OSCARS Q&A: 'Wolf Of Wall Street' Producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff On 'Sexy, Scary, Infuriating' Pic

Anna Lisa Raya is deputy editor of AwardsLine.

Leonardo DiCaprio Wolf of Wall StreetThe Wolf Of Wall StreetMartin Scorsese’s adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s memoir, starring Leonardo DiCaprio — is a wild and crazy ride that had its own wayward journey to the big screen. Helping keep things on track was producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff, who rose from executive assistant to president of production for Scorsese’s Sikelia Productions. She credits her ascent to her ability to communicate with the perfectionist director in a kind of shorthand. “Do I feel like I could handle anybody after having worked with him for so long? Sure,” she says. “He is the maestro.”

AwardsLine: How did The Wolf Of Wall Street finally get off the ground?
Emma Tillinger Koskoff: Alexandra Milchan got the book rights and then she engaged Terence Winter to write the screenplay. They brought it to Leo (DiCaprio) at a time when he had a deal with Warner Bros., in 2007. AwardsLineThen Leo brought it to Marty (Scorsese), and they began developing it. For whatever reason, the film went into turnaround at Warners. The film came back, fortuitously, right when Marty finished Hugo and he was looking for his next movie. Eventually, it all came together through Red Granite Pictures. They came in with Joey McFarland and scooped it up from Warner Bros., fully financed it and took it first to Paramount, which wanted to distribute it.

AwardsLine: What attracted you to the story?
Koskoff: It’s a classic roller coaster ride. It’s hilariously funny. Jonah (Hill) and Leo are hilariously funny together. The film is sexy, it’s scary, it’s infuriating, it’s wildly disturbing and it’s exciting all at the same time. The breadth of emotion that you go through watching this film is incredible.

Related: Oscar Mischief? Video Circulates With Leonardo DiCaprio Touting ‘Wolf’ Jordan Belfort’s Motivational Speaking Prowess

AwardsLine: It was a big-scale production, with a big cast. What were the initial budget talks like and where did you end up?
Wolf of Wall Street Emma Tillinger Koskoff Koskoff: You know, we ended up at a very comfortable and generous budget. The scope of the movie had to work within those parameters, and we had to make compromises to get the story told. The pace of the movie is that typical Scorsese-staccato pacing, like Goodfellas. Sometimes we shot two or three locations in a day, so that was challenging. I’m delighted to report that we stayed on budget and we stayed on time, and I think Marty got everything he wanted.

AwardsLine: Was there any scene from the book that was too big or outlandish to make due to your budget parameters?
Koskoff: At one point, when Jordan is at the height of his insanity, he insists on sailing his yacht in bad weather and he sinks his ship, which was important. Marty really wanted to illustrate the height that he had come to, that disregard for everything and everyone around him. And that was challenging because then you get into special effects with the storm sequences.

AwardsLine: Was there a conscious effort to get this movie made in the current economic climate or was it just a coincidence?
Koskoff: Whether it was on purpose or not, the timing really couldn’t be better. Society as a whole is completely fed up with the financial system, one that allows for unscrupulous behavior. And the shock and paralyses of it all has evolved into action. I think this film is going to keep that momentum going and really keep the dishonest behavior on the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Related: ‘Wolf Of Wall Street’s Leonardo DiCaprio On Creating Fact-Based Black Comedy Without Glorifying Crooks

AwardsLine: DiCaprio is a politically minded actor and a lot of the work he’s done has some message of wayward behavior being rectified. How would you characterize Jordan Belfort’s comeuppance?
The Wolf of Wall StreetKoskoff: The character that (DiCaprio) plays grew up in middle-class Queens. There was no silver spoon or Ivy League education, but he was hungry. It’s not just a portrait of a con man; the movie and the book both make a powerful statement about ambition and the American dream. The movie starts with this smart and beautiful young man working toward ethically achieving the American dream, but he becomes so consumed with the lifestyle and the greed that it ultimately takes him down.

AwardsLine: What is your collaborative process with Scorsese like?
Koskoff: I’ve had the incredibly privileged opportunity to work with this man for 11 years. He’s my mentor, he’s my teacher, he’s a huge support. I’m there to sort of facilitate all his needs with prep and production and development. I’m lucky to be at the apex, the highest level of art in the world.

AwardsLine: What was it like working with DiCaprio as a producer and the star of the film?
Koskoff: He was more involved in the producing side than ever before. I have worked with him on every Marty movie except The Aviator, so I’ve seen his growth and transition. He was somebody I would go to when I’d run into production issues. He was always there, waiting to problem solve while tackling this performance. His (acting) talent is not studied or learned, it’s innate. He’s had this project since 2007 so he’s been studying and connecting with Jordan that entire time. It’s one of the bravest performances of all time.

    1. damn straight. where as the red granite guys are simply the money guys and the will get the undeserved glory

  1. In keeping with the content of this movie please be sure to lase your comments with frequent and gratuitous profanity. Thank you.

    1. It is NOT better than The Departed. This film is a mess. So much profanity it takes one away from the scenes. It’s not one of the best films of the year, it is one of the worst, in my opinion. Totally overdone.

