Battle Over Black Keys Documentary Heads to Court

The Black Keys performing at Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 22, 2012. (Flickr photo via Kenny Sun)

TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – Investors in a scuttled documentary about the band The Black Keys claim have brought a federal complaint against the famous rock photographer who was hired to direct, saying he disappeared on the job for months and held the footage ransom.

Known for his work photographing bands and celebrities, Noah Abrams touted the film in a 2012 article for Spin magazine as “a buddy comedy with perhaps the greatest soundtrack of all time.” “We’ve gotten some amazing footage so far,” Abrams had said.

Now four years after the film was scheduled to be released, Erie Entertainment hit Abrams and his one-man company A-Team Films with a June 7 federal complaint in New Jersey.

As the band photographer for Grammy-winning The Black Keys, Abrams had known the band’s front men, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, for years. 

In the 2012 Spin article, Abrams was quoted as saying: “A lot of music documentaries spend too much time trying to make people look cool … I’m fortunate enough to know both these guys pretty well and their relationship is pretty incredible and very funny.”

The documentary, which was shot throughout 2012, followed the band as they toured the Midwest, playing in cities like Kansas City, Pittsburgh and the band’s hometown, Akron, Ohio.

Erie is the successor to Rooftop Ventures LLC, which covered the bulk of the film’s budget. The complaint says Rooftop wound up paying more than $330,000, well above the previously agreed upon $250,000 investment cap.

In the lead-up to Erie’s formation, it says Abrams had claimed that a producer on the documentary had stolen funds, film cameras and lenses that had been paid for by Spin magazine.

CS Wilton Group and Abrams’ A-Team Films are both members of Erie Entertainment along with Rooftop Ventures. Erie says Abrams agreed as part of the new deal that he would be paid only if the documentary made a 10 percent profit.

Abrams blamed stress, according to the complaint, when he left the project unfinished in April 2014, disappearing with the shot footage.

Rooftop says it and CS Wilton demanded a return of the footage, finally threatening to sue in September 2014. Abram promised the footage “within a week” but it actually took until January 2015 for him to turn it over, according to the complaint.

Erie says it reached a deal to recoup its investment by selling the footage to The Black Keys for $300,000. The band apparently placed several restrictions on the sale, however, including a promise to sue Erie “if the sale was not achieved and Erie did proceed to exploit the documentary.”

When Abrams re-entered the picture inJune 2015, Erie says he asked them to “let [him] know if you need anything.”

Negotiations broke down in February 2016, according to the complaint, when The Black Keys told Erie that Abrams would act as middle man and facilitate the documentary sale — for the hefty fee of $150,000.

Erie balked, claiming Abrams had originally agreed to receive no compensation until after Erie had recouped its own investment and the documentary turned at least a 10 percent profit.

The Black Keys ultimately pulled out of the sale later that month.

Abrams has not replied to an email seeking comment.

Erie is represented Terrence Camp of the firm Budd Larner in Short Hills, New Jersey.

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