With a little help, self-distribution can be a viable option for neglected indiesRichard Abramowitz had low expectations when he arrived at the Bowery Hotel in lower Manhattan last summer to see an obscure Canadian rock band. But after watching the concert he decided to help distribute "Anvil: The Story of Anvil," a documentary about the band's 25 years together.
"I was hooked," recalls Abramowitz, who heads Abramorama, based in Armonk, N.Y.
What Abramowitz discovered in himself is the same passion that powers those who brave the odds to self-distribute movies.
On a minuscule budget of less than $300,000 -- including prints, ads and publicity -- "Anvil" opened initially in 15 cities. It went on to gross nearly $700,000 theatrically. "We were all putting posters in tubes ourselves," Abramowitz recalls. "I was shipping trailers, collecting the money, doing the invoicing."
As the indie theatrical market continues to struggle, more producers and financiers are shouldering the distribution burden themselves.
"The way the independent landscape is right now a lot of good quality independent films don't see the light of day," says Stephen Raphael, a New York-based consultant who worked on the indie drama "Ballast," along with filmmaker Lance Hammer, after it won an award at Sundance. "We ended up releasing it in 25 markets and in nontheatrical and arts institutions, at universities," Raphael says.
One of the year's success stories, "Valentino: The Last Emperor," went DIY so the filmmakers could retain key rights. Truly Indie, a Dallas company owned by Marc Cuban and Todd Wagner, helped them "four wall" the initial release (rent out the theaters).
After a month riding a wave of favorable reviews and publicity, Truly Indie handed off "Valentino" to L.A. consultant David Schultz, who then booked it in theaters in 125 different cities for a gross of about $1.7 million.
Truly Indie isn't alone in helping facilitate self-distribution. Such for-hire outfits as Freestyle Releasing and Vivendi Entertainment are filling the gap left by the demise of indie players like Warner Independents and Picturehouse.
In some cases, Vivendi takes a flat fee; in others, a percentage. For David Zucker's "American Carol," the producers paid for prints and ads for a release in 1,639 theaters, resulting in a gross of more than $7 million.
Raphael says "Ballast" not only grossed $116,000 in theaters, but also provided a career boost for the filmmaker.
"Sometimes its not just about the gross," Raphael says. "It was also a matter of establishing a new talent and a new voice."