If Mohammed won’t go to the mountain, the mountain will go to Mohammed.
With October Films co-founder and confirmed Gothamite Bingham Ray appointed president of MGM specialty division United Artists, the division’s headquarters will be relocated to New York City when Ray assumes the post Sept. 1.
MGM plans to release 10-12 titles annually, with budgets under $10 million. Ray will report to Los Angeles-based Chris McGurk, vice chairman and chief operating officer of MGM.
Ray told Daily Variety he plans to build a “lean and aggressive” team of UA executives in New York, with Sara Rose remaining in Los Angeles to head acquisitions and production for the West Coast.
In joining MGM, Ray has completely divested himself of his partnership in Crossroads Films, an award-winning New York- and Los Angeles-based commercial production company where he, Dan Lindau and Cami Taylor launched and oversaw the group’s feature film division.
Crossroads currently has a three-year, first-look production arrangement with UA that will continue following Ray’s appointment. Leon Falk now heads production for Crossroads, with Mirella Cheeseman and Eugenie Grandval serving as creative execs. Cheeseman and Grandval previously worked for Ray at October Films.
At October, which Ray founded with Jeff Lipsky in 1991, he cultivated relationships with filmmakers including Mike Leigh, Lars von Trier, David Lynch, Thomas Vinterberg, Stanley Tucci, John Dahl and Robert Duvall. These relationships resulted in such critically acclaimed films as “Life Is Sweet,” “Secrets and Lies,” “Topsy-Turvy,” “Breaking the Waves,” “The Celebration,” “The Last Seduction” and “The Apostle.”
Long before that, however, Ray’s first job was selling titles to hospitals, Southern colleges and ships at sea for UA from its offices at 729 Seventh Ave. in New York. Ray said he also took time to sneak upstairs to look at the offices that once were the headquarters for UA founders Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith.
“How many times in a career do you get an opportunity to head a company you grew up revering?” said Ray. “It’s great to have it back in New York, where it belongs, where it started, where the community so desperately needs it. I think there’s opportunity, and there’s certainly room for a company like UA.”
In addition to Crossroads, UA currently has a distribution deal with American Zoetrope and first-look arrangements with GreeneStreet Films, Fireball Films, Single Cell Pictures and Revolution Films.
In addition to praising the current UA release “Ghost World,” which Ray called “a kind of template” for the films he’d like to see at UA, he singled out titles “Election,” “Rushmore” and “Memento” as “films I’d cut my left arm off to do.”
Ray also praised UA’s Cannes acquisition “No Man’s Land,” adding, “Doing a lot of foreign-language films is not part of our agenda, but a great film is a great film.”
UA plans to continue making a number of genre films each year, although Ray said he’d always aim to make pictures that “don’t connect the dots.”
“I have worked with Bingham for many years dating back to his days as head of October Films,” McGurk said, “and I believe that his inherent passion for filmmaking, combined with his impeccable creative instincts, make him the ideal choice to lead United Artists and further advance its unparalleled legacy.”
Ray said, “United Artists has traditionally been defined by its independent spirit — a trait that will continue to distinguish our efforts going forward. We will aggressively work to reinforce and enhance the studio’s successful filmmaker-friendly environment and effectively reposition United Artists for a new century.”