Spring 2020 Director's Profile: Joseph Kosinski
Joseph Kosinski
"Top Gun" in features, commercials

At press time, director Joseph Kosinski was in postproduction on Top Gun: Maverick (Paramount Pictures), the much anticipated sequel to 1986’s Top Gun. “I’m kind of in mid-birth on the film so it’s hard to reflect on what it means to me. But I can say that it’s been an incredible experience to make a sequel to a film I remember seeing as a kid in a movie theater,” said Kosinski. “It’s surreal working with Tom (Cruise) and Jerry (producer Bruckheimer) on something so iconic and beloved.” 

Kosinski added that among his favorite aspects of filmmaking is getting to know real people, delving into their jobs and lives. He’s been working closely with the U.S. Navy on Top Gun: Maverick, noting that it’s been “amazing to see everyone from the sailors on ships all the way up to admirals doing their jobs.” He recalled having the same feeling of being privileged when he shared time with firefighters in the wild when doing the acclaimed picture Only The Brave. Kosinski related that being able to experience new worlds in this way, sharing time with these people, is an experience that stays with you.

Top Gun: Maverick reunites Kosinski with Cruise. The two first worked together on Oblivion, the director’s second feature, which grossed nearly $290 million worldwide. Cruise and Morgan Freeman headlined the cast on that film which continued the director’s box office success, initiated with Tron: Legacy ($400 million globally while also netting an Oscar nomination for sound editing, and a Grammy nod for the score by Daft Punk).

Top Gun: Maverick started about three years ago, recollected Kosinski, when he, Cruise and Bruckheimer had a conversation about how to best get back into the world of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise), a top-flight aviator. “We discussed how could we best pick up the story of Maverick, one of those cinematic icons,” said Kosinski. Over time, a story developed, yielding what the director describes as “an old school movie with high technology...We tried to capture as much (of the action sequences) as we could in camera. Tom and the actors are in fighter jets. We’re flying in real jets. We wanted to give it that in-camera old-school feel” while of course doing full justice to the story of the characters.

Kosinski’s feature filmography in a sense has some roots in commercialmaking. He honed his storytelling and visual sensibilities initially in the ad arena and continues to go back and forth between features and spot/branded content fare, handled in the short-form marketplace by production house RESET Content. He also has a track record of tapping into his commercial collaborators when taking on feature projects, a prime example being cinematographer Claudio Miranda, who shot Kosinski’s first live-acton commercial. “I’ve done 80 percent of my commercials with Claudio. He’s always my first call.”

Miranda has shot all four of Kosinki’s features. The director has also deployed such spot colleagues as focus puller Dan Ming and key grip Trevor Fulks on features. Kosinski described Fulks as “a superstar figuring out camera mounts inside fighter jets” for Top Gun: Maverick.

A lauded “Web”
Conversely, Kosinski has seen his feature filmmaking inform his short-form endeavors, a case in point being “Web of Fries,” a parody movie trailer for a thriller starring Josh Duhamel that promoted Taco Bell’s introduction of its Nacho Fries. Kosinski directed a :90 cinema spot from which shorter versions were crafted for TV. This trailer for a movie that doesn’t exist was conceived by a creative team at Deutsch and went on to win numerous honors including a Webby Award, a Cannes Silver Lion and Best of Show at the AICE Awards (now the AICP Post Awards).

“I could have only made a spot like that after having a couple of features under my belt,” said Kosinski of the tongue-in-cheek Taco Bell piece. “Rather than making it joke-y, I approached it as if making a trailer for a real thriller--like we were shooting a feature film. We played every scene as it we were making a serious film, treating it like the most important thing in the world--even though it was about French fries.

“Web of Fries” is part of a notable body of work in the ad sector for Kosinski which also includes three AICP Show-honored pieces--Gears of War’s “Mad World,” Destiny’s “Become Legend,” and “Unity” for Assassin’s Creed. He also directed the well-received short film Dig, designed to showcase the prowess of the Sony Venice camera.

Kosinski first showed his commercialmaking acumen with a spec spot titled “iSpec” for Apple. The visually driven piece earned him a slot in SHOOT’s 2005 New Directors Showcase. From there he saw his career as a commercial director pick up momentum at his first roost, Anonymous Content, where he landed thanks to the support of director David Fincher and veteran exec Dave Morrison. When Fincher and Morrison went on to form RESET, Kosinski said it was “a no brainer for me to jump on board. It’s a director-driven company all about the work, producing the highest quality content. It’s been a great partnership for me with so many people on the roster who are bouncing between features, commercials, major TV work. Dave Morrison has never ever complained about me going off to do a feature for a couple of years. It’s a place geared to opening up and accommodating opportunities for filmmakers.”

Kosinski said that after wrapping Top Gun: Maverick, he hopes to jump back into the commercialmaking world via RESET. Top Gun: Maverick has been three years in the making, two years in production. By contrast, Kosinski welcomes the immediacy of directing a commercial or a piece of branded content. “Making features in a weird way makes me appreciate commercials more,” he observed, getting the chance to dive into production and feel the immediate gratification of shortly thereafter seeing his work on the air or online.

Top Gun: Maverick, recently pushed back from June 24 to a Christmas-season release due to the coronavirus crisis, stars Cruise as Maverick and Miles Teller as Lt. Bradley Bradshaw, aka Rooster, the son of Maverick’s late friend and Radar Intercept Officer Lt. Nick Bradshaw, aka Goose. The cast also includes Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Charles Parnell, Bashir Salahuddin, Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez and Greg Tarzan Davis.


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