  2. I WON’T BORE YOU, I PROMISE. CAN SOMEONE PLEASE EXPLAIN HOW THE USE OF THE F-BOMB AND IT’S RELATED TERMS IS NECESSARY IN THIS FILM IN THE EXCESSIVE MANNER IT IS USED? OH, COME ON, AFTER THE FIRST 100 OR SO, DOESN’T IT BECOME RIDICULOUS? MAYBE THE PRODUCERS, WRITERS, ACTORS, OR WHOEVER CAN’T SEE IT, BUT REALLY, WHAT THE _ _ _ _?
    I HATED THIS MOVIE FOR TOO MANY REASONS TO WRITE HERE AND WILL SPREAD THE WORD, DON’T WASTE YOU HARD-EARNED MONEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Debbie, I think the idea was to show how these men interact in this environment. How crude language is meant to suggest toughness and rawness. It would be wrong not to capture that for the sake of softening the script. David Mamet, Quentin Tarantino and many others have made similar use of profane language. But what did you expect? Had you not heard any of the buzz, seen the trailer or known about the controversy? All involved admitted the movie is not for everyone and if you really oppose strong language in movies why would you invest 3 hours in this one. It’s like going to a Disney movie and saying you hate happy endings.

  3. Debbie is right. And not just about the f-bombs which I can take. This producer was quoted in another interview as saying they had no trouble at all with the rating process…that the “R” came easily, pardon the pun. Explain THAT MPAA!

    1. Me either. Absolutely ridiculous, even for a raunchy film. Lazy-ass screenwriting to over emphasis debauchery by using that word over 500 times. Absurd.

      1. Sooooo sorry I saw this. Filthy, profane, no sympathetic characters. They used the “F” word so many times it was unbelievable. After a while, you just notice how many times they use the “F” word rather than follow the film. The script is AWFUL. Actually, HATED this film.

  4. If you pay money to see this movie and you yourself do not have a six figure bank account .. you are utterly mocking yourself.

  5. Better still .. if you promote this movie and you yourself do not have a six figure bank account, you are utterly mocking yourself.

  6. The film was morally reprehensible, and certainly not Scorsese’s finest hour. DiCaprio should have also taken a harder look at the script and what it was trying to say. The scenes where they are knowingly taking advantage of poor people, and scamming and stealing while laughing and flipping them off while on the phone was disgusting. I have no more respect for this storytelling team…they have lost their way. I loved “Gangs of New York” and others they have worked on. The people that seem to like this piece of garbage, I find baffling. Is this the morality that we want to teach our society? This “I got mine” attitude at someone else’s expense is a freaking sad day for all of us.

    1. Excuse me, but movies have no moral responsibility to anyone. The purpose of films is to entertain. If it teaches and educates at the same, that’s great, but there certainly is no obligation to morality. The problem with society is that people use media to babysit and teach the youth rather than parenting them on their own. You’re completely entitled to love or hate the film for any reason you choose, but is absurd to think filmmakers have any responsibility to society other than to provide entertainment.

      I also find that there was nothing morally reprehensible about the film itself. I certainly didn’t walk out of that theater saying, “Gee, I want to be just like those guys!”. In fact, I had the opposite reaction. I said to myself, “Wow, was the insane amount of cash worth the destruction of their lives? Was living such a flashy and shallow life worth losing your family, dignity, and sanity? I never want to live that lifestyle if that’s what it entails.”

      First off, anyone who is still of age that they could be so heavily influenced by a film should not be watching this, it’s clearly a movie made for an adult audience. And if an adult does walk away wanting to be like those guys, they have bigger issues they need to deal with. It is a parent’s obligation to teach their children about morality and things of that nature, not Martin Scorsese. Not the mention, this was based on real people and events, which means it would be much more criminal to ignore the atrocities that are taking place within our very society.

  7. Hey great idea. Those writers of Runner Runner. Keep hiring and buying. They have a bucket of ice to sell you morons.

  8. I wanted to like the film but I didn’t. Not a prude. But it was such an overkill.

    I wonder if this film would have gotten any recognition if Leo or Marty were not involved. I think not. I don’t know how anyone can say this was one of the best films of the year. NO No it was not.

  9. Just watched interview with Belfort – guy claims to have turned his life around – what was once “money, power, sex” has turned into “giving, family, freedom” – according to him. After he lost his boat and a plane in one week, he tried to commit suidice. Whether true or not, his real story has an arc – creep to understanding the negativity of his actions, and a transformation into a motivational speaker. Bravura performance by Leo, but story missed the transformation, the apotheosis Belfort claims to have experience. For my money always give me the apotheosis so I can sort the rest out.

  10. This film is based on reality. This is what certain New Yorkers talk like and behave like, especially Stockbrokers in the 80s/90s. It was a wild and raw time of greed and overindulgence, which is exactly what the film is about. You can’t hold filmmakers accountable for portraying it accurately or for portraying the characters accurately. Would you watch a movie about Vietnam and not expect to see the atrocities of war? Did none of you see Goodfellas? This is not Scorsese’s first film about unscrupulous characters who use foul language gratuitously.

    This film was spot on. I lived in New York during that time. Every young stockbroker thought they were going to make millions and retire by 30. This is one such story, but there were other stories like this. This is a fascinating account of one person’s infamous rise and fall.

  11. Alexandra Milchan had the creative vision and financial wherewithal to develop the property. Then, for whatever reason, she was fired from the project and given an EP credit. Not cool. Be forewarned, the movie G-ds will frown upon this injustice… yes, they see EVERYTHING!

    In a perfect world, all 11 producers would be enjoying success for their specific contributions to the film (i.e., business and creative). But, let’s get real, folks, and give “Producer” credit only where it is earned.

    Where is the PGA Tribunal when you need them !!! ???

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