Ray Price

Ray Price, the true maverick of independent film, has died at 75

One of independent cinema’s leading lights, Ray Price, died on July 16 at the age of 75 of heart failure after a long battle with cancer, his longtime partner Meg Madison has confirmed.

Talking to Price about movies, past and present, was an exhilarating sport that could take some time. He knew his stuff about him—nobody loved movies more—but more than anyone during the great independent decades of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, he was a respected innovator who thought outside the box. He started out as an exhibitor in San Francisco and transitioned into film marketing, release and production, leaning towards the outrageous in how he enticed audiences to experience inspiring films.

“Ray, while a provocatively singular individual, was also emblematic of a bygone era of independent films,” Magnolia Pictures co-CEO Eamonn Bowles wrote to me in an email. “From theater chain owner to distributor, exquisite marketer and production executive, he was always looking for new ways to approach things. He was truly a rebel and my heart goes out to his family.

Price championed a number of talented directors at crucial moments in their careers: Tran Anh Hung (“The Scent of Green Papaya”), Gurinder Chadha (“Bhaji on The Beach”), Carl Franklin (“One False Move”), Allison Anders (“Gas Food Lodging”) and John Sayles (“The Secret of Roan Inish”). When most specialist distributors rejected “Inish” because they didn’t know how to sell the fairy tale to children without spending money on Happy Meals, Price at First Look appealed to adults through “Irish Magical Realism,” producer Maggie told me over the phone. Renzi .

“Ray figured out how to sell it as an art film to adults. Everyone came back with the kids,” she said. “The poster was complex and sophisticated and beautiful. It was timeless. He respected the art. He was a pleasure to work with.”

Price launched his film career in 1972, managing Berkeley’s Rialto Theater, and went on to build (with Allen Michaan) Renaissance Theaters, an independent art film chain that at one point had 33 screens in the Bay Area; later sold to the Landmark Theater circuit.

A tough negotiator and demanding exhibitor, Price has earned a reputation for redesigning marketing materials from posters to print books. “She dug ‘Repo Man’ out of the slush pile,” wrote his former assistant Marti Mattox, “designed a poster with his money and put it up in his theater. The rest is history.”

Tracey Walter and Emilio Estevez in “Repo Man”©Universal/Courtesy of Everett Collection

At a time when most arthouse distributors focused on established auteurs from Europe and Asia, Renaissance Theaters blew those norms by scheduling new American directors like Martin Scorsese and John Cassavetes. The company has also pulled films from studios and relaunched them, including Ridley Scott’s “The Duelist,” Jonathan Demme’s “Melvin and Howard,” Brian de Palma’s “Blowout,” Lewis John’s “The Great Santini,” Carlino and “The Great Santini” by Christopher Guest. Big Picture”, among others.

“Ray was the best tactician I’ve ever known,” said Bert Manzari, who formed an independent reservations company in San Francisco with Price aptly named ManRay Booking long before running the Landmark Theater chain. “Ray not only taught me tactics, but he also introduced me to cognac, Armagnac and other deliciously decadent pursuits. We had a blast. Ray had the best cinematic sense and his powers of persuasion were unmatched”. He recalls that after one of Price and Madison’s parties at their house, Manzari discovered that she had been dating Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

In 1988 Price moved to Los Angeles, where he helped start several distribution companies including IRS Pictures and First Look Pictures and built the theater arm for home video company TriMark Entertainment. He has also handled the distribution and marketing of a number of independent films, including ‘Gas Food Lodging’, ‘One False Move’, ‘The Secret of Roan Inish’ and ‘The Scent of Green Papaya’ as well as ‘Kama Sutra , Kasi Lemmon’s “Eve’s Bayou”, Stacy Cochran’s “My New Gun”, Wayne Wang’s “Chinese Box”, Bobcat Goldthwait’s “Shakes the Clown”, Mary Harron’s “I Shot Andy Warhol” and Vincenzo’s “Cube” Natal.

Thanks to Price, Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung was introduced to limousines and non-stop public appearances. Two months after the limousine’s first pickup at LAX, “we were back in a stretch limo headed to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the Oscars,” Tran said. “Today, with experience, I know for sure that Ray brought ‘The Scent Of Green Papaya’ to success in North America. I am very grateful to you, Ray.

THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH, Susan Lynch, 1994, (c)Samuel Goldwyn Company/courtesy Everett Collection
“Roan Inish’s Secret”©Samuel Goldwyn Films/courtesy Everett Collection

Most of the films Price released came from women and people of color. Many were first-time directors as he was always looking for something new and unexpected like ‘Bhaji on The Beach’, a social realist comedy set in London’s South Asian community. A friend asked Price why he was wasting his time with such an obscure title. Gurinder Chadha’s next film was ‘Bend it Like Beckham’.

Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen knew Price well on the art house circuit. He “he Had a deep knowledge and love of films, and was the source of a great deal of knowledge of the film distribution business.” he wrote in an email. “He was part of what I might call a dying breed of independent film executive, along with the late Bingham Ray, who came into the business from a unique combination of a love of cinema and a down-to-earth cinema perspective. , in the field, often starting to manage local theaters.

Price was the first to stream a new feature film online. After First Look Pictures acquired Daisy von Scherler’s Mayer cult hit “Party Girl,” starring Parker Posey, Price decided to stream it over the Internet in black and white at 14 fps via T1 cable on June 3, 1995. , getting coverage from NBC News, among others. He was always trying new things. It was what he lived for.

THE VERGIN SUICIDES, Leslie Hayman, Kirsten Dunst, AJ Cook, Chelse Swain, 1999 (image updated to 16 x 12 inches)
“The Virgin Suicides”©Paramount Classics / Courtesy of Everett Col / Everett Collection

After 1999, when he joined American Zoetrope, Francis Ford Coppola’s independent film production company, Price oversaw worldwide sales and marketing for such films as Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides,” which debuted at Cannes — he made sure the American press was there — and Coppola’s productions of the first rumors of “Jeepers Creepers.”

In 2001, Price reunited with his old ManRay Booking partner, Manzari, to help rebuild the ailing Landmark Theater chain, and also published Landmark’s free independent film magazine FLM which featured first-person articles by directors for create awareness for films in the Landmark program.

In 2007, Price hit the internet again with a pair of Wayne Wang films that the director wanted to release in tandem. Price felt that “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers” qualified as an arthouse film, but the companion piece, “The Princess of Nebraska,” would not work as a theatrical release. So Price convinced Wang to give away “Princess” for free. The New York Times, IndieWire and Variety all agreed to put the film on the front pages of their websites, where it garnered 250,000 opening weekend hits and helped promote “A Thousand Years.”

Price also assumed the role of senior vice president of marketing and distribution at 2929 Entertainment in 2007, boosting the fortunes of films such as ‘Turistas’.

At the time of his death, Price was promoting the Rodrigo Reyes documentary “Sansón and Me,” about a 19-year-old illegal immigrant sentenced to death without parole. The Ford Foundation has made a grant to fund a simulcast in prisons open for public discussion. There are plans for a theatrical release, and PBS is expected to air the film in the fall of 2023.

Price is survived by his longtime partner, Meg Madison, his two sisters Liz and Sean Madison, his children Antigone Dempsey, Deirdre Price and Asher Price, and his brother Brian Price. In lieu of flowers, the Price family is asking for donations to http://give.translifeline.org.