Pride of Lionsgate: Richard Fay accepts Hassanein Humanitarian Award
With over 40 years in the business, Lionsgate president of domestic theatrical distribution Richard “Richie” Fay, recipient of ShowEast’s 2012 Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award, has had the good fortune, distinct advantage and indubitably the requisite skills (not in that particular order) to hold key positions in many corners of the film industry.
Prior to his current and recently assumed position at Lionsgate, Fay served as domestic theatrical distribution president at Summit Entertainment beginning in 2007. In 2005, he launched his own Fay Enterprises consultancy, which worked with Deluxe Labs in addition to several other motion picture and in-theatre marketing entities. Before going independent, Fay served as president of AMC Film Marketing for ten years, where he was responsible for film buying and in-theatre marketing. At AMC, he was also responsible for negotiating all film settlements with distributors and initiating aggregate film deals as AMC grew mightily to megaplex proportions.
Fay brought to AMC considerable experience in both exhibition and distribution from earlier stints as senior VP and assistant general sales manager for Sony Pictures Releasing, senior VP and head film buyer for United Artists Theatres, and VP and film buyer for Loews Theatres. He began his grand journey in this grand industry in the early 1970s as a New York salesman for United Artists Pictures, which followed his position as booker/salesman for Warner Bros., where he negotiated film deals in the New York territory.
With such wide experience in both distribution and exhibition (buying, selling, strategizing, marketing, consulting, etc.) at such important companies, the inevitable question arises: What is the most important lesson Fay learned on this broad terrain that brought him to Lionsgate? There’s no hesitation in his answer: “It’s the relationships I’ve built up over the years. When things get tough and issues challenge, you can fall back on those relationships. And I mean speaking live with people, not going back and forth with e-mails!”
Fay cites as just one example a problem he had during his first term at AMC when the circuit couldn’t live up to playdate commitments with Paramount on Sabrina. His call (not e-mail, Western Union or carrier pigeon!) to Paramount distribution head Wayne Llewellyn helped work out what could have become a big problem.
Of course, giving the public movies they want to see continues as key to the success of the business, but good movies cannot negate the swell of change and competition that grows ever more challenging. In fact, Fay sees the recent theatre attendance dip related to the fact that “there are younger generations that enjoy technology and small screens.”
Now atop Lionsgate, Fay oversees and executes the distribution strategy for Lionsgate’s domestic film slate primarily for the U.S.
Specialized Lionsgate films like Arbitrage that can go out day-and-date theatrical/VOD are “specially handled” independent of Fay, he says, by Roadside Attractions (although Lionsgate does do some of that company’s “backroom stuff”). Still, Fay and Lionsgate, with its current surprise The Perks of Being a Wallflower, applied in-house specialized treatment by putting the quirky youth-oriented film out in limited release and building on this platform for subsequent weeks.
Relevant to such flexibility and personal attention is Fay’s belief that the once bold line separating art-house and mainstream films has thinned. “[The line] has faded and this is because it comes down to the quality of a film and the fact that the big circuits began devoting one or two of their screens at many sites to specialty films. We perceived Perks as being warm and appealing, so after a team discussion and several recruited screenings we knew not to start out wide. Toronto [the festival] gave it the early recognition it needed and we’re already going beyond 720 locations for the film. Yes, it’s a grey-area kind of film, a crossover film, and these can be the same.”
As for Lionsgate’s latest and upcoming releases, Fay perks up about a number of titles, including Sinister, about a true-crime novelist who learns through found footage about a horrific murder committed in his new home (Fay calls this “one of the scariest films I’ve seen”); Alex Cross, another adaptation of a James Patterson novel and starring Tyler Perry in the role made famous by Morgan Freeman in Along Came a Spider; The Impossible with Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, about a family caught by the historically devastating 2004 Thailand tsunami; and Breaking Dawn, the final film in the Twilight Saga that sees dawn at ShowEast. “For 2013, we have 14 titles, including Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games, again starring Jennifer Lawrence and scheduled for release in November.”
Asked to share some insights into what he believes is critical to nurturing the health of theatres, Fay notes that “as the world of exhibition consolidates and grows bigger, often at the expense of smaller theatres, showmanship in the business only becomes more important. That showmanship is exemplified by regional circuits and smaller theatres where the job of showmanship is more personal and has done so well. Much of this has to do with greetings by managers for a personal touch; clean, neat and comfortable environments for audiences, and shows starting on time. These are the basic, proven things that are still going on in the regional theatres where managers are on-site front and center as the face of the company. Filmgoers appreciate all this, but sometimes we lose sight of it.”
As a former longtime AMC exec, Fay weighs in on the marriage of the circuit and China’s giant Dalian Wanda. “Overall, my feeling is that it’s good for the industry and appeals to Chinese investors as a way of getting a taste of Hollywood. The Chinese are putting their money where their mouth is, but it will be interesting to see on a business level if there is a clash of cultures.” Content clash may or may not be out of the picture, as Fay doesn’t rule out the Chinese soon getting their content on AMC screens.
While covering the business front so thoroughly over the years, Fay has hardly forgotten the philanthropic front. He has received many awards for his charitable work including the 1995 ShowEast Kodak Reel Award, the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens 1997 Humanitarian Award and the ShowEast 2001 Al Shapiro Distinguished Service Award. He is a board member of his late daughter’s Options for Life Foundation and board member and former secretary of the Will Rogers Institute. He also served as VP and board member of the Motion Picture Club in New York.
Now it’s the Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award that piques curiosity about what inspired Fay to get so involved in charitable activities. Asked where his impulses and inspirations to help others come from, Fay begins by reaching back to the very early ’70s when he began in the industry. “As early as my time at Warner Bros., I experienced the Boys & Girls charitable event, which was so unbelievable and made such a big impression. We saw photos and footage of the kids helped in Queens who were given activities that kept them off the streets. And in subsequent years, I got more involved in charitable work. And at the [ShowEast] conventions, I was so struck by the high quality of people honored for their philanthropy.”
But Fay’s greatest and most personal inspiration came from his own 27-year-old daughter, who passed away after a long battle with cancer in 2010. While in remission, she started the Options for Life Foundation, which she continued to work with even as the cancer returned and which involves Fay now. “To see her as sick as she was and still care about others was my greatest inspiration.”