Danny Gabai, a literary agent at WME with such clients as Roman Coppola and Chris Milk, has left the agency to become executive creative director at Vice, where he will steer the expansion of the company’s video production and its Los Angeles office.
Vice produces a wide range of non-fiction programming, but in building out its Los Angeles office the company will branch out into scripted programming, expand its film marketing business and augment its advertising sales team.
Vice is planning to build an office similar in size to their locations in London, Berlin and the newly launched Beijing office, but smaller than its New York headquarters.
“Vice has such a powerful web video brand with the great documentary videos they’ve done on the web and all these verticals like Noisey and the Creator’s Project,” Gabai told TheWrap. “I am going to take the lead on getting the company into scripted video and not just scripted video on the web but video we can turn into traditional TV properties or film properties.”
Gabai had been at WME for a decade, the last seven as an agent, working with clients such as Coppola, Richard Ayoade ("Submarine"), Gaspar Noe ("Irreversable") and Nicholas Winding Refn ("Drive").
For the past two years, he has also worked with Vice, a WME client. In that company’s new media success, he saw the perfect fit for his next step.
“I always have had an interest in new media and the whole time at WME I represented writers and directors, putting their film projects together,” Gabai told TheWrap. “As much as you can wear a producorial hat doing that, the job still limits what you can do. When I got involved with Vice two years ago after Ari Emanuel signed them, I earned this huge respect for the outside the box way they approach the media business and how early they’ve been in a lot of things, especially digital video.”
At Vice, Gabai will report directly to Chief Creative Officer Eddy Moretti and President Andrew Creighton. Moretti could not pinpoint the exact time Vice thought about bringing Gabai aboard, but he said Gabai fit what the company needed in building out its presence in Hollywood.
“We need a few people like Danny and I to just harness the incredible creativity that comes through our offices every day,” Moretti told TheWrap. “He’s a new dispensable resource in Los Angeles where there’s a lot of really freaky creative people sitting on the sidelines because most of the stuff that gets made is quite shit. We want to make Vice an experimental playground for the new frontiers in scripted narrative.”
Vice started as an alternative magazine based in Montreal, but has since branched out into video production, producing numerous documentary works and signing deals with MTV and HBO. It has also launched global content and event initiatives such as The Creators Project, a partnership with Intel that explores the intersection between creativity and technology.
Now it's time to expand again.
Gabai will run a much larger Los Angeles office, which is set to expand from a few people in a temporary office provided by WME to a much larger office with 20 to 60 employees. Vice will primarily add staff for the development and production of new video content, as well as build out the business side with advertising sales people and marketing teams.
Gabai will be responsible for pushing the company into the scripted realm, serving as a liaison to the studios, creatives and agents he has spent the last decade working alongside.
“This is new territory for us; we’ve been developing some things for traditional television and over one too many bottles of wine me, Danny and Mark [Ankner], another agent at WME, got excited about the idea of pushing Vice.com into the scripted episodic world,” Moretti said. “His relationships are in that world, with screenwriters, novelists, directors and actors.”
Gabai will expand the footprint of the company’s existing programming as well, such as finding new avenues for digital distribution and turning existing shows into more traditional television shows and films. Vice operates YouTube channels and hosts video on its own website, but Moretti suggested the company would look to many of the new players in web video.
The new Los Angeles office will also be used to increase Vice’s efforts in film marketing and film financing.
The company has helped fund certain film projects, including financing a feature length version of "Fishing Without Nets," the short film that won the Cinedigm Jury Prize at theShortList, TheWrap's first annual short film festival.
On the marketing side, Vice helped on the campaign for Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” and oversaw the digital promotion of “Project X.” Moretti said the number of offers to help with marketing have skyrocketed over the past year, and both he and Gabai sense an opportunity to capitalize on Vice’s troupe of fans — those obsessed with the edgiest elements of modern culture.
“When we market a film, we don’t think of it as advertising a film,” Moretti said. “We think of film marketing as a continuation of the story of the film in a different format. I don’t think anyone else approaches film marketing quite in the way we do.”
Though Vice will work with all of the studios and agencies, there is little question on agency has a leg up.
“Vice won’t exclusively work with WME clients because that would just be silly,” Gabai said.
But, he added: “Vice is represented by WME and Ari is their agent. He is a guy who saw what Shane [Smith] and [Creighton] were doing, got and saw value. WME has always been incredibly supportive of what Vice is doing.”