As part of its States of Independence project, a six-week long celebration and analysis of American culture, Dazed has partnered with 30 U.S. institutions, creatives and curators and invited them to curate a day of exclusive content. For State of Film week, which kicked off yesterday, Dazed asked independent film distributor Oscilloscope to create original digital content. You can see their full efforts here and read Oscilloscope’s manifesto for independent film, which Dazed has given us permission to republish, below.
The story of the film distributor Oscilloscope Laboratories began when Adam Yauch of The Beastie Boys collaborated with U.S. distribution company TH!NKFilm in 2005 to release his first film “Awesome: I Fuckin’ Shot That!” A couple of years later, Yauch completed another documentary about high school basketball players called “Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot” and reconnected with David Fenkel of TH!NKFilm to talk about self-distributing and self-releasing films.
Dan Berger left TH!NKfilm with Fenkel in 2008 and they used the film as a launching pad to found Oscilloscope with Adam Yauch. Oscilloscope is based on a shared ethos of collaborating with filmmakers to find their audiences, as opposed to using films purely as a commodity. They have since released indie features such as “Wendy and Lucy,” “Howl,” “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale,” and Andrea Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights” and a cannon of documentaries including “Beautiful Losers,” “Dark Days,” “After Tiller” and most recently, “Teenage” by Matt Wolf.
Below, Berger presents Oscilloscope’s Manifesto for Independent Film, which explains why piracy isn’t an issue for the distributor.
“Adam Yauch had a long history of being an artist, of creating and working within an environment where you want to be able to create the things that you love and put them out into the world, but there needs to be a mechanism to do that. For lack of a better word ‘suits’ need to be involved, you know, people who decide how that happens and I think throughout his career, his personal experience of that really set the shape of what this company was to be.
Oscilloscope was founded with a certain ethos of being a place where filmmakers and artists could have their films treated in a way that was smart, respectable, and appreciative of where they came from.”
Rule of thumb: don’t be shady
“We’re a very
collaborative company in the way that we work with filmmakers through
the process of releasing movies, and that sort of underlying structure
or sensibility was extremely important to Adam – not just on the
creative side, but also financially. I think at one point in his
recording career they had a major legal battle with one of their labels
about getting out of their contract because they were getting screwed.
As a filmmaker, you hear horror stories about how distributors are shady
or you never see any money and so much of it is just about being a
place where filmmakers could feel comfortable. These films are things
that they’ve spent incredibly long amounts of time on, and put blood and
sweat and tears and all of that in to it, and to then turn that over to
have it mishandled is such an awful thought. We wanted to be the
company that didn’t do that and so that is and was the backbone of how
we wanted to approach things.”
Strive for variety.
looking at films necessarily as commercial opportunities. We always
wanted to be a company that was primarily driven by the quality of the
film, the filmmakers, and the people behind it. The nice thing about
having that as your primary focus is you aren’t limited to a certain
type of movie.
There’s a huge diversity in the
things that we release, which is part of what we really love about doing
what we do, so we’re looking for good films that are different. They
all generally have an element that can be perceived as challenging, at
least from a commercial perspective, and I think that we really enjoy
the idea of figuring out how to release these movies in spite of that.”
READ MORE: Here’s How Piracy Hurts Indie Film
Embrace the challenge
few years ago. We saw it at the first screening and it was well
received, but everyone was calling it the school-shooting movie, which
is not something a distribution company wants their film to be pegged as
from the outset. We didn’t see the film that way – it’s frankly not
what the film is – so part of our job was to figure out a way to get
that was very appealing, so we are looking at films that have something
that is maybe a little unappealing from a commercial standpoint, that we
want to overcome. Sometimes those things that at face value may seem
harmful for the prospects of the film, can actually be helpful if
they’re embraced and put forward in the right way.”
are still primarily a theatrical distributor, and believe that there is
a theatrical audience out there. I think everybody that works here is a
fan of cinema and likes the experience of going to the movies. I don’t
want to call it nostalgic because that makes it sound of the past, but
there is something about that experience that we don’t want to lose, and
there is still enough of an audience out there that it’s totally viable
to release films in that way.
that that’s going to go away in the same way that you’re seeing a
resurgence of vinyl sales maybe at the expense of CDs or something like
that. There’s always going to be an audience that holds a place for
that. We basically want to figure out how to fit in to that space. We’re
not out there throwing money at problems and we can’t compete with big
studio films so we have to figure out ways of getting them in front of
audiences and then utilizing those audiences to continue to spread the
Each film is a special snowflake
Turn to face the strange
READ MORE: Oscilloscope Goes ‘Low Down’ For New Elle Fanning Movie
As an industry we need to recognize that these things exist, adapt and make films available to people in ways that they expect them to be, because if they’re not then they are just going to find them some other way. We need to be working with audiences because fighting it is not going to help us in the end. I think that’s kind of what did the music industry in, they battled against it and in hindsight it’s had such a drastic effect on record sales and album sales, we don’t want to repeat that.”
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