DECADE: Bingham Ray "On the Record," Part 1
by Eugene Hernandez and Mark Rabinowitz/indieWIRE
[The newly added Part 1A of this interview is now linked at the bottom of the page.]
"It's all on the record," Bingham Ray exclaimed at the conclusion of our 35 minute conversation. The discussion, held earlier this month in the conference room at the AIVF, was actually more of a candid rant about his own experiences during a career in the independent film business. Mark Rabinowitz and I interjected a few comments to guide the conversation, but for the most part Bingham offered his uncensored take on the decade and his professional life.
This has been a tumultous year for Ray, who founded October Films with Jeff Lipsky at the beginning of this decade. While Bingham was the anonymous executive behind a now famous quote that capped the 1999 Sundance Film Festival ["The scariest thing about 'Blair Witch" is the price that (Artisan) paid for it."], the rest of his notoriety came more publicly. October was sold by Universal Studios to Barry Diller's USA Networks and combined with Gramercy Pictures and parts of Polygram to create USA Films — a new unit now headed by his former business partner Scott Greenstein. Ray left the company and the October name has effectively been retired.
Now, Bingham watches from the sidelines as he waits out the term of a non-compete clause that keeps him out of a business he is clearly passionate about. [Eugene Hernandez]
One thing that stands out is that the filmmakers, the "left-field"
Bingham Ray: Ten years? I've been thinking about it over the last
couple of days, and if you go back right to the beginning of October,
which was in 1990-91, when the idea struck Jeff Lipsky and myself, it
was really formed out of a desire, a real need to not work for anybody
anymore. Nothing more complicated than that. And at that time, the
climate and landscape of the independent world was truly independent.
There had been, through the 80's, a whole wave of forced consolidation by
the studios, and it hadn't worked, and they'd gotten out. This is at a
time when Orion was in bankruptcy, so Tom [Bernard] and Michael [Barker]
were on a forced hiatus. Companies like Triton, companies that don't
exist today, were — I wouldn't say powerful — but they were certainly
out there and they were giving it a go. And there were people in the
marketplace who thought, "There's enough distribution, so whatever you
guys want to do is a fairly pointless exercise." And you know, I didn't
really disagree with them, but we had a personal need so we went for it.
Now there's a million different things that are different today. And I
like the business so much and I like the movies so much that you just
take it as it comes — all the changes that have been heaped on the
marketplace. One thing that stands out is that the filmmakers, the "left-field"
filmmakers — the people who have never made movies before, that
don't know jack shit — they're a lot more sophisticated now than they
were then. They know a lot more about the business now. I don't know
if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
iW: Are the filmmakers any better?
Ray: I don't think they're any better, no. And I think they have a lot
less to say. And I think that's bad. And anyone looking at them with
any kind of experience, with any kind of judgement on what's come before
would say the same thing. It's not an outrageous thing. But the
marketplace has changed radically.
There has been, in the last eight years, nothing but consolidation. It's the Hollywood-ization of the independent marketplace. It's the filtering, it's the approach, it's the actual marketing, distribution, publicity, promotional plans that are affected.
There has been, in the last eight years, nothing but consolidation. It's the Hollywood-ization of the independent marketplace.
You're targeting essentially the same audience that we were targeting in the early 90's and late 80's, but the stakes are much,
much higher. And it's completely changed the nature of the films, and
it's completely, I think, more or less, ruining the spirit from when I
started in the business in 1980. No one gets involved in the film business
now for the same reasons that we were in it twenty years ago. Most of
the executives — we've begun aging most of us, some of us less gracefully
than others — but you'll never get it out of me (laughs).
It's a completely different world; it's a business. The studio and the studio
mindset and the studio pressure have forced everyone — and advertisers
as well and agencies — it's all part of that bigger pie. You're just a
little division now, and you're compromised, you're corrupted. It can't
be about the risk-oriented choices of the past. You have to be
Now there are some divisions of studios that have started up since the
time that October started up. Sony is one, and Fine Line is another,
and Paramount has created an entity. It's all very sexy. Universal
took 51% of October in '97. These things will work if the executives at
the studios allow them to work. There was a lot of human pride three or four years ago about how the studios really wised up, and they knew there were two different
businesses now — the business of the blockbusters and the mass audience
and the 12 – 20 year-old kid, and let the independents do the serious
stuff, the films the studios were making in the 70's. That's
horseshit. There's one audience. And you have to attack that one
audience the same way.
And in a nutshell, everything stems from that. When I think of an independent film, and independent filmmakers, it's this kind of environment [at AIVF] — real loose, people are passionate, they're not making the check in terms of covering their expenses, paying their rent — they're
doing it because they love to and they're doing it because they have to. It's different. The spirit has kind of been rung out of it. And that's unfortunate. That's not to say that good films don't come in and we all enjoy them, and we all are infused and enthusiastic about that when they do happen, but they seem to come way far in between these days.
The conversation now continues on page 1A…