From MHS to Hollywood

‘Top Gun’ sequel up next for director and Marshalltown native Joe Kosinski

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Marshalltown native and director, Joseph Kosinski, poses with actor Tom Cruise at recent Hollywood event.

The late actress Jean Seberg, actress Mary Beth Hurt, and actor Toby Huss put Marshalltown on the map with their thespian skills.

But now consider director Joseph Kosinski, a former resident who has developed a solid reputation working on the other side of the camera.

Kosinski spoke to the Times-Republican recently via telephone from his Santa Monica, Calif. home.

Before being hired to direct “Top Gun – Maverick”, a sequel to the 1986 smash hit “Top Gun,” Kosinski directed feature-length films “Tron Legacy” (2010), “Oblivion” (2013), and “Only the Brave” (2017).

His previous work on short films, and television commercials for internationally-known athletic shoe and automotive companies caught the attention of Hollywood’s powers that be, and opportunities followed.

He won three AICP Awards for his commercials “Gears of War ‘Mad World’, and “Assassin’s Creed ‘Unity’ according to his biography. Also awarded was “Destiny ‘Become Legend’.

All are now featured in the Department of Film at the Museum of Modern Art.

Kosinski’s reputation started to grow with his feature-length film debut “Tron Legacy.”

Expectations were high.

“Tron” was released in 1982, and had become a cult classic.

And there was added pressure every director must face: complete the film on time and within budget constraints, which he did.

“Keeping the film on, or under budget, as well as on schedule, is critical in the business,” Kosinski said.

“Tron Legacy” for Walt Disney Studios, grossed more than $400 million worldwide, and was nominated for an Academy Award, and a Grammy for the score by Daft Punk, according to his bio.

His career has given him the opportunity of working with some of Hollywood’s finest actors and actresses.

“Tron Legacy” featured Academy Award Winning actor Jeff Bridges.

“Only the Brave” included Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly, Bridges, Academy Award nominee Josh Brolin, and up-and-coming actor Miles Teller.

“Top Gun Maverick” leads with Academy Award nominee Tom Cruise, who also starred in “Top Gun.”

Cruise also worked with Kosinski on the post-Apocalyptic “Oblivion.”

“I met with Josh Brolin for four hours over a cup of coffee,” said Kosinski.

“He was making a film in North Carolina, and I made my case for him to be in ‘Only the Brave.'” He accepted. That is what it takes … a director must meet with the actor or actress and convince him or her the role is suited for them. Having a good script and cast is 80 percent of film-making.”

Kosinski said he was inspired to make “Only the Brave” after reading an account of the deaths of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots, killed battling a horrific blaze near Yarnell, Ariz., in 2013.

“Heroes don’t always carry guns, was a point I wanted to make in the film,” Kosinski said. “I was deeply drawn to the lives of two of the fire-fighters, the late Eric Marsh, portrayed by Brolin, and Brendan McDonough, by Teller.

McDonough was the only member of the team who survived. The Hotshots, based in Prescott, Ariz., dedicated their lives protecting the Yarnell residents.

Kosinski said he spent a lot of time in Prescott, soliciting comments from residents.

He talked to McDonough at length, as well as Amanda Marsh, the spouse of Eric.

Now 43, Kosinski spent his formative years in Marshalltown, moving here at age 5.

He is a 1992 Marshalltown High School graduate, with fond memories of Marshalltown.

“I have come to appreciate the freedom I had while growing up in Marshalltown … being able to ride my bicycle around and going to movies at the Orpheum Theater, he said. “Having lived in Manhattan for 10 years, and now, the Los Angeles area, the freedom was special.”

After MHS, Kosinski attended Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

At Stanford he earned a degree in mechanical engineering.

More academic opportunities followed.

He received a Master of Architecture from Columbia University in New York City.

In a 2010 interview with the T-R, Kosinski said architecture allowed him to hone his skills with computer-generated graphics, which became a valuable skill he incorporated into several short films.

Those short films opened the door with Nike and other companies.

“He really must have sold himself well,” because they (studios) gave him huge projects to do,” said film aficionado and retired educator Tom LaVille of Marshalltown. “‘Tron Legacy’ was an enormous project, followed by ‘Oblivion,’ an equally complicated task. ‘Oblivion’ was originally a short story Kosinski wrote. That was followed-up by a screen play and then the film.”

Kosinski said he wrote the story to “get his foot in the door, thinking I could make it into a film with a small cast of characters.”

His recommendation to high schools seniors contemplating a career in film was succinct, “Just do it,” he said. “Make something. Put it out there and if it is good, it will be noticed.”

He harkened back to his youth.

“The first film I remember seeing in the theater was “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” he said. “I saw with my dad in the summer of 1981. To this day it remains one of my all time favorites. Other favorites are ‘2001-A Space Odyssey’ and ‘Blade Runner.'”


Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611, or