October Films co-founder Bingham Ray will become the new head of MGM specialty division United Artists, with a deal expected to be signed later this week.
Ray is currently the head of the feature division of Gotham-based video and commercial production shingle Crossroads Films, which signed a three-year, first-look deal with UA in May (Daily Variety, May 30).
It is unclear exactly what Ray’s appointment will mean for Crossroads, which planned to produce two films per year budgeted at $3 million-$15 million for UA to distribute in North America.
Even more important, however, is how Ray will reshape UA, a shingle that has been without an official head since former prexy Lindsay Doran stepped down in June 1999 to take a production deal at MGM. At the same time, MGM repositioned UA as the studio’s specialized division and consolidated UA’s production and development team under MGM Pictures’ Michael Nathanson.
The plan then was to lay off those tasks on production labels, the linchpin being Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope. In spring 2000, after more than a year of on-again, off-again negotiations, Zoetrope completed a three-year production-distribution deal with UA that gave Coppola greenlight authority over 10 films, each with all-inclusive budgets of less than $10 million.
The first film to stem from that deal will be “Jeepers Creepers,” currently set for an Aug. 31 release. Other Zoetrope films on the UA slate are “CQ,” “No Such Thing,” “Assassination Tango” and “Pumpkin.”
However, MGM board member Coppola — himself once a candidate to head UA — now seems to be shifting his attention away from producing smaller Zoetrope films. He now is moving toward directing his long-in-the-making screenplay “Megalopolis,” an opus that falls far outside the budgetary limits of his UA deal.
In addition to Crossroads and Zoetrope, UA’s production deals include Scott Kalvert’s Fireball, which produced Kalvert’s upcoming “Deuce’s Wild,” John Penotti and Fisher Stevens’ GreeneStreet Films and Michael Stipe and Sandy Stern’s SelfTimer.
For the last two years, UA’s de facto chiefs were MGM distribution prexy Larry Gleason and marketing president Gerry Rich. However, they exited their posts last month and were replaced by Bob Levin, who took the title of MGM’s president worldwide theatrical marketing and distribution (Daily Variety, June 22).
At October, Ray released such pics as “Life Is Sweet,” “Secrets and Lies,” “Breaking the Waves,” “The Celebration,” “Joe Gould’s Secret” and “The Apostle.”