Vice Tries to Turn the Page by Making Content for Others

LOS ANGELES — Danny Gabai was used to being ignored. For years, he ran what may have been Vice Media’s most uncool business — the production of feature films, made to be shown in theaters.

Whatever, dude. We do digital stuff here.

“We were seen as a redheaded stepchild,” Mr. Gabai said, “if our existence was acknowledged at all.”

But that was the old Vice, the one that functioned less as a company and more as an out-of-control frat party. The new Vice, which started to take shape last year, with the arrival of a new chief executive, Nancy Dubuc, has decided to turn Mr. Gabai’s operation into an anchor division, one she hopes can help Vice overcome difficulties elsewhere in its empire.

On her first day, Mr. Gabai sent her a text message inviting her to the set of “The Report,” which was filming near Vice’s Brooklyn headquarters. “I was like, ‘What the hell is going on?’” she said.

Mr. Gabai quickly impressed her. “I trust his taste,” Ms. Dubuc said, adding that she liked his “very patient, slow-and-steady-wins-the-race demeanor.”

Such qualities used to prompt frowns at Vice. But this is most definitely not the same out-of-control, testosterone-fueled company where Ms. Dubuc’s predecessor, Shane Smith, once set the tone by wandering nearly naked through the office. He stepped down as chief executive last year, several months after a New York Times investigation detailed a culture of sexual misconduct at the company. He is now executive chairman of Vice’s board.

Over lunch at the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills, Mr. Gabai came across as bookish and a bit introverted. When asked how he had first come to work at Vice, he responded, “I got hit by a car.”

That was 2011, and Mr. Gabai was working as an agent at William Morris Endeavor, where he represented auteurs like Roman Coppola. The accident left him with cracked vertebrae and a new outlook on life. So the button-down Mr. Gabai — who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in economics — went to work for Vice in its Los Angeles office in late 2012.

“It was a free-for-all, but a fun one,” he said.

By 2017, when Vice Studios was officially formed, Mr. Gabai had pushed through films like “Fishing Without Nets,” a foreign-language drama set in Somalia, and the well-reviewed documentary “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond.” It looked at Jim Carrey’s transformation into the comic Andy Kaufman in the biopic “Man on the Moon.”

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