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Adam Yauch Remembered: Filmmakers Share Their Memories of the Late Oscilloscope and Beastie Boys Founder

By Indiewire | Indiewire May 7, 2012 at 1:15PM

Adam Yauch Remembered: Filmmakers Share Their Memories of the Late Oscilloscope and Beastie Boys Founder
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Graffiti in the bathroom at Oscilloscope Laboratories. Photo courtesy of Bradley Rust Gray.
Graffiti in the bathroom at Oscilloscope Laboratories. Photo courtesy of Bradley Rust Gray.
Last week ended on a sad note for millions of Beastie Boys fans when Adam Yauch, aka MCA, passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer. But Yauch's influence extended far beyond the music community. As the co-founder of indie-film distribution company Oscilloscope Laboratories, Yauch applied a quality-based approach to the distribution game at a time when a lot of filmmakers were struggling to find the right home — or any home — for their work.

In a few short years, Oscilloscope quickly established its prestige, landing several Oscar nominations, a fancy DVD label and even a subscription service. Filmmakers were largely happy with Oscilloscope — and some speak of their experience as if they had been adopted into Yauch's family. Indiewire’s chief critic Eric Kohn asked a few of the filmmakers who were pulled into the Oscilloscope orbit to share their thoughts on the late musician and entrepreneur. We encourage others touched or influenced by Yauch's work to add their own reminiscences in the comments section.

Oscilloscope Has "The Messenger"
Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson in a scene from Oren Moverman's "The Messenger." Image courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.
Oren Moverman

Co-writer-director, "The Messenger"

I met Adam at an IFP reception celebrating the DVD release of “Wendy & Lucy.” I believe the official excuse for the party was that Adam was joining the IFP board, but I had no official excuse to be there. Ira Sachs convinced me to go, and he introduced me to David Fenkel and Adam. Adam seemed very modest, especially for the night's star attraction, and he told me, "I hope one day to distribute films like ‘The Messenger.’ " It just so happened we didn't have distribution. He was shocked, said he was told our film sold at Sundance. "No,” I said, the agency clowns selling the film were saying all kinds of things, "but," I said to him, "if you hope to one day distribute films like ‘The Messenger,’ why not now?" I gave him our producer Lawrence Inglee’s phone number and, frankly, I didn't expect much; he felt like a real gentleman, but I refused to believe that our distributors could show up and save the day at a random party, intentionally misinformed and yet still eager.

He called the next day. He pitched Oscilloscope to us. Along with Fenkel, he actively went after the film and he showed me he meant what he said. Oscilloscope took the film far, and walking down the Kodak Theater red carpet for the Oscars with MCA was probably more thrilling than any other thing that happened that improbable night. He never talked to me about awards or even the business of the film. He seemed to be about the "message," the intent, the filmmaking. At every introduction to the film he spoke from the heart, just pouring love, not just for the work he was presenting but also for the potential of cinema, even in these dark, tentpoled days of behemoth events/products. He spoke about independence, and he lived independence.

When he got sick, it didn't seem possible that he would succumb to the illness. There was a light to this man, a beauty of soul that made him seem invincible to me, as if he could take a grave death sentence and turn it into a joke, a journey, a challenge he was up to.

Well, what can I say, this is fucked up. We lost a champion of independent cinema, but, more than anything, we lost a damn good man. Damn good.

Toronto Review | The New Old West: Kelly Reichardt's "Meek's Cutoff"
A scene from Kelly Reichardt's "Meek's Cutoff."
Kelly Reichardt

Director, "Meek's Cutoff," and writer-director, "Wendy and Lucy"

My producer Anish Savjani was the first person to bring Oscilloscope to my attention. I met Adam and David Fenkel in June of 2008. From the very start, Adam was involved and excited to weigh in on all things. He’d offer up ideas and be extremely cool about letting those ideas go if I had something else in mind. I basically had my way with all the artwork, the trailer, I got to put the emphasis on a theatrical run and even chose the theater I wanted to open in. What film company lets a filmmaker do all that? Adam, having somewhere back in time strived for those same artist controls, was used to not following all the prescribed rules. In fact, often I would end up being the square in the room — worrying about the re-styled TOHO-SCOPE, DayGlo green bumper (it's an oscilloscope screen, which is a cathode ray tube, showing waveforms), or when in Oscilloscope’s first press release for “Wendy and Lucy,” Adam, the co-president of the company, referred to me and Michelle Williams hooking up as a real "Wu Banger" (it’s a joint sprinkled with crack).

Adam used his creative juices, his money and his influence to pass the power on to the filmmakers he represented — letting us have a huge say in how we both present and preserve our movies. That just seemed to come as naturally to him as keeping fun in the mix. The Beastie Boys’ rep for creating a great vibe is legendary. I’d heard about the basketball courts they set up behind their trailer at Lollapalooza and the coziness of their recording studio. Adam brought his scene-making skills to Oscilloscope’s headquarters, located way west on Canal Street. You take the elevator up to the 6th floor and the doors open onto a paneled wall full of oddball art. Make a left to the recording studio and straight ahead is the film office — a large loft, all wood and old glass — nothing extravagant. Kind of utilitarian with its desks full of young people in their suits and skirts (O’Scope dress code) in a semi-communal space. People working there know they are part of something special. The gentle buzz of creative energy was very much of Adam’s making — that strange combination of professionalism, creative ambition, fun and generosity all at once. A worker-friendly, artist-embracing, cool, non-exclusive, dog-friendly world. He was a totally unique captain and he ran a very groovy ship. Adam let you know you had a team behind you. And Oscilloscope isn’t just a company that distributes your films; it’s a place you become a part of.

The last time I spent with Adam was in a tiny chemotherapy room in Manhattan. I was there with my friend Dave Doernberg, whose chemo days happened to line up with Adam’s. It had been just a short time before that the three of us were together on a windy night on a beach in Venice for the opening of “Meek’s Cutoff.” Totally incredible to me that they are both gone. I’m very grateful to have gotten to experience Adam’s generosity and humor and to have had the chance to take a short ride with him.

This article is related to: Adam Yauch, Kelly Reichardt, Oren Moverman, Vincent Grashaw, So Yong Kim, Bradley Rust Gray, Oscilloscope Laboratories







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