Beastie Boy Adam Yauch Sparks Indie Distributor8 May, 2009 By: Billy Gil
An Oscilloscope is an instrument used to monitor the shape of an electrical signal. It’s an odd name for an independent film company, but it makes sense when you consider the president of Oscilloscope Laboratories is Adam “MCA” Yauch, who has spent the better part of the past three decades in the sound-pioneering band the Beastie Boys.
Oscilloscope started as a recording studio and evolved into a production and distribution company for feature films.
“Part of the impetus [for creating Oscilloscope] was the experience of dealing with some film distributors. … The way that they function is kind of stiff,” Yauch said. “Comparing that to the way a lot of indie record labels functioned, I kind of got this idea that a film distribution company could be structured a little more casually … with a little more overlap of job descriptions, and there could be a way to get some really great films out there in front of people.”
Yauch said a common misconception is that Oscilloscope functions to release music-related films, when in fact it releases all manner of independent films. However, Oscilloscope’s next DVD release is Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, about a fellow musical innovator, streeting on DVD June 16 (prebook May 19) at $29.99.
The film goes deep into Walker’s legacy, from his days as a bass player on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip to his pin-up status in 1960s British pop to his current incarnation as a wildly adventurous musical sage, with his acclaimed The Drift album having been released in 2006. The film includes interviews with luminaries such as David Bowie, Radiohead, Jarvis Cocker (Pulp), Brian Eno, Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz), Sting and Johnny Marr (The Smiths, Modest Mouse).
The Scott Walker DVD, like all of Oscilloscope’s DVDs, uses packaging that is free of any plastic and is printed on FSC Certified 80% post-consumer waste paper, by a carbon-neutral ISO-9001 and ISO-14001 certified plant.
“They use wind power to make the paper, and it’s really great stock,” Yauch said. “It cost a lot more money to use their paper, but we feel better about the environmental impact of it. And it’s got a nice feel to it, the way albums were back in the day, sort of being able to have something of that tactile experience.”
Uniqueness seems to be a key factor for Oscilloscope. Many of the titles feature hand-drawn art, and the May 5 DVD release Wendy and Lucy ($29.95), from director Kelly Reichardt, includes four short films by Reichardt’s colleagues at Bard College, in lieu of commentaries and special features.
“Kelly really didn’t want to put a bunch of bonus material [on the disc]; she felt like she didn’t want to be on there talking about her film and doing commentary,” Yauch said. “And behind-the-scenes stuff, she wasn’t into any of that at all. But we said to her, it would be really nice to put something else on there.”
Wendy and Lucy is probably Oscilloscope’s most high-profile release, due in part to the stunning performance of Michelle Williams.
Yauch said Oscilloscope will aim for a theatrical release on all of its titles while trying to avoid huge releases that could flop.
“It’s very much a matter of taste, seeing films and picking ones we really like,” Yauch said. “We’re not looking to pick up films [just] to make money off of them. We want to build a library of stuff that we feel good about.”
Other titles on the horizon for Oscilloscope include The Garden (prebook July 21, street Aug. 18) and recent DVD releases include Dear Zachary and Yauch’s own Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot. Meanwhile, Yauch is hard at work on the next Beastie Boys album, bouncing back and forth between Oscilloscope and a studio just down the hall.