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Dan Berger Talks Musings, Oscilloscope’s New Film Writing Site

Dan Berger Talks Musings, Oscilloscope's New Film Writing Site

They say God never closes a door without opening a window, and even if the only God you believe in is Billy Wilder, the surprise launch yesterday of Oscilloscope’s Musings, featuring an essay on Leonard Kastle’s “The Honeymoon Killers” by Scott Tobias of the late, lamented, The Dissolve, seemed notably window-like. Apart from the promise on Oscilloscope’s Facebook page that Musings will feature “original, independent, quality film writing from journalists you know and trust,” its abrupt appearance left many questions unanswered, so we reached out to Oscilloscope’s Dan Berger to find out why the distributor of movies like “Art and Craft” and “Wendy and Lucy” is getting into the film criticism game.

Where did the idea for Musings come from? How long has it been in the works?

It
had been a seed of an idea for a short while, but just something we
talked about and never really anything concrete. When The Dissolve went
down last week
, we were taken pretty aback and that was the inciting
incident at which point it went from a fun idea to something that we
were actively going to make happen. So we turned the actual creation
around quickly. It’ll refine and adjust as any kinks are worked out.

What do you envision Musings looking like? How will it work? 

It’s
all very organic and we’ll find the groove as we go along. We don’t
want to have a mandate or rigidity in the way that it takes shape
because that would only serve to hinder the idea, which is really to
serve up quality writings on a variety of (film-related) topics. I don’t
really give a shit if it is about what’s out of Friday
or if it’s an appreciation of a claymation hamburger rocking out to Van
Halen (who wants to write that essay?). The frequency of postings will
vary depending on who is writing what and how motivated everyone is! The
writers we engage will have carte blanche. The only editorial process
that exists on our end is basically saying yay or nay to an idea. But
those ideas will stem from the journalists and what they turn in is what
will go up. We’ll have no hand in shaping these pieces.

How will the site work in terms of covering Oscilloscope releases, or not covering them?

It’s
really up to the writers, but honestly, we’re probably less inclined to
even commission a piece about our own films. When seeing every single
press break for a given title, I feel like we see enough that we want to
read about other stuff. And we certainly don’t want to develop a
conflict of interest. We’ll promote our films in other places per usual,
but that’s not the point of this for us. But we’re happy to showcase
the work of our competitors’ films when they’re deserving. We have
another piece from Scott queued up (look out for it tomorrow) about Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Look of Silence” and “The Act of Killing.”

The question post-The Dissolve isn’t whether there’s still an
audience for good film writing on the Internet — there is, and always
will be — but whether it’s big enough and loyal enough to make that kind of
writing financially sustainable. How does Oscilloscope benefit from
something like Musings, or how would it, assuming it takes off? Is it
something you anticipate generating revenue with, or is it more of a
contribution towards a thriving film culture?

This
isn’t a revenue generating venture, and luckily we don’t need it to be
because it’s not our core business. We aren’t running a film journalism
website. We’re featuring some journalism alongside the other things we
do. It would be cool if it made money, but that’s not the goal or what’s
driving decisions or a thing that I think will happen.

This may fall under the heading of “It’s up to the writers,” but
what sorts of things do you envision running? We’ve got critical pieces
on new and old films. What about interviews or other kinds of features?

Sure. Kind of open to anything with quality as the driver. Probably won’t see a list of the Top Nine Talking Dog Movies though.

Is there any publication, past or present, that your ideal version of
Musings would resemble?

Nah,
not specifically. We talk a lot about The Dissolve because it really
did have an unparalleled level of quality, but even they needed to keep
the content coming and keep the lights on based on that, so I’m sure
that rightly effected their editorially decisions at times. As a non
revenue generating initiative, we don’t have that concern. I just want
people to say “This is good shit.”

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