DAILY NEWS **UPDATE**: Bingham Ray and Chris McGurk on the New UA; Solondz and Lipsky Stir "Storytelling" Rating Buzz
by Eugene Hernandez
>> The New United Artists: Bingham Ray and Chris McGurk Weigh In
(indieWIRE/08.06.01) -- Whether last week marks the symbolic turnaround for
82-year-old United Artists remains to be seen, but it certainly is the start
of a new chapter in the company's storied history. October Films co-founder
Bingham Ray will join MGM's specialty film division as its president on
September 1; the deal was sealed last week and announced by MGM vice chairman
and COO Chris McGurk on Thursday. The pact calls for the company to
relocate to New York and Ray will report directly to McGurk back in
Hollywood. Both men spoke with indieWIRE separately on Friday, looking ahead
at the new Indiewood outfit and looking back at their own relationship while
they were at Universal and October Films, respectively.
"I want [United Artists] to maintain a slate of quality independent and
genre films that are successful both artistically and commercially," Chris
McGurk told indieWIRE. "Bingham with his relationships -- in a very short
order -- will help restore UA."
United Artists was founded in February of 1919 by Charlie Chaplin, Mary
Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith and William S. Hart. While the
group of cinema pioneers were initially successful, UA had its brightest
moments in the 1960s after being sold to Arthur Krim, Robert Benjamin, and
others. Among UA's releases were "High Noon," "The Apartment," "West Side Story," "Midnight Cowboy," "Some Like It Hot," "Rocky," and numerous James Bond films.
"I grew up revering that company," Ray enthused. At the start of his career
while a booker for the company, the exec recalls, he would even sneak into
United Artist's Manhattan executive offices.
"What I am really interested in doing -- and what I am willing to work very
hard to achieve -- is a consistent level of success," Ray continued, "The
kinds of films that you can make that can be both profitable and
As an example, Chris McGurk points to "Ghost World," which UA is
successfully releasing right now amidst what the MGM exec calls a crop of
"artistically horrendous films" from other studios. It is a movie that he
calls "a message to the film community," because everyone in town passed on
it. "Even some of these so-called independent film companies," McGurk
continued, "specialty film companies -- on the margin -- will always choose
something that seems more commercially oriented."
"Hopefully because we took a shot at this picture ("Ghost World")," McGurk
added, "It will show that we want to be a haven for cutting edge
Citing, "recent changes in the New York independent landscape," Bingham Ray
explained that with the new United Artists, it is important to "do this in a
really intelligent, lean way."
Ray also recognized UA's past successes in production and distribution." The
history of United Artists is a New York history -- their traditon, and the
models that they established," Ray continued. "The UA guys, they really
invented it. That's really where it started." Ray is looking at the work of
Krim and associates as the model for his own success -- a style and
structure that has long been touted by Michael Barker and Tom Bernard of
Sony Pictures Classics, who worked with Krim and consider him a mentor.
Barker and Bernard's approach is one that Ray has publicly lauded.
Re-establishing the company in New York City, where it was based when Krim
and others purchased the studio from Pickford and Chaplin, is crucial to the
plan, according to McGurk. "It drives a stake in the ground in the New York
filmmaking marketplace," McGurk said. "Bingham is a part of that scene, the
New York filmmaking community."
United Artists will release 8 - 12 movies each year, according to McGurk.
The slate will be a mixture of its own movies from deals with Francis Ford
Coppola's American Zoetrope, John Penotti and Fisher Steven's GreeneStreet
Films, Michael Stipe and Sandy Stern's Single Cell, Michael Winterbottom's
Revolution Films, Crossroads (the company where Ray will continue working
until he joins UA), and a selection of acquistions, pre-bought scripts and
others, according to Ray.
Ray and his October Films partners sold a majority stake of their company to
Universal Studios in 1997, where Ray worked with McGurk, who oversaw the
acquisition. "It was difficult at October," McGurk told indieWIRE, when
asked about the last time that he and Ray worked together. "They had a
triumvirate running the company; we are not repeating that mistake here, if
you want to call it a mistake."
Continuing McGurk added, "At a company like October, you had a higher
overhead which sometimes drove the decision making. Here, UA is an
independent production label; Bingham is going to run it in a very lean and
"One of the things that I have learned," Ray explained, "is, why make
something that is simple, very complicated -- it's not necessary." In fact,
Ray spoke candidly about the lessons he has learned recently. "You have to
admit that you've made mistakes in the past to be able to learn anything
from them," Ray said.
"Speaking strictly for myself, I was very grateful to have that resource
that Universal was providing," he continued. "But I wasn't at all interested
in the politics, or more importantly, mature enough to understand that there
is a rule book."
The idea of such a "rule book" is one that Ray says he rejected. "If it
existed, I threw it out the window," he offered. "That is a really
interesting type of approach, but not a successful one, as I shortly
"I wasn't a victim, I wasn't victimized, but I kind of victimized myself
through very immature mistakes and silly behavior," he continued.
"I have had plenty of time," Ray concluded, "This kind of opportunity has
come at a great time for me both personally and professionally." [Eugene
>> Solondz' "Storytelling" Box (and Lipsky's Letter) Heats Up MPAA Debate
(indieWIRE/08.06.01) -- Word that Todd Solondz has decided to add a large red box to a button-pushing scene in his new movie, "Storytelling," elicited an angry reaction from Lot 47 president (and October Films co-founder) Jeff Lipsky. The story, first reported by indieWIRE on July 24th, and Lipsky's letter, published the next day by indieWIRE, are the subject of a report in Daily Variety today ("Indie players square off on ratings limits" by Jonathan Bing
). The Hollywood trade piece, which is also being syndicated by Reuters, puts Solondz and Lipsky at odds as MPAA chief Jack Valenti faces public battles over universal ratings proposed by Senator Joe Lieberman and other policitians.
Solondz decided to add the red box to prevent his new film from getting an "NC-17" rating from the MPAA -- he is contractually obligated to deliver an "R" film to distributor Fine Line Features. Lipsky called the filmmaker's move to alter his film, "delusional and a sure-fire sign he is sucking up to Hollywood, the majors, and commercial cinema." Solondz would not offer Variety's Jonathan Bing a reaction to Lipsky's comments.
"Jack Valenti is having a field day,'' Lipsky told Variety in today's story about the "flare-up" on indieWIRE.com. He told Variety that it, "creates a complete smokescreen that allows him (Valenti) to get away from what's wrong with the MPAA. Hollywood allows him to have a Supreme Court-like tenure because his job is not to rock the boat.'' [Eugene Hernandez]
RELATED ARTICLES @ indieWIRE.com:
(indieWIRE/07.24.01) -- The Scarlet Box: Solondz Alters "Storytelling" to Secure "R" Rating
(indieWIRE/07.25.01) -- LETTER TO THE EDITOR: by Jeff Lipsky