On seven years in the indie film business
“Oscilloscope Pictures will operate in a model similar to an independent record label, Mr. Yauch, 44, said over green tea in a de facto conference room at his TriBeCa office.”
Hmmm… that sounds familiar. Not the green tea part (straight espresso for me, thanks), the film-company-as-record-label part. Oh, it’s because that’s what I’ve been doing for exactly seven years today!
On Monday, September 10th 2001, we switched on the lights at the offices of Plexifilm (okay, it was the living room of my Brooklyn apartment). I was obsessed with these shiny new discs called DVDs, but I had no idea how the film industry worked. I had worked at an indie record label before (SST), and I’d been involved in various DIY media projects for over 15 years, so I wanted to start sort of a record label, but for films. On that first day it was just me and my first employee, Sean Anderson, who’d recently left the Criterion Collection, and ironically had also produced the Beastie Boys video compilation Criterion put out. Day One was uneventful; we worked on a press release that we were going to send out to the world the next morning. I spent Day Two on the roof of my building, looking at the smoking wreckage of the World Trade Center and watching thousands of ash-faced people walking slowly back over the Manhattan bridge. We had to wait a few months before sending out that press release.
Seven years after our chaotic beginnings, together with a band of revolutionaries who joined me, we’ve managed to release about 40 incredible films (above), produce a half-dozen original documentary projects, and get these films in front of millions of viewers. We’ve thrown countless parties and premieres, and only been thrown out of a couple of them. We’ve pissed some people off, but hopefully inspired a lot more. But most of all we’ve been honored to have met and been able to work with so many great filmmakers. Being involved with their projects pushed me to make my first film a few years ago, Helvetica, and has set me on a course of documentary filmmaking that I hope to continue for the rest of my life.
Looking back, it’s all a blur, maybe because there has never been any time to relax and take in what we were accomplishing. Running a small, totally independent (i.e., no corporate backers or investors) film distribution company is a constant, stress-filled, cash-starved struggle. In some ways, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But we’ve had a lot of help over the years, from far too many people and companies to list here, and somehow we’ve managed to keep it going. And I’m extremely proud of all the films we’ve released.
Back to Adam Yauch. Seven years ago when I launched Plexi, I was convinced that a few months later there would be dozens of other indie DVD labels sprouting up, that DVD technology and DIY philosophy would produce an indie music-esque DVD revolution. It hasn’t exactly panned out that way… so it’s nice to see another label like Oscilloscope out there that shares our philosophy, and I wish Adam the best of luck. Although, has Plexifilm ever received a New York Times profile? Or any profile for that matter? Nope. But I’d like to think that by helping all these films get distributed, we’ve changed people’s lives just a little bit, as I’m sure Oscilloscope will with the films they release.
So thanks to Matt, Chris, Brian, Laurence, Leslie, and everyone who’s worked for, or been involved with Plexifilm. Who knows what the independent film business will look like seven years from now, or what we’ll all be doing then, but the past seven years have been the best and most inspiring of my life.