<I>Top Gun: Maverick</I> - director Joseph Kosinski
Issue: May/June 2022

Top Gun: Maverick - director Joseph Kosinski

Paramount Pictures has the year’s biggest blockbuster to date, with Top Gun: Maverick surpassing $500M domestically at press time. The film picks up 30 years after the original story ( Top Gun, 1986), where the Navy’s top aviator, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise), is called on to train the latest elite force of pilots

Maverick is faced with readying the crew for a specialized mission, the likes of which no living pilot has ever seen. He’s also dealing with his own uncertain future and confronting ghosts from his past. In addition to Cruise, the film stars Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Charles Parnell, Bashir Salahuddin, Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Greg Tarzan Davis, Ed Harris and Val Kilmer. 

Director Joseph Kosinski

Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion) directed the film, whose release was delayed considerably following the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 and 2021. Kosinski also directed the music video for the Lady Gaga track “Hold My Hand,” which is an important part of the feature’s soundtrack.

Here, Kosinski speak exclusively with Post about his experience making the film and its companion music video.

Sound is an incredibly important component to this film’s overall experience. Can you talk about the soundtrack?

“Absolutely. I mean, there's so much going on in this mix. Atmos is really well suited to be able to handle what's going on in this film.”

You not only directed the feature, but also the music video for Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand,” which is part of the film’s soundtrack. Can you talk about how COVID affected the production of both, and did you benefit from having any extra time?

“The COVID delay hit, I would say, two months before our post was due to end. So it essentially took our last two months of post and extended it into four because we couldn't do things the way we had always done them. You know, all of a sudden, everything that you would do in-person became remote, and we all had to figure out how to work remote instantly. So we finished maybe a month or two later than we would have normally. We kind of wrapped up the film in the summer of 2020 and all went on to do other projects while we waited to release this one. 

“The Gaga video, I shot in the summer of ‘21, so I'd say that probably did benefit from the fact that we had a two-year delay. I had time to actually shoot a video for the song and do it myself, which was great.”

The music video incorporates final footage from the film, so you were dependent on the completion of the film in order to deliver a video with those completed scenes? 

“Yeah, that was all finished footage. And yeah, we had the whole film done so we could integrate whatever we wanted into the video itself. 

“Listen, I moved to Los Angeles to do commercials and music videos. And when I got here, the music video business had kind of gone away at that point, so I never got to do a music video. As a kid who grew up watching MTV, it was something I always wanted to do. And all of a sudden, I had the opportunity to do a video, and to have my first one be with Gaga? And to do it for this film? I was excited!”

I didn't realize it was your first music video?

“My first music video ever! So I kind of came up with the concept of shooting it inside Maverick's hangar, with his plane, and the (Porsche) 911 from the film, and Maverick's bike, and then her out on the runway at Inyokern Airport, which is the airport where Maverick lives in the movie, with her piano on the runway and the fly-by with the P-51. And we shot it in July of last year. It was like 114 degrees, and I was just so impressed with Lady Gaga's commitment in the performance she gave. It reminds me of Tom in some ways, just the energy that she puts into her performance and gives everything she absolutely can into every take. It was a tough shoot because it was so hot. But it was it was a lot of fun.”

Music videos tend to be very tight shoots? 

“Yep! We shot it in one day. One day at Inyokern.” 

Sony was proud to associate their new Venice camera with the film. 

“It was the Venice 1 camera on those. The second gen hadn't come out yet. So it was it was actually the first film, I think, to use Venice, gen 1. Claudio (Miranda) and I had tested the prototype, and Claudio was really involved in the development of the camera. So I think we were the first to use it.” 

Did Claudio Miranda shoot the music video with the Venice camera too?

“Jeff Cronenweth is the DP on the music video. And I've worked with him before. I wanted the footage to be able to cut in with the film, so it felt like using the same camera made sense. One thing we were able to do on the video that we didn't do on the film was shoot anamorphic with Gaga out on the runway. On the film, we had to shoot spherical, because of all the aerial stuff, and we needed a more compact system to capture the aerial sequences. And I didn't want to mix lenses on the film. But in the music video we did mix (lenses) because I had the black & white interior and the color exterior, so we shot the outside anamorphic.”

I noticed the use of black & white versus color in the music video, with color appearing more as the video evolves. You’re saying it was more interior versus exterior? 

“Yeah, it was a little bit. I was it's basically the inside. I like the idea of Lady Gaga kind of playing two characters, like an ‘80s pop star on the inside in the black & white version, and then kind of more the star she is today with the exterior stuff. And that was that was kind of the concept of the video.”

Is it tough putting together a video like this, editorially, where you're trying to balance the film's footage with maybe not giving away too much, but also balancing the artist's presence in it too? 

“Yeah. We started with assembling her performance and then worked the footage in from there. It was really a collaboration between myself, Gaga and Tom (Cruise) to kind of find the balance that conveyed the emotion of the film and showed how the song plays into some really important scenes in the film, and Gaga's performance as well. It is a balance when you've got something built for the film, because it needs to do a couple of different things. I think in the end, we ended up with something that introduced the world to the song and you get a hint of how important it is and integral it is to the film.”

This came together last summer. Was there a hard deadline knowing the film’s release was delayed?

“I mean, we shot it last summer and delivered it. It came out this May, so like everything with the pandemic, time wasn't the issue. So no, it wasn't under any kind of time constraints at all.”

Are there any additional visual effects in the music video or are they all from the film footage? 

“You know, the music video is all live-action, including the P-51 flyover. That's all in-camera. That was 100 percent in-camera. All real. No visual effects! And that's Tom's airplane that flies over Lady Gaga's head. That's his P-51!”

Who edited the video?

“Actually [two] editors worked on it. It was Stephen Mirrione and Eddie Hamilton. They’re on Avids.”

Eddie Hamilton was the lead editor on the feature too? 

“He is the lead editor on the film. And yeah, he worked a lot on integrating the film footage into the edit, so it was really a collaboration between the two of them.”

Where were they doing the editorial? 

“Stephen cut out of an editorial house in Santa Monica, and Eddie cut out of editorial in the UK, because he's currently editing Mission Impossible 7, so he was able to kind of fit it in between his film duties.” 

As far as the visual effects, there were a number of vendors that contributed to the feature, including Method Studios, Lola VFX and Blind. Can you explain how the work was broken up?

“Yes, Blind does more of the 2D motion graphics work. Method does the heavy lifting 3D work. And Lola specializes in cosmetic work.”

Company 3 did the finishing on the film. Did they do the finishing on the music video as well? 

“Yes. Stefan Sonnenfeld did the color on the film and on the video. We shot the whole thing in color, but convert it to black and white. 

What's next for you?

“I made another film called Spiderhead that (was released) June 17th on Netflix. That we shot and finished while we were waiting for Top Gun to come out. Right now I'm developing a couple of things. Most likely, the next is a Formula 1 movie that I'm producing with Jerry Bruckheimer and Plan B and Lewis Hamilton. I'll be directing. So we're working on that right now.”