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Light A Fire

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by Sydney Levine
January 2, 2013 3:03 PM
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On the eve of Sundance and the Arthouse Convergence, I find myself recalling last year’s sudden passing of Bingham Ray.  Mark Lipsky sent me his recollection which gives me a handle on how to deal with it (again!).  When I saw Bingham, collapsed in the corner of the hotel lobby, I was paying my bill with my roommate Bernice Baeza, the owner of Larkspur Theaters.  Horribly coincidently, she also passed away this past year unexpectedly. As bad luck comes in threes, my mother (of 96 years) also passed on.  Accompanying this gloomy message is the wish for a good and healthy 2013 to you!  Carpe diem!!

Mark Lipsky recalls:

Bingham Ray

Outside of my immediate family, no one has influenced my life in a more fateful or enduring way than Bingham Ray.

One evening in 1986, Bingham phoned me in Dallas where I was living at the time and told me about a chance meeting he’d just had. Bob Weinstein had accosted him in the back of a darkened movie theater and tried to hire him as Miramax Films’ head of distribution. Bingham said he’d agreed to meet with Bob the following day but that he was going to turn down the position and suggest Bob call me.

What little I knew – or at least had heard – about Bob and his brother Harvey was that they were worth avoiding. Possibly at all cost. Crazy brothers who didn’t really know anything about the independent film business and impossible to deal with. Under the circumstances, I asked Bingham to please take the meeting and find out all he could about the company and the job before throwing my hat in the ring. He said he would. The next morning he phoned and said he’d turned down the job and Bob would be calling momentarily. Bob wasn’t as bad as his rep, he explained, and I should take the call and hear what he had to say.

Bob phoned soon thereafter and I was struck by how normal he seemed. He wanted to meet but wouldn’t fly me in. If I could get to New York, he’d make time.

I’d left New York in early 1982 where I’d worked for Cinema 5 and New Yorker Films. I’d moved to LA where I thought I’d break into the bigs and get a studio job. Long story short, my plan didn’t fit the timeframe. The studios were in the throes of their worst downturn in many years and it was just before the release of “ET” changed their fortunes in a big way. I’d retreated to Dallas where my family had relocated and landed a sales job with Paramount Pictures. But Dallas wasn’t LA (or NY) and the robotic nature of booking studio films into commercial screens left me feeling, well, like a robot.

I flew to NY where I stayed with Bingham and Nancy during the interview process. I met with Bob and he offered me the job. (Harvey was in LA where he was supervising post on the brothers’ co-written, co-produced, co-directed “Playing for Keeps”.) That afternoon and evening I called everyone I knew in the business and nearly all of them suggested running away as fast as I could. Such was the Weinsteins’ reputation at the time and that of Miramax. Bingham, though, along with my brother Jeff, was more philosophical. They knew that I missed both NYC and the independent film business and so why not.

I took the job and the course of my life was changed forever by that call from Bingham and by his confidence in my ability to handle the Weinsteins and strengthen Miramax.

When brother Jeff phoned me from Sundance the other day to let me know that Bingham had suffered a stroke I was upset but not overly concerned. Bingham was not only one of the community’s most respected, charming and beloved personalities, he was also one of the most irrepressible. I had no doubt that he would survive this inconvenient speedbump.

When word came today that Bingham had passed, I was unprepared for the flood of emotions I felt. We’d not had much contact over the past several years but anytime our paths did cross, the kinship and warmth we’d always had for each other remained undiminished.

We lost a good friend and a very bright light today, but that light lives on in the many he’s touched and influenced over the years and it will live on in my life.

Thanks for everything Bingham. Wherever you go from here, I know you’ll be lighting hopeful and empowering fires for us all.

Mark Lipsky Light a Fire!

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