Ray Price, the respected independent film innovator who served as president of American Zoetrope and First Look Pictures and as a marketing and distribution executive for companies like Landmark Theaters and Trimark Pictures, has died. He was 75 years old.
Price died Sunday at Whittier Hospital Medical Center of heart failure after a long battle with cancer, his longtime partner Meg Madison said.
Throughout his career, Price displayed an encyclopedic knowledge of film, mentoring generations of executives and leaning toward the outrageous in the way he lured audiences into trying out challenging films.
Along the way, he championed filmmakers like Carl Franklin (1992’s one false move), Allison Anders (1992) Gas Food Lodging), Tran Anh Hung (1993 The scent of green papaya), Gurinder Chadha (1993 bhaji on the beach) and John Sayles (1994 Roan Inish’s Secret).
“Ray, while a defiantly unique individual, was also emblematic of a bygone era of independent filmmaking,” Magnolia Pictures co-CEO Eamonn Bowles said in a statement. “From theater chain owner to distributor, marketing expert and production executive, he was always looking for fresh ways to approach things. He really he was a rebel ”.
Price began his film career in 1972 managing The Rialto theater in Berkeley, California, and later built with Allen Michaan the 33-screen Bay Area Renaissance Theaters chain, which was later sold to the Landmark Theaters circuit.
Under Price’s direction, Renaissance redesigned marketing materials, such as posters and press books, that distributors often adopted when films had been unsuccessful in other markets. “Shot [the 1984 Alex Cox-directed] repo man from the slush pile, he designed a poster with his own money and put it up in his theater,” said his former assistant Marti Mattox. “The rest is history.”
As most major art house dealers focused on established authors from Europe and Asia, Renaissance scheduled new American directors such as Martin Scorsese and John Cassavetes. He also relaunched films like Ridley Scott’s the duelists (1977), by Lewis John Carlino The Great Santini (1979), by Jonathan Demme Melvin and Howard (1980), by Brian DePalma Burst (1981) and Christopher Guest The panorama (1989).
In 1988, Price moved to Los Angeles, where he helped start distribution companies, including IRS Media and First Look, and built the theatrical arm for the Trimark home video company.
During this period, he managed the distribution and marketing of Gas Food Lodging, one false move, Roan Inish’s Secret and The scent of green papayaplus Bobcat Goldthwait shake the clown (1991) by Stacy Cochran my new weapon (1992), by Mira Nair kamasutra (1996), by Mary Harron I shot Andy Warhol (1996), Kasi Lemmons eva swamp (1997) by Wayne Wang Chinese box (1997), by Vincenzo Natali Cube (1997) and more.
When most specialty dealers left Finish Because they didn’t know how to market the fairy tale to children without involving a Happy Meal, Price at First Look appealed to adults through “Irish Magical Realism,” said producer Maggie Renzi. “Ray figured out how to sell it as an adult art film,” she said. “Everyone returned with the children. The poster was complex, sophisticated, and beautiful. It was timeless. He respected art. It was a pleasure working with him.”
“Ray was the best strategist I’ve ever known,” said Bert Manzari, who formed an independent booking company in San Francisco with Price called ManRay Booking long before he ran the Landmark chain. “Ray not only taught me tactics, he also introduced me to cognac, Armagnac and other deliciously decadent pursuits. We had a great time. Ray had the best cinematic sense and his persuasive power was unmatched.”
With Price’s help, green papaya received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. “Today, with experience, I know for sure that Ray brought success to [the feature] in North America,” Tran said.
Price distributed many films about women and people of color, and was always looking for something new and unexpected. A friend asked her why she was wasting her time with such an obscure title as bhaji on the beach. The answer came a few years later when Chadha wrote and directed I want to be like Beckham (2002).
Price was the first to broadcast a new feature. After First Look acquired Daisy von Scherler Mayer’s party girl (1995), starring Parker Posey, staged its webcast in black and white at 14 frames per second over a T1 cable in June 1995.
After 1999, when he joined Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope, Price oversaw the worldwide sales and marketing of films including Sofia Coppola’s. the virgin suicides (1999), which debuted at Cannes, and productions from the first Jeepers Creepers tickets.
In 2001, he joined Manzari to help revive Landmark and published the network’s free show. flm Independent film magazine, featuring first-person features from directors, in order to raise product awareness on the marquee.
Price returned to the Internet in 2007 with two Wang films that the director wanted to distribute theatrically together. He thought A thousand years of good prayers classified as art house fare but its complementary piece, The Nebraska Princess, it wouldn’t work on the big screen. So he convinced Wang to give Princess away for free.
The New York Times, indiewire and Variety agreed to put the film on the front page of their websites, where it achieved 250,000 views on its opening weekend and helped promote A thousand years.
Also in 2007, Price joined 2929 Entertainment as Senior Vice President of Marketing and Distribution, handling films such as tourists (2006).
“He had a deep understanding of and love for movies and was the source of a great tradition in the film distribution business,” said Roadside Attractions co-chairman Howard Cohen. “He was part of what you might call a dying breed of independent film executives, along with the late Bingham Ray, who came to the business with a unique combination of a love of film and a down-to-earth, down-to-earth film perspective, often starting out as a manager of local theaters.”
At the time of his death, Price was promoting the Rodrigo Reyes documentary. samson and me, about a 19-year-old illegal immigrant who is sentenced to death. The film will be simulcast in prisons through a grant from the Ford Foundation, there are plans for a theatrical release, and PBS is scheduled to air it this fall.
In addition to Madison, survivors include her sisters, Liz and Sean; her children, Antigone, Dierdre and Asher; and her brother, Brian. Donations can be made to dar.translifeline.org.