By Indiewire | Indiewire December 1, 1999 at 2:0AM
INTERVIEW: Bingham Ray "On the Record," Part 2
by Eugene Hernandez and Mark Rabinowitz/indieWIRE
indieWIRE's conversation with Bingham Ray continues...
iW: How has the audience has changed over the course of
this decade, as a result of what you've just been talking about?
Ray: I think we're looking at a tectonic shift, and it really is
emblematic of "Blair Witch." I think there was an incredible shift in
audience, and I think you're going to have to understand that if you
want to go for the money, if a success is that huge -- and that's as
accidental as they come -- it's really truly a phenomenon. But the
audience has gotten real young. The audience is younger. And that one
they wanted to see. But someone will say, "It did a huge amount of
business, it's a great movie." And I say, "Yeah, 'Pokemon' is doing a lot
of business, and that makes 'Blair Witch' look great?" So you just take
that audience, 15 - 21, 15 - 25, now it's much
younger. People my age hardly, if ever, go to the movies. They live in
the suburbs perhaps, maybe they're still living in major urban markets,
but they are less inclined to go on that first Friday and give you that
great opening number. And they don't want to see a vast number of
challenging, perhaps bleak, perhaps depressive films that are kitchen
sink in nature, that are character studies, etc.
The market still exists. There is still a select audience to see these
films, but it's become this big. So you really have to be smart about
what films are going to fit with that audience. And you have to market
them properly. You can't throw millions of dollars at a foreign film and
expect there to be an upside. There won't be. No matter how lucky you
get. So you have to be really smart. The advertising rates in
newspapers, in magazines, and of course, let's not even talk about
television, which used to not at all be at all the domain of the
independent company because they wouldn't even think to advertise on TV.
But that's another thing to look at,
a big shift from ten years ago, five years ago.
Independents, when they didn't have any money, they were always more
creative than anything else. And now, where is that? It's gone away,
because everyone is just throwing money at everything. We have to take
out that half page ad as our pre-opening Sunday ad. I remember when we
were opening movies in New York, and I'm not saying this was the good
old days, this was just the way it was. With a pre-opening Sunday, if
you were lucky, it was a 1x6 and that was your pre-opening ad. And then
your opening day ad in the Times would have been 2x5. And forget about
the Post or the News. It was the [Village] Voice and the Soho News when that was
up and running, and that was it.
iW: You talked about the whole idea of the spirit at an organization like AIVF. How does one foster that spirit now considering the filmmaking and business environment we are left with?
Ray: It's drummed into a lot of our heads, it's our whole M.O., we'll
never be that far away from it, even if we're working on Madison Avenue
or even Los Angeles. I think it really is an individual thing. I think
it's really easy to lose yourself if you have some success in this
business, and I think it's really easy to get lost if you haven't had
any success. You just fall away and find something else to do. But I
think there's a handful of individuals and a handful of filmmakers who
feel the same way today that they felt 10 or 15 years ago. They've
grown as artists, and perhaps their concerns are more articulated today
than they were before, and they are saying different things perhaps, but
their approach is very similar. I don't think you can take that out of
an individual, no matter what happens to him. If you love movies -- and I
think it comes from that -- that's the root.
For me, whatever success I have is pure and simple because I
absolutely loved the films that I was working with, and I just love
movies in general. And as difficult as it's been and as great as it's
been, what's better than this? Nothing. Even when it sucks, even when
you're having the worst possible year, you know that you're just one
film away from turning everything around. And that's what I think
drives everybody. That you're just one film away. And one of the
things that I've learned is it doesn't have to be good to be good.
There's a long time when you're starting out and you're looking for the
perfect movie; whether you're acquisitions oriented or you're looking at
scripts, you're looking for the perfect movie. And I'll tell you,
that's a search that will go on forever. You get close every once in a
while, but when you have that so, so drummed into your head that
sometimes you'll lose sight of films that are flawed that can be
incredibly successful and fun to work on, and bring relationships that
really merit growth and continuing with them down the line.
One of the things when we started October, it didn't really dawn on Jeff
or myself, [was] that at some point these filmmakers we're working with
now are going to grow up like you are, and gee, wouldn't it be great to
stay with them, and wouldn't it be great if you could put a whole Ernest
Lubitsch ensemble, stock company together, you know. Look at, say,
Preston Sturges. What I always loved about all his films is he always
had, and Ford had it, they had that huge cast of characters that they
were always dealing with picture in and picture out. And then not until
the mid-90s did I think, you know, we could build a stable of filmmakers
here and ride with them up and down and through them find new
filmmakers. And then all this jargon starts to set in, and then it
becomes a business of jargon, and things that I ask agents. And I ask,
"Gee, what's rolling a call? What does that mean?" If you didn't have an
assistant, no one could roll your calls for you. Until the last few
years the phone rang and I said hello, and made my own calls. It didn't
dawn on me, all this stuff, it's nuts.
iW: As you anticipate the next few years, even the next decade, all of
this stuff is going on with digital, whether it's the Internet or
digital production or digital distribution, are you optimistic,
pessimistic, wait and see?
Ray: I've always been optimistic. I've always said that people are
moaning and groaning now, but as I said, it's only one film away from
turning it over. I think the advent of new technologies is something to
be scared of, but it's also something to welcome, and to jump into,
sometimes blindly, and with a lot of enthusiasm, and learn as you go.
You can go to school and you can be trained, but most of it can't. And
you have to learn it by doing it, and you have to learn it by making
mistakes. And so people who make these bold statements like, "No,
nothing will ever replace a 35mm print," they're just flat-out wrong.
There is going to come a time, probably sooner rather than later, where
a disk is going to take the place of a 35mm print. And the quality on
that disk, the information that's there will give us an image on a
screen that is as good if not better than that 35 or 75mm film. And
there's a lot of fear talking behind that. And I think it's fine,
people are going to be nervous and weary, but that said, I think you
still have to keep yourself wide open to it. Because if you shut that
door, you're screwed. If you say no, you're done. And you can't say
no, but you can't always say yes either. You have to deal with it.
I'm optimistic, I think it's going to be great. I just hope I can find
a job and deal in it. There are a lot of distribution companies the
world over, and they'll be changing. Some will rise, some will fall and
other people will come in and take their place. But what's always in
short supply is good movies, always. So that's where I have to pick up
some slack. Take all the things I've learned as a distributor, and a
distributor who is financing films, and all the lessons I've learned and
all the mistakes I've made and all the successes I've seen other people
enjoy, learn from that, and my own as well, and make movies, not as a
writer/director, but as a producer.
So I'm glad that I came in here for a half an hour and didn't complete
one sentence. Can you just say that Bing was a little rusty? He hadn't
been doing it for a little while. [laughs]
And I just want to say that "Blair Witch" may do $200 million worldwide, but it's still a piece of shit. You can put that in there.