with arguably the biggest weed lover in the world, after all.
“His weed is fucking ridiculous,” says Capper. “It’s like tripping really hard on acid and MDMA. Bananas. He smokes like 70 blunts a day. I can’t smoke weed…I’m paranoid already.”
Capper got his start in journalism at 17, working for the local Liverpool newspaper, Visiter. He later began working at VICE, and in 2002 was named global editor of VICE magazine, having cofounded the U.K. branch and expanded the brand into Europe.
Recently, he’s become more involved in the filmmaking side of things, helming a wide variety of short documentary films for VBS.tv, VICE’s online television network.
“It was the thing I could do really well,” he says. “I’m not very good at copy-editing. I did that job when I was 20 in Liverpool, and I didn’t want to do it again in my 30s.”
Among his greatest hits is The Vice Guide to Sex: Mandingo!, for which Capper and his crew traveled to Tampa, Fla., to follow the Florida Mandingos—a group of well-hung black men, ages 24-45, who are paid to attend interracial sex parties with married white women.
Capper also is heavily involved in the upcoming HBO series VICE, which makes its premiere on the cable network April 5 and is an extension of sorts to The Vice Guide to Travel. Capper attempted to film one segment that didn’t work, called Oligarch Cribs, which was a version of MTV Cribs, but with oligarchs. “The concept was awesome, but it’s a fucking hard world to get into,” he says.
Another segment that he filmed, about rapper Chief Keef and gang violence in Chicago, was more successful, and should air on the HBO series in the near future.
“Chicago is fucking wild now,” he says. “I met all the kids in the 300 Gang and the rappers-producers, like Lil Reese, Lil Durk, Young Chop, and all the cops. I’m developing a series for VICE just based on gang violence and music in Chicago. Chief went to jail the day we got there and just got out, so I’m begging him to do a video. But his hits he’s got out now are killers…I didn’t mean to use that word!”
Capper’s upcoming VICE documentary is much more light-hearted. It’s called Lil Bub & Friendz and is about Lil Bub, the world’s cutest cat, and his pal, Grumpy Cat, but also examines the entire Internet-cat phenomenon. The film will make its premiere at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.
“I think people love those cats things because they want something real,” says Capper. “It’s not scripted, and people feel connected to it because it’s not phony.”
He adds, “My main thing is making sad movies about things that people might think are frivolous. I want to make you care about the person—or cat—and where they came from.”