Richard Abramowitz Talks About Independent Movie Distribution

The world of motion picture distribution is changing at an amazing rate. Video on Demand and internet outlets like CreateSpace and iTunes are opening up opportunities for independent filmmakers in ways never-before-seen. I have said it before, but it is only a matter of time until all motion pictures (both studio and independent) will be available globally, whenever there is a demand.

Richard Abramowitz is president of Abramorama, a consulting firm specializing in the production, marketing, distribution and representation of independent films. Earlier this week, Richard took a few minutes to answer some questions regarding the current state of independent movie distribution.

Jason Brubaker
Hello Richard. Thanks for taking time to chat with us today.

Richard Abramowitz
It’s my pleasure.

Jason Brubaker
Could you tell our readers a little about what you do and how your business works?

Richard Abramowitz
I do a variety of things related to independently made movies. Most of my day is devoted to marketing and distributing features – both narrative fiction and documentary – theatrically and semi-theatrically.

I also consult with filmmakers during all parts of the process: development, production, distribution, etc., to help them navigate the constantly changing environment and get their films seen.

Jason Brubaker
Where do you find most of your material? Festivals? Submissions? Recommendations?

Richard Abramowitz
I go to quite a few festivals to stay current with what’s being made – and because watching 5 or 6 movies a day is my idea of heaven – but most of the films I work on come to me from recommendations, usually from filmmakers I’ve worked with in the past.

Jason Brubaker
What do you look for when selecting a movie to represent?

Richard Abramowitz
Quality, which is subjective of course; the filmmaker, which is to say, someone who understands the distribution process, or is willing to learn, and participate actively; and, marketability, so that we can define the audience or audiences and determine how to reach them.

I’m interested in a distinctive voice, a filmmaker who’s looking to collaborate, and a film that has an audience or audiences that can be defined and addressed in a cost-effective way.

Jason Brubaker
OK. Let’s say you’re a filmmaker, setting out to make a first feature. What sorts of things do distributors look for when they pick up a movie? For example, over the years we’ve heard countless stories of filmmaker who got a deal based on the DVD cover art or poster. Is this stuff just a myth?

Richard Abramowitz
That kind of thing may have happened some years ago when the video/DVD market was thriving but it doesn’t happen anymore, at least not with any frequency.

I’m interested in a distinctive voice, a filmmaker who’s looking to collaborate, and a film that has an audience or audiences that can be defined and addressed in a cost-effective way.

Jason Brubaker
What format should filmmakers stick to? In the past, it seemed like you had to shoot film or it wasn’t a real movie. Is it now acceptable to shoot HD?

Richard Abramowitz
The technology is the least important aspect of the process at this point. Five or six years ago I released a film that was shot on Super8 and blown up to 35mm. The material worked – thrived – with that look. So I’d say you can use anything that makes sense.

Jason Brubaker
When a filmmaker is deciding on a first feature, based on your experience, would you say there is a genre that seems to have more sales potential?

Richard Abramowitz
As I’ve said, films with definable, addressable audiences are a good place to start. But, to answer more directly, horror films have worked in that way historically, and I’d say gay films, as well.

Jason Brubaker
In sales 101, friends always buy from friends. When representing a movie, how much do your personal relationships with buyers influence a deal?

Richard Abramowitz
I wouldn’t necessarily use the word “friend,” but it certainly helps to have known and worked with people over the years. And, even if you don’t know everyone personally, the reputation you develop over time, combined with a broad scope of associations, makes it easier to reach out to people you need in order to do the right thing on any particular project.

Jason Brubaker
There is a lot of talk in the film community about Video On Demand and how services like CreateSpace and iTunes are altering the distribution model. Do you also utilize these services as an option when working with filmmakers to recoup the investment?

Richard Abramowitz
It’s clear that VOD, et al, are becoming absolutely essential sources of revenue so, yes, that’s part of the equation.

Jason Brubaker
How has VOD affected traditional straight to video outlets?

Richard Abramowitz
VOD, along with a number of other factors, has substantially diminished the value of traditional straight to video outlets.

Jason Brubaker
I know it happens. But these days, how often do independent films get picked up for theatrical distribution? Is this even worth dreaming about?

Richard Abramowitz
It still happens. IFC Films alone must pick up 50 films a year, many of which get some degree of theatrical exposure, but it ain’t like it used to be. I suppose it’s worth dreaming about but I would caution filmmakers to be aware that the dream can turn out to be a nightmare. It’s important to consider how much you’re willing to give up in return for some of those deals and to consider alternative approaches to getting the film out and returning money to investors.

Jason Brubaker
Every so often I receive questions from documentary filmmakers. Given your background, how should a documentary filmmaker approach potential distributors VS those of us who typically focus on narrative features?

Richard Abramowitz
One of the great advantages of documentaries is that each one usually has an obvious, defined audience. If it’s a dance film, demonstrate how the dance audience can be reached. If it’s an environmental film, define that audience so that the potential distributors understand how it might be reached. And look at what other filmmakers have done, for example the folks who make KING KORN or any number of other films.

Do the research. Hand it to them. No one’s going to hand it to you.

Jason Brubaker
And one last question. To help our new filmmakers avoid some serious pitfalls – What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

Richard Abramowitz
Don’t wait for permission.

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To find out more about modern movie distribution

Movie Distribution Action Guide

“How To Sell Your Movie” action guide.

 

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