After brothers Bill and Turner Ross screened their new film for the first time at SXSW earlier this year, they went to lunch with representatives of Oscilloscope Laboratories, the film distribution company started by the late Beastie Boy Adam Yauch.
“Things came together pretty quickly after that,” recalls Bill Ross to Rolling Stone. “It seemed so right. It was a perfect fit for us.”
Having grown up listening to the Beastie Boys, Ross had a “geek-out moment,” he says, as soon as he realized he’d be partnering with Yauch’s company. His film, Tchoupitoulas, is a dreamlike documentary about three young boys who experience the “wonderment” of New Orleans. He was reminded of the “Mardi Gras” line in the Beasties’ “Shake Your Rump”: “Got arrested at the Mardi Gras for jumping on a float/ My man MCA’s got a beard like a billy goat.”
Yauch, who died in May at age 47, modeled Oscilloscope after a great indie record label, as Ross puts it: “Regardless of the film or the story, you trusted that when you saw that logo, you were going to watch it.” After launching in 2008 with Yauch’s own film about high school basketball phenoms, Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot, Oscilloscope has distributed dozens more titles, including Exit Through the Gift Shop, Shut Up and Play the Hits and The Other F Word.
Yauch’s wide-ranging interests – from the environment, literature and comedy to all kinds of music – are still imprinted on everything the company does. Samsara, a globetrotting, nearly wordless documentary about the concepts of death and rebirth across various cultures, has a Buddhist theme that “was in sync to some extent with his life philosophy,” says producer Mark Magidson.
It’s been a tough year for Oscilloscope, Magidson acknowledges – besides Yauch’s death, co-founder David Fenkel left in August. Though he was nervous about the turmoil, says the producer, the energy and enthusiasm of the remaining staff, led by Dan Berger and David Laub, has been impressive.
“They’ve really stepped up,” says Magidson, who reteamed with director Ron Fricke (1992’s Baraka, director of photography on the groundbreaking 1982 doc Koyaanisqatsi) to make Samsara. “I’m feeling very grateful I did go with Oscilloscope with this film.”
Yauch’s vision for the company is what continues to drive the staff, says Berger. “We look at films always with an eye towards maintaining that vision, which fortunately was also broad enough and open-minded enough that there is an immense level of diversity. To expand on the common adage, you can’t really define an O-Scope movie, but you know it when you see it.”
Oscilloscope films set for U.S. release in the new year include Reality, the 2012 Grand Prix winner at Cannes by Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone, and It’s a Disaster, an apocalyptic comedy starring David Cross and America Ferrara.
“Everything that’s happened over the course of the last year,” says Berger, “has really just served to make us all closer, more dedicated, and frankly more responsible to ensure that Adam’s legacy remains strong partly through the work we do.”