Shakeup at United Artists; Bingham Ray Exits Company
by Eugene Hernandez
In a move that will no doubt shock New York's film community today, MGM announced late Thursday that Bingham Ray is no longer president of United Artists, the studio's specialty division. Ray joined UA on September 1, 2001 as part of a move to re-launch the more than 80-year-old film company that was founded by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith and William S. Hart.
"We discussed this last year and mutually decided that Bingham would step down, and that it was best to hold off on an announcement until now to allow for better continuity at United Artists," said Chris McGurk in a prepared statement. "We appreciate Bingham's hard work nurturing award-winning films at UA over the past two-and-a-half years and wish him the best." The move is effective immediately.
MGM will not hire a new president but will instead entrust EVP Danny Rosett with leadership of the company. The studio said in Thursday's statement that Rosett would work closely with SVP of Productions and Acquisitions Sara Rose.
"My time at United Artists and MGM has been a wonderful opportunity to work with great filmmakers and films, and to get UA headed in an important new direction," Ray said in a statement. "I decided with Chris that now is the time to move on. I'm leaving UA in the capable hands of Danny Rosett, Sara Rose and Mary Ann Hult, and appreciate all of the support that MGM has given me. I thank everyone there for the opportunity."
Media reports early Friday indicate that McGurk and Ray were at odds over the direction of company. Ray, an outspoken and respected member of New York's film community recently came up against opposition from within MGM for his activism against the MPAA screener ban. The exec was initially quite vocal in the fight but was later silenced by MGM studio head Alex Yemenidjian.
Among Ray's successes at UA were the releases of Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" and Danis Tanovic's "No Man's Land." Both films won Academy Awards. Much less successful were "Nicholas Nickelby" and "City of Ghosts."
Bingham Ray is an independent film industry pioneer who was honored with a Gotham Award last year for his career in the business. Prior to teaming up on United Artists, Ray and McGurk worked together when Ray was at October Films, the independent film company that Ray co-founded with Jeff Lipsky in 1990. While at Universal, McGurk oversaw the studio's deal for October. Universal's ownership later soured after the studio blocked the company from releasing Todd Solondz' "Happiness." Ray left in 1999 and Universal sold the division to Barry Diller, creating the former USA Films. Ray returned to the independent film business as head of Crossroads Films in early 2001 before joining United Artists.
Ray's career is well documented in "Down and Dirty Pictures," Peter Biskind's book about the rise of independent film in the 1990's that was released this week. Biskind gave Bingham Ray the final words in the book, concluding with a quote from Ray.
"The independent world isn't like the Hollywood world," Ray told Biskind in October. "The motives are different, the goals are different, people aren't necessarily trying to get rich and powerful, they're trying to push art first while thinking everything else will take care of itself. That's the naive part of it, it doesn't happen that way. You can't even talk about that with a straight face or people will laugh you off the planet. But there's a big part of me that really does believe that. And will always believe that."
Upcoming UA films include Siddiq Barmaq's "Osama," Michael Winterbottom's "Code 46," Lucky McKee's "The Woods," Don Cheadle's "Hotel Rwanda," and Terry Zwigoff's "Art School Confidential."