HOLLYWOOD — Is Bingham Ray too much of a maverick for corporate life?
A battle-scarred vet of the indie wars, Ray confided to friends that he had apprehensions about taking the post as president of United Artists in September 2001.
Prior to 9/11, a favorite topic of gossip at the 2001 Toronto Film Festival was how Ray would fare under two very serious “suits,” MGM chairman/CEO Alex Yemenidjian and vice chairman Chris McGurk.
Yemenidjian is famous for wearing custom-made shirts with stiff, old-fashioned collars; Ray’s idea of dressing up is a pressed white oxford buttoned to the neck, sans tie.
That’s why, even though Ray brought blockbuster doc “Bowling for Columbine” to UA, it seemed inevitable when he got the chop last week, just a few months before his contract was up.
A studio source says there were “creative differences” — namely, that Ray wasn’t into making films that made more money than art.
Which begs the question: Just who did they think they were hiring?
Even a casual glance at Ray’s resume at October Films shows a concentration of groundbreaking high-art pics.
Films like “The Celebration” made Lars Von Trier’s name part of the indie film lexicon, but they didn’t earn much money. Ditto pics such as “The War Room,” “Topsy-Turvy,” “Secrets & Lies,” “High Art” and “Breaking the Waves.”
At UA, Ray greenlit “Nicholas Nickleby,” a $10 million Dickens adaptation that went nowhere. UA also made the $35 million-grossing “Jeepers Creepers 2” under his watch, but no one confused that with the kinds of movies Ray liked to make.
In his 28 months at UA, Ray released a number of acclaimed movies such as “Personal Velocity,” “Pieces of April” and “24 Hour Party People.”
The problem was that in the current Hollywood economy, even art movies have to make money.