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How a New World School of the Arts grad wound up producing Scorsese’s ‘Silence’

(l. to r.) Irwin Winkler, Dante Ferretti, Issey Ogata. Liam Neeson, Thelma Schoonmaker, Adam Driver, Martin Scorsese, Andrew Garfield, