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‘Irishman’ Producer on Mega-Production Schedule: ‘It Was Pretty Insane’

Emma Tillinger Koskoff
Matt Baron/Shutterstock

The numbers for “The Irishman” are staggering: 108 shooting days, 117 locations, 319 scenes, 160 actors, in a story spanning 50 years.

“I must say, it was no small feat,” laughs Emma Tillinger Koskoff, who is Oscar-nominated for the film, as well as for “Joker.”

“Irishman” is the story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) starting in 1956. But it’s basically a history of the U.S., with newsreel footage used to cover such events as the JFK assassination, the Apollo 11 moon landing, the Watergate hearings, etc.

“Logistically, this was complex and complicated. Thank God I have the greatest assistant-director department working today,” she says. “We had a very intricate model on each page of the day’s shooting script, telling you what location we were in, what year it was, what age the characters were. It had to be really clear.”

The Netflix film, directed by Martin Scorsese and scripted by Steven Zaillian, lensed only one-third of the time on soundstages. “We shot all over: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Long Island, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx, upstate, New Jersey, everywhere,” she says.

Tillinger Koskoff was associate producer on Scorsese’s “The Departed,” and producer on his past three films, which also include “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Silence.”

She says Scorsese was developing “Irishman” for 12 years. “Once Marty has chosen what he wants to do, the scripting is between him and the writer. I weigh in if asked, but typically I stay out of his way during that process. Then he brings in the key actors. My work kicks in when we have close to a final script; I take it from script to budget to schedule, and pull together the production team.

“I also work closely with the line producer, AD and DP on a budget and schedule, and we create a production plan that will realize Marty’s vision. I’m with Marty all through prep, making crew deals and a lot of cast deals.

“We scouted a lot. Our prep was almost six months; sometimes we were scouting after the day’s wrap, trying to find new location, because our schedule was so long we sometimes lost a location due to weather or whatever; it was pretty insane.

“Marty commands perfection, and I’m used to that stress and pressure. But I love what I do. I’m invigorated on a daily basis by Marty’s energy. I save the exhaustion for the end of the film, once we’re wrapped.”

Tillinger Koskoff takes a producer’s pride in the artisan work on “Irishman,” such as costumes. “Marty and Sandy Powell had the best time crafting these things. A lot of the costumes were built and a lot was rented — we ran the gamut, from costume houses to thrift stores.”

She also praises “the wonderful Bob Shaw” as production designer who built some sets and reconfigured many existing locations. “One example was the scene of Frank Sheeran Appreciation Night. That was filmed at a banquet hall in Harlem; Bob Shaw transformed that place. We had a hard time finding the right place because Marty had specific angles and points of view he wanted for all the interaction among a lot of characters, plus the background people, all with a lot of camera movement. “That sequence was five days, and it was pretty wild, getting all the cast, crew, background and equipment up five flights every day.”

Esteemed cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto was enlisted for his third consecutive film with Scorsese, and she singles out “Rodrigo’s fabulous lighting — every frame was so well thought out and crafted.”

“Marty is incredibly proud of ‘Irishman,’” says Tillinger Koskoff. “It’s the culmination of a lot of themes he’s covered in his filmmaking. I’ve never seen him be so pleased.”