Adam Yauch, co-founder of groundbreaking hip-hop group The Beastie Boys, is building on his experience and knowledge of the music world to create a new breed of film distribution company. In January 2008, he launched Oscilloscope Pictures, a full-service New York-based distributor.
‘It’s an idea I’ve had for a while,’ says Yauch. ‘I was around a lot of indie record labels growing up and I thought it would be interesting to approach film that way; to have a handful of people working together to release films.’
Oscilloscope has about 10 ‘similarly minded’ employees, and the idea is to ‘do as much as possible in-house’, Yauch explains, from cutting trailers and designing posters to post-production services. ‘It also helps to keep the film-makers involved,’ he says.
Yauch launched Oscilloscope by hiring former ThinkFilm executive David Fenkel to oversee acquisitions, distribution and operations. The pair had met on the fan-shot Beastie Boys documentary Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!, which Yauch directed, and later bonded on the basketball court, discovering they had similar taste in films.
‘It’s different that we’ve got Adam, who’s an artist not just a businessman, running our company,’ Fenkel says. ‘Initially, people were interested because they knew Adam would do right by the films. Now people talk to us because we’re handling good films and handling them well. With fewer companies out there, that’s even more important.’
The company kicked off with a string of documentaries: Yauch’s basketball project Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot, Irena Salina’s Flow, Caroline Suh’s Frontrunners and Kurt Kuenne’s Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father. It also took over the release of Stephen Kijak’s documentary Scott Walker: 30 Century Man.
In December Oscilloscope launched its biggest film to date, Kelly Reichardt’s drama Wendy And Lucy, starring Michelle Williams. The Cannes Un Certain Regard selection had a successful two months-plus run at New York’s Film Forum and will roll out in 100 US markets in the next two months.
Upcoming releases include Kim So-yong’s South Korean drama Treeless Mountain (due on April 22) and the company is negotiating for a handful of Sundance titles.
Passion for a film is more important than its saleability, Yauch explains. ‘We didn’t want to be in a position to have X number of films per year,’ he says. ‘We’re trying to buy films that we really like and figure out how to best release them.’
And handling a wide variety of films - fiction and documentary, foreign and domestic - is important too. ‘There’s not just one particular style of film we want to work with,’ he says. ‘At festivals you hear buyers saying, ‘That’s a great film, but it’s not marketable.’ That’s when I say, ‘Great, I’ve got to check it out!”
To add to its theatrical and DVD distribution capabilities, the company will soon announce a partner for its digital releases. And there are plans to move beyond the acquisition of finished projects into production as well.