Oscilloscope ("Wendy and Lucy," "The Messenger,") has a team of eight people on the ground at the Toronto Film Festival this week, led by O-Scope veterans Dan Berger and David Laub, who acquired Matteo Garrone's Italian Cannes competition entry "Reality" in May, which went on to win the Grand Jury Prize and makes its North American debut in Toronto.
In the last year, as O-Scope founder/owner, Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, was fighting cancer, Oscilloscope execs David Fenkel, who left the company as announced soon after Yauch's death on May 4 to start indie distributor A24, and his successors Berger and Laub, were running the show.
"David Fenkel's departure was unexpected and obviously came at a difficult time," writes the company's sole owner, Yauch's widow Dechen Yauch, in an email exchange. "But Adam did everything he could to protect O-Scope. He put his heart and soul into this company. I think the choice of Dan Berger and David Laub reflects his integrity, and falls into a pattern that carried over from his choices as a musician/creator where he sought to work with people whose passion and work ethic matched his own."
The release slate thus far has been pick-ups recommended by Fenkel, Berger and Laub and approved by Adam Yauch; several more of his choices are in the pipeline, including end-of-the-world comedy "It's a Disaster." O-Scope plans to continue releasing eight to ten features a year, chosen by Berger and Laub, not Dechen Yauch. "Dan and David are pure cinephiles," she writes, "and were also very much involved with these decisions. Adam trusted their opinions, as do I."
Yauch's widow is actively invested in fulfilling the company's original purpose and has no plans to either find a financial partner or sell: "Keeping Oscilloscope going was never a question. Adam loved films, and was so proud of Oscilloscope for doing right by its filmmakers…He was interested in putting out films he really liked. And that's what we're still trying to do."
Berger and Laub "took the reigns of the company under such extreme circumstances and I am very pleased with how well they have handled themselves," writes Dechen Yauch. "Their choices and actions reflect a deep knowledge and appreciation of film, as well as a great deal of good sense."
So far Oscilloscope is holding its own. LCD Soundsystem music event "Shut Up and Play the Hits" made over $500,000 in theatrical box office from its one-night national break. "Samsara" is doing decent business since it opened August 24 with the highest per screen average for any doc this year ($38,111 on two screens) and the fifth highest per screen of any feature so far. Its expansion has continued strong; it's now on 25 screens and should soon cross 500,000, with more playing time to come.
And Oscilloscope just released Sundance opening night film "Hello I Must Be Going" on Friday, September 7 in NY and LA to $26,764 and a strong $13,382 per screen average.
Wingdu has been involved with the company from the start, she states: "Oscilloscope is hugely important to me, which is why I am trying to take a mindful approach to becoming more involved."
O-Scope is a small indie that doesn't expect its films to routinely gross more than $1 million. Since 2008, its 30 releases have yielded modest returns except for 2009's Oscar-nominated "The Messenger" ($1.1 million domestic) and Brit import "We Need to Talk About Kevin" ($1.7 million). O-Scope continues to make much of its profits in ancillary markets.