Every now and then someone at Motherboard (or a few of my former colleagues who have since left Motherboard) will say something like “we should do something with that old bitcoin streak”. I always accepted, then I started an adventure by e-mail.
I heard about bitcoin bands shortly after I started at Motherboard in 2013, which by my reckoning was “a long time ago”. We sent a team of people to the Bitcoin 2013 conference in San Jose, which was one of the first major Bitcoin conferences. Bitcoin was $118 at the time; it has exploded so much since that even the comedian who performed at the conference got rich. We also filmed in the basement of the organizer, Charlie Shrem. Shrem would later be arrested and imprisoned because BitInstant, the company he founded, was laundering money for users of the Silk Road drug market.
Anyway, we shot that footage and it never made it into a documentary. People who worked there left the company or moved on to other projects, we got busy, the footage went to a server somewhere. The years have passed. The legend of the lost Bitcoin tapes began.
My first email record of trying to unearth these images was in late 2017 – I sent an email titled “Reviving bitcoin doc. Here’s how I framed it:” Sorry for the seemingly random assortment of people on this mailing list. I wanted to raise the creepy specter of maybe going deep into the vault to unearth some historical footage that we shot in 2011 or 2012 (I think) for a bitcoin documentary that we never ended up airing . That should feel like 10 hours of footage with some of bitcoin’s most important people, at a first conference in SF (right?). I’m not completely sure that this sequence is still accessible? Anyway, with people losing their minds over bitcoin right now, I think it’s worth at least seeing what we have if we can find it, and that idea has bothered me for months, so if we can’t find it, I’d like to wrap it up.
We couldn’t find the pictures. I tried again with people from the VICE post-production team. They were able to find the existence of it but could not find the images themselves. More time has passed. I sent an email in 2018 titled “Bitcoin doc white whale”. No chance.
Anyway, the years passed and the opportunity presented itself to do a documentary series on cryptocurrency with our colleagues at VICE News. This would be a current overview of all things crypto. But to look to the future, I thought we had to look to the past. And so we tried again to find the Bitcoin bands. And this time we did, stored on a disk somewhere (many thanks to the VICE Archiving team and, of course, everyone who worked on it over the years).
Over the past few months, producer Jesse Seidman and Motherboard’s Jordan Pearson have scoured the tapes as if it were an archaeological find, identifying people in the crowd and seeing if the predictions made all those years ago have come true. We also caught up with Charlie Shrem and Alec Liu, the original Motherboard host of footage from 2013, to see what they’re up to so far. Both are still in crypto.
The result is the first episode of CRYPTOLAND, a series that we are very passionate about. Please check it out. This first episode is over, and over the next seven weeks we will be rolling out new episodes, all of which were filmed late last year and which explore the environmental, political and cultural implications of the Gold Rush. crypto.