On a Roll
Commercial production company Amazon Films has helped turn the spotlight on Houston's fledgling film industry
October 10 , 2005
Like a gold-miner who strikes it rich, Angeline Dinzik hit pay dirt when she opened Amazon Films. Mining Houston's creative resources -- and roping in talent from as far away as Latin America -- Dinzik has built a commercial production company that reaches well beyond Texas' borders.
Amazon Films produces television commercials for advertising agencies and their clients, handling everything from casting to securing a location to film work. The company often produces commercials in Houston.
"Houston is a well-kept secret," Dinzik says. "There's a huge amount of talent here."
Dinzik's personal talent is her ability to see the big picture. Just as Amazon Films takes an idea from paper to screen so that television viewers want to buy a Toyota or drink Budweiser beer, Dinzik assembles a team using all her available resources.
"If the phone rang right now and an agency said, 'We want you to shoot in two weeks,' we could do it," Dinzik says.
Amazon Films casts actors, hires camera crews, insures equipment and works with advertising agencies to do everything from introducing a new product to reaching a new market. Dinzik relies on strong relationships to make it happen.
Armed with a background in advertising gleaned from more than 10 years as a freelance producer, Dinzik started Amazon Films in 2002, relying on capital from bank loans, friends, family and her own self-financing. The company broke even that same year, and turned a profit in 2003.
Revenue jumped 85 percent to $775,000 in 2004, and this year, Dinzik expects growth to be steady.
With a Rolodex that reads like a who's who in film production and a resume that includes working with the Rolling Stones and the U.S. Department of Energy, Dinzik gets creative talent on the phone faster than she can get the attention of her dog, Cowboy, who regularly camps out on her office floor.
Dinzik says her two-person company's most valuable asset is flexibility.
"A big part of my job is dealing with creative personalities," she says. "I do that well because I understand everybody has something they need to express to do their very best. I really try to give that to them. This is not a rigid company."
Dinzik oversees every shoot herself, handling requests from getting the actors more water to completely changing a location. Amazon Film calls on a stable of more than 100 freelancers and contractors for all other aspects of a shoot.
According to the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, more than 280 film production companies operate in the United States. Most of those operate on the East and West coasts, with seven in the Southwest and another seven in the Southeast.
Situated in Houston -- between both coasts and at the gateway to Latin America -- Amazon Films is geographically primed.
"The current hot spot is Latin America, specifically Argentina," Dinzik says of the industry.
Amazon Films made headway there by hiring Guillermo Real, a director based in Puerto Rico. When an advertising agency needs to reach the Latin American market, Real is often the director who bids for the chance to put together the commercial, taking the agency's idea to the screen.
Amazon's team of go-to directors also includes Joe Napolitano, John Towse, Jason LaMotte and Kim + Mike, all of whom have worked with nationally recognized clients and have become known for diverse directing styles.
In addition to managing her business and hiring the best creative talent she can find, Dinzik concentrates on getting the word out about Amazon Films. Having a Web site helps, as does being part of www.onlyinhouston.com, an organization that highlights Houston's creative services industry.
Dinzik relies largely on repeat business and referrals to build Amazon's client base, and regularly connects with others in town using her dog-eared copy of the Houston Production Guide -- a bible of industry information including contact names and numbers with services as unusual as "animal wrangler."
Although Amazon focuses on producing commercials that are broadcast nationally -- whereas Dinzik says most other Houston players target local commercial work -- Dinzik has made it a point to stay involved in her own backyard.
"Angeline has certainly been a staple in the local film industry, with good connections in the city, the state and beyond," says Rick Ferguson, executive director of the Houston Film Commission. "Amazon Films has done a really good job economically, and let's face it, it's been a tough couple of years for everybody."
Although Houston's film industry has been struggling to grow, the volume of local film work started to look up last year, according a 2004 report from the Greater Houston Convention and Visitor's Bureau.
From July 2003 to July 2004, the commission counted 169 local projects, which included television, industrials, film and still photography shoots. Completing 644 shooting days, direct expenditures on the productions were $22.6 million, up from $18.6 million for the comparable period in 2002-2003.
Helping spur business for companies such as Amazon Films is the fact that the city does not require a general filming permit, which allows quick production starts. Furthermore, crews may stay in a Houston hotel for 30 consecutive days, tax-free and receive tax-free equipment and services related to their work.
Dinzik says Houston provides inexpensive working conditions, a wide range of scenery and serious talent, all of which have contributed to her company's growth.
Technology allows Amazon Films to take on jobs from around the world because information may be transmitted quickly. Through a secure client area on the company's Web site, anyone working on a job may log in and check its status.
One big boost for Amazon Films came in 2002 when Dinzik produced a long spot for the Ad Federation Awards ceremony -- the industry equivalent of the Academy Awards or Grammy Awards. Putting together a pro bono spot that normally would have cost more than $50,000 to produce put Amazon's name in front of the industry, giving the company an enviable jump start in its infancy.
These days, Amazon employs sales representatives in Los Angeles and Chicago, and Dinzik hopes to continue adding personnel as the company grows.
Developing strong business relationships has taken Amazon Films from a one-woman show to a company with as many as 100 freelancers working on a job at one time.
"We run a nice clean show and we know what we're doing," Dinzik says. "We're not kids trying to make a movie."
© 2005 American City Business Journals Inc.