Word of his passing circulated over the weekend, especially among the many film and media professionals who live (as did Urman) in Montclair, N.J. as well as in the tight-knit indie community. Initial plans for a memorial service have not yet been finalized.
Early on, Urman worked in publicity for Columbia Pictures and United Artists before joining PR firm Dennis Davidson Associates in the 1980s, where he got some of his first tastes of championing specialty film titles. He spearheaded several publicity campaigns for Miramax and other indie outfits, and later told a few memorable tales about Bob and Harvey Weinstein in Peter Biskind’s 2004 book Down and Dirty Pictures.
Urman would go on to become a noted tastemaker in the sector, serving as a distribution executive at Lionsgate in the era when it was putting out awards contenders like Gods and Monsters and Shadow of the Vampire. He also executive produced films including Monster’s Ball before moving on to head theatrical distribution for ThinkFilm. In the 2000s, Think put out a mix of critically and commercially successful titles like Murderball, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, and Half Nelson, the last of which netted a young Ryan Gosling his first Oscar nomination in an out-of-left-field stunner. The company also released Oscar-winning documentaries Taxi to the Dark Side and Born Into Brothels.
In 2009, Urman founded Paladin, whose releases have included Shana Feste’s The Greatest, Tom Shadyac documentary I Am and Taika Waititi’s vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows. A few weeks ago, Paladin announced the acquisition of Billboard, a film by Zeke Zelker to be released in the spring. The company also recently backed the timely sexual harassment drama Submission, starring Stanley Tucci.
In a statement, Montclair Film Executive Director Tom Hall recalled meeting Urman at the very beginning of his independent film career. “His passion for filmmakers, for our global community of film lovers, was matched only by his kindness and generosity,” Hall said. “I was always happy to see him at film festivals, or in Montclair, and his smile, wisdom, and warmth was ever-present. I deeply appreciate and continue to be inspired by his contributions to Montclair Film, but beyond that, to the collective history of independent cinema in this country. He will be sorely missed.”
Urman is survived by two children and his wife, Deborah Davis, an author of books including Strapless and My Love Story: Tina Turner.
Here are some more reactions from the film community on Twitter: