By Max Meyers
It’s a Friday night after a long week of school or work. Exhausted from the week but eager for the weekend, you decide that kicking back with a movie is the best plan for the evening. Maybe you open Netflix and scroll through endless categories of suggestions. Or how about you go and find an old Blu-ray or DVD of one of your favorite movies from your childhood? Or perhaps you’re still feeling up for hitting the movie theaters, catching the newest and most exciting films on the big silver screen. But have you ever wondered to yourself: after the film is made, how did that movie make its way from the filmmaker and production team to that DVD or Netflix or movie theater? Sure, big-budget studios like Disney and Warner Bros. have no problem getting that film into theaters across the globe or onto their personally-owned and wide-spread streaming platforms, but what about the small indie film looking for its big break into the film scene? That’s where film distribution companies come in.
This summer, I’ve been working as a part-time intern for Oscilloscope Laboratories, a small, independent-focused film distribution company based in Brooklyn, New York, and their primary objective is the answer to that question: film distribution. They’re one of the many companies that act as a bridge between a movie and its audiences. Oscilloscope Laboratories has been around for about 15 years now, and you may have heard of a few of their films: Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller’s We Need to Talk About Kevin; Kelly Reichardt’s early gem Wendy and Lucy starring Michelle Williams; Denis Villeneuve’s (director of Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, and Dune) return to filmmaking in 2009 with Polytechnique; the mind-bending sci-fi thriller Coherence; the technicolor-inspired vision that is The Love Witch; Pakistan’s 2022 submission to the Academy Awards Joyland (which was shortlisted but not nominated); and the newly acquired Daisy Ridley Sundance film Sometimes I Think About Dying. Those are just a few of their catalog numbering to over 150 films, with plenty more on the way.
There are a few elements of film distribution that I have learned over the course of the summer. One area is acquisitions, which involves all things related towards finding films for Oscilloscope to license and acquire in their catalog. My main work helping with acquisitions has consisted of festival research to break down all films showing at upcoming film festivals, and watch screeners of new unreleased films to provide coverage for the acquisitions head and ultimately give my feedback and thoughts on the film. The feedback for coverage is more than just personal opinion about whether it is a good film. It is also about the film’s marketability and ability to make profits. At the end of the day, Oscilloscope needs to make money, so finding a film with tangible markets and audiences is an important part of acquisitions. There may be a fantastic movie that just doesn’t have great marketability for Oscilloscope.
A lot of my other tasks involved working on films Oscilloscope has already acquired, and either are currently releasing, or plans to release in the near future. Helping out with marketing and outreach for films was a big part of the job, too. One recurring marketing task is working on marketing research to discover places of outreach and engagement where that film would be screening. Typically, this meant finding places and organizations with relation to the film’s theme or audiences near an LA or NYC theater where the film was premiering at. Additionally, on the marketing side, I helped with creating or looking over marketing materials and posters for upcoming releases. A few currently upcoming films I researched are Joyland, Moon Garden, Amanda, Love Life, Piaffe, CatVideoFest 2023, Once Within A Time, and a few unannounced films as well.
Additionally, I work on tasks related to the rest of Oscilloscope’s catalog. I completed a lot of work with Oscilloscope’s films streaming on Kanopy, a streaming service free to College of Charleston students (and almost all of Oscilloscope’s films are on Kanopy)! My work with Kanopy includes a project regarding Oscilloscope’s films on Kanopy at various public libraries around the country, as well as a lot of research into Kanopy licenses of Oscilloscope films resulting in a program that’ll involve college universities around the country. Another task related to Oscilloscope’s catalog that I consistently work on is what is called Metadata. Metadata is essentially a spreadsheet filled out that gives streaming services the right information when licensing Oscilloscope films. A few services I completed Metadata for were Pluto, Xbox, Google, and Kanopy. Additionally, I have access to Oscilloscope’s Letterboxd page and work on posting various press breaks about their films as well as musings about various film-related topics. I also make Tik Toks for their Tik Tok account, join various team meetings with the staff over Zoom, and do some work regarding Oscilloscope’s newly released Celluloid Card Game, which is a ton of fun to play and available on their store!
A project I found particularly fun and exciting is what’s called chaptering. To my delight, Oscilloscope values and releases Blu-rays and DVDs for their films. One task I got to work on for an upcoming Blu-ray/DVD release was essentially watching that film and creating the chapters for the film, the ones you’d find when going to the “scene selection” space on a Blu-ray or DVD. As an avid Blu-ray collector myself, this task had me nerding out and was such a treat and honor to be a part of.
Overall, this has been a tremendously fulfilling experience. I was first introduced to the Oscilloscope team last summer when I completed an internship with Intuit Mailchimp doing Film Programming work for their streaming service Mailchimp Presents. Being able to reconnect and work for them a year later has been such a rewarding experience. My career interest is definitely in the film industry, and this has been such a great introduction into that world through the lens of film distribution. This internship–and everything I’ve taken part in at CofC with Film Studies and the Film Club– has affirmed that working with film is what I want to do in life. I’ve loved working for Oscilloscope Laboratories and the small but mighty team that runs it, and definitely hope to cross paths with them again in the future, one way or another!