Making History With "The Irishman," "Joker," "Ford v Ferrari"
Emma Tillinger Koskoff garnered a pair of Best Picture Oscar nominations this year--for "The Irishman" and "Joker" (photo by Brigitte Lacombe)
Reflections from producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff on this year's two Best Picture Oscar nominations; Andrew Buckland continues collaboration with fellow editor Michael McCusker, director James Mangold

The road to making movie history may include a brief detour and navigation through insecurity as producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff can attest. Koskoff is a two-time nominee this year for the Best Picture Oscar--on the strength of her work on director Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman (Netflix) and Todd Phillips’ Joker (Warner Bros. Pictures). This marks just the fifth time in Academy Award history that a producer has been nominated for two Best Picture Oscars simultaneously--the first four being Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather: Part II and The Conversation in 1975, Scott Rudin for 2010’s The Social Network and True Grit, Megan Ellison for 2013’s American Hustle and Her, and Steve Golin for Spotlight and The Revenant in 2015.

This is the third career Best Picture Oscar nod for Koskoff whose first came in 2014 for Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Koskoff regards Scorsese as “a mentor” and a career shaper, crediting him for putting her on the feature producers’ map. “Marty has taught me everything I know,” she affirmed. “He raised me in this business. I’m so fortunate to work with him and produce his films. There’s no greater honor than a Best Picture nomination with him for The Irishman.”

At the same time, Joker marks Koskoff’s first producing foray outside the comfort of the Scorsese nest. This makes Joker’s Best Picture nod particularly gratifying for Koskoff who said that “flying the coop for the first time” was “a very nerve-racking experience.” It was only natural, she continued, to feel a little “unsure of myself,” with self-described “insecurities” related to her not knowing “if I could do it for anybody other than Marty.” 

Joker’s accomplishments--including 11 Oscar nominations to lead this year’s tally--are “extremely meaningful” to Koskoff. “Joker and Todd Phillips are so special to me--the trust he had in me and his willingness to take a chance on me. I’m extremely moved and proud of both Best Picture nominations this year.”

Koskoff found a common bond between her working with Scorsese and Phillips--namely her responsibility first and foremost to support the directors/auteurs she works with in every way possible. “I try to create a safe haven, a safe space for both filmmakers to create and do their thing, to shield and protect them from the problems and challenges that come up with any production.” Beyond directly handling those challenges and problems, Koskoff added that she feels “fortunate that both Marty and Todd are producers as well.” When issues arise that she cannot completely address, she can go to them for input. She tries to do that sparingly so that the directors can focus on other essentials, including garnering and facilitating stellar performances the likes of Joaquin Phoenix’s in Joker, and Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino’s in The Irishman.

Koskoff said working with Scorsese over the years and now with Phillips--not to mention having a collaborative bond with the Safdie brothers on this season’s acclaimed Uncut Gems--continually reminds her that every film is challenging in a different way. “What I’ve learned is that I have so much to learn, even though I have learned so much.” It’s akin to the old adage that the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. In that regard, she assessed, “Getting to be next to Marty every day is the greatest gift.” And to make the most of that “gift,” it behooves her to “always be open to learning new things.”

The opportunity to team with Scorsese originally came after a traumatic experience for Koskoff, the tragic passing of director Ted Demme in 2002. Koskoff had been working with Demme as an assistant and was on a producing trajectory with him. Upon Demme’s death, Koskoff left Los Angles to move back to the East Coast, tapping into her roots growing up in New York and Connecticut. She took a year off to take stock of what had happened and to start to reimagine what she wanted to do with her career. Then she got a fortuitous query from talent manager and producer Rick Yorn whom she described as “my big brother and godfather in this business.” Yorn had represented Demme as well as Scorsese for some time and connected Koskoff to the latter for a personal assistant’s gig.

Working as Scorsese’s assistant, Koskoff found herself back on a career fast track, building a rapport with the director and working in production on such films as The Departed, Shutter Island and Hugo. She debuted as a producer on The Wolf of Wall Street. Koskoff has executive produced or produced all of Scorsese’s films since 2010, yielding not just the Oscar nominations but also Producers Guild Award nods for The Wolf of Wall Street in 2014 and both Joker and The Irishman this year. Joker and The Irishman both additionally garnered her BAFTA nominations for Best Film as well.

Furthermore Koskoff won a primetime Emmy for Outstanding Nonfiction Special on the basis of Scorsese’s George Harrison: Living in the Material  World in 2012. 

Part of Scorsese’s legacy--producing in NYC--may have helped Joker, according to director Phillips who, as reported in last week’s installment of SHOOT’s The Road To Oscar series, credited Koskoff with helping him to realize his vision for the film in assorted ways. This included her assembling an “A-plus crew of New York talent. They came to work on the movie because of Emma.” Phillips stated matter of factly, explaining that Koskoff “runs New York City” given her roots there with Scorsese.

Ford v Ferrari
While Koskoff has made Oscar history with The Irishman and Joker, chronicling another bit of history is director James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari which stars Matt Damon as visionary automotive designer Carroll Shelby, and Christian Bale as maverick British racer Ken Miles. Ford Motor Company brought Shelby and Miles together to defeat perennial Le Mans champion Ferrari in 1966. With little time to attain the seemingly impossible, Shelby and Miles buck the odds and push back against the dictates of corporate control at Ford, among other dynamics, to realize a singular accomplishment.

Ford v Ferrari earned a total of four Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Film Editing. The editing nod went to Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland. This marked McCusker’s second career nod, the first coming for Mangold’s Walk the Line in 2006. Buckland is a first-time Oscar nominee for Ford v Ferrari.

SHOOT connected with Buckland who recalled he, McCusker and Mangold all meeting for the first time on the director’s feature, Kate & Leopold. McCusker was first assistant editor on that film with Buckland serving as a NY assistant. Buckland said that he and McCusker became fast friends. After getting the Oscar nomination for Walk the Line, McCusker invited Buckland to be his first assistant on Mangold’s Knight & Day. Buckland moved up to additional editor, collaborating with McCusker on Mangold’s The Wolverine. Then outside the Mangold universe, McCusker and Buckland teamed to edit director Tate Taylor’s The Girl on the Train. This marked Buckland’s first gig as a full fledged editor. McCusker and Buckland also edited a TV pilot, White City, and they then came together again to cut Ford v. Ferrari. 

Buckland said perhaps the biggest creative challenge posed by the film was “finding that balance” between racing scenes and the dramatic story of the two protagonists. It’s the emotional weight of the drama, related buckland, that gives deeper meaning to the racing sequences later in the movie. Viewers get invested in the story and the characters which “elevates the racing scenes in a unique way.” So when LeMans rolls around, “you understand who everybody is and what everybody wants.” Thus the racing becomes far more than just cool action sequences.

The human element in the story, continued Buckland, hopefully gives audiences something they didn’t fully anticipate going into the theater. “It’s really a story about two individuals,” he shared. “It’s a big movie that ends up an intimate story.”

Editing’s role in telling that personal story was recognized not just with the Oscar nod but also nominations for the Best Editing BAFTA Film Award as well as the ACE Eddie Award in the dramatic feature category.

As for what’s next, Buckland has gone solo to edit director Josh Boone’s The New Mutants (20th Century Studios) which was in final post at press time.

This is the final installment of this season’s 16-part The Road To Oscar series. The 92nd Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 9, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, Calif.,and will be televised live on the ABC Television Network. The Oscars also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide. SHOOT’s coverage of the Oscar winners will appear on SHOOTonline on Feb. 9, SHOOT Dailies on Feb. 10 and in the Feb. 14th SHOOT>e.dition.

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