Mark Seiler, the former president of RKO Pictures and Hemdale Films and CEO of Capella Films, died on July 7 after a long battle with Parkinson’s and complications from COVID-19. He was 75.
A veteran studio executive, Seiler’s long career at the helm of three significant film financing and production companies included the release of a slew of successful and critically acclaimed films including Meryl Streep’s Plenty, Sigourney Weaver’s Half Moon Street, and the war movie Hamburger Hill at RKO and the comedies Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery at Capella.
Mark Edwin Seiler was born in Glen Cove, New York on May 2, 1948, to Carl Seiler and Madelyn (née Hughes) Seiler. He was raised in Sands Point, Long Island, where he attended Buckley Day School, Choate Rosemary Hall, and Paul D. Schreiber High School, before graduating from Tulane University with a BS in Economics.
After graduating, Seiler found himself in Hollywood and went to work for RKO Pictures, a revival of the storied Hollywood studio brand and the movie and video subsidiary of RKO General Inc., which itself was a unit of Gencorp Inc.
Having spent some time as president of RKO Film Group, a 37-year-old Seiler was named RKO Pictures president in July 1985, replacing C. Robert Manby. Seiler convinced his friend, the attorney Jerry Offsay, to quit as a partner at the Los Angeles law firm Loeb & Loeb to come to RKO and take over the film group. “He gave me that shot to go from law to creative on faith. I hope he always knew how grateful I was for changing my life [by] taking me to RKO,” Offsay said in a statement. Offsay would later become president of programming for Showtime Networks and now runs his own company, Parkchester Pictures.
Seiler was well known for his talent-spotting abilities, both creative and executive talent. As a young exec at RKO, Seiler had a major role in the casting of Denzel Washington in the George Segal dramedy Carbon Copy, after seeing the young actor’s theater work. The 1981 film would become Washington’s feature debut. In another notable example, Seiler, along with Offsay, personally picked the young Don Cheadle, Dylan McDermott, Courtney B. Vance and Steven Weber for the cast of Hamburger Hill.
As well as spotting Offsay’s talents, Seiler also saw the promise of Marc Platt early on. Platt would go on to produce the films Legally Blonde, Girl on a Train, Bridge of Spies, La La Land and Campus Man and a host of wildly successful theatrical productions including the Wicked musical. “He was such an influence on me in my early days in Hollywood — he saw things in me that I’m not sure if I saw in myself. He guided me with his wisdom and instilled a confidence in me and a strong sense of self. I will forever be grateful to him for his mentorship and friendship during those early years,” said Platt in a statement.
After working for RKO for much of the 1980s, Seiler became CEO of Capella Films in the early 1990s. The German-backed film financing company had a run of success backing comedies during the decade Seiler was at the helm including Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), Dumb and Dumber (1994), Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), The Mask (1994) and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). But there was also more critically acclaimed dramatic fare that the company was involved in, including The Shadow (1994) with Alec Baldwin and Paul Newman’s Nobody’s Fool (1995).
In the late 1990s, Seiler moved away from film financing and production and became deeply involved with anti-piracy technology. He formed a partnership called Geocodex that specialized in geo-encryption, first in the film business, and then in other fields.
Seiler is survived by his fiancée, the actress Morgan Fairchild, his sisters Carolyn Seiler Hehir and Amy Seiler and his brother Scott Seiler.
A memorial is being planned for early December. In lieu of flowers, the family request that people consider a donation to The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.