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Tom Freston, Shane Smith Talk About Their Billion-Dollar VICE Enterprise

Right off the THR print magazine Q&A bat, VICE founder Shane Smith and his main backer Tom Freston spin a very enviable privately owned narrative. Smith tells senior writer Eriq Gardner that the multi-media guerilla operation currently has 1,250 full-time employees/4,000 contributors in 34 different countries, while Freston boasts that VICE is already on an audience-engagement par with MTV, SNL and Rolling Stone magazine.

We’re not sure about that last part, but there’s no denying that with VICE’s HBO documentary series debuting tonight at 11 p.m. and featuring a first episode that was cleverly shared earlier this week on YouTube, VICE’s bodacious brand will only be further enhanced. It can also be argued that nothing recently compares to the free-publicity juggernaut VICE triggered by taking Dennis Rodman and three Harlem Globetrotters to North Korea.

In a separate Web-only Q&A with Erin Carlson, Smith clarifies that VICE did not smuggle the basketball players into the DPRK and says the ensuing media circus was actually cause for great concern:

We were really worried… Rodman was only there for two days and we were there for 10 days and our team was on the ground shooting. And we know how crazy the North Koreans are and how easily they’ll sort of put someone away so we were very nervous.

Smith is absolutely right. It’s almost inconceivable that Kim Jong-un didn’t turn sooner from the Rodman goodwill and add members of the VICE crew to another American currently being quietly held in North Korea, Kenneth Bae. Read the Gardner conversation here and Carlson’s Q&A here.

In the video extra at the bottom of Gardner’s piece, Smith and Freston tease a new facility VICE is about to open near YouTube Space LA. It is intended to be a sort of “post-graduate” production hub and learning center for students of area media and film school programs. How cool is that?

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