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A down day for Ray

Prexy's exit marks end of latest bid to revive UA label

A correction was made to this article on Jan. 8, 2004.

Yet another grand plan to resuscitate United Artists has been scratched. Bingham Ray, a veteran of the indie wars, has been removed as prexy of the label, which was to become a bastion of independent film under Ray’s leadership.

Chris McGurk, vice chairman of MGM, which owns UA, acknowledged Ray was out and would not be replaced.

Ray has headed UA since 2001. A high point of his regime was the acquisition of U.S. rights to “Bowling for Columbine” at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. In addition to winning a unanimous special Cannes 55th anniversary prize and an Oscar for documentary feature, “Columbine” earned $21.6 million in its domestic release.

UA’s biggest grosser of 2003, however, was “Jeepers Creepers 2,” a genre thriller that earned $35 million in the U.S.

In its heyday in the 1960s, UA shepherded “Tom Jones,” the top Billy Wilder movies and a distinguished slate of high-profile pics. Its fortunes have bogged down since its acquisition by Kirk Kerkorian’s MGM in 1981.

McGurk said Los Angeles-based executive VP of marketing and distribution Daniel Rosett would oversee UA.

Ray’s contract was up this spring, but McGurk told Daily Variety that by the end of last year, there was a mutual decision not to renew it. He added he expects the division to continue much as before.

“We’re very comfortable with the management team we have in place,” McGurk said. “It was a mutual decision we made last year. We just waited until the first of the year to determine the timing.”

Also remaining aboard are senior VP of acquisitions Sara Rose, who is based in Los Angeles, and Mary Ann Hult, based in New York.

When Ray was hired in September 2001, UA’s HQ was moved to Gotham, with acquisitions and production remaining in Los Angeles. While the New York office will remain, the focus of power shifts to the West Coast.

When an executive starts off with the biggest docu in B.O. history, there’s nowhere to go but down. Beyond the Michael Moore film, the UA slate found only scattershot success.

“Nicholas Nickleby” was a particular disappointment. Budgeted at $10 million, it earned just $1.6 million at the domestic B.O.

Similar grosses were earned by critically acclaimed lower-budget pics including “24 Hour Party People,” “Igby Goes Down,” “All or Nothing” and “Personal Velocity.”

Production shingles that have deals at UA are Crossroads; Jon Taplin and Richard Kleller’s Fusion; John Malkovich’s Mr. Mudd; Simon Channing-Williams’ Potboiler; Michael Winterbottom’s Revolution; and Michael Stipe’s Single Cell.

In post is Lucky McKee’s “The Woods,” with “Hotel Rwanda” and Terry Zwigoff’s “Art School Confidential” expected to go into production later this year.

Prior to Ray’s appointment, UA had been without an official head since prexy Lindsay Doran stepped down in June 1999 to take a production deal at MGM — the same time that MGM repositioned UA as the studio’s specialized division.

At October Films, which Ray co-founded, he released such award-winning pics as “Life Is Sweet,” “Secrets and Lies,” “Breaking the Waves,” “The Celebration,” “Joe Gould’s Secret” and “The Apostle.”

Ray began his career in film at UA, selling titles to hospitals, Southern colleges and ships.

(David Rooney in New York contributed to this report.)

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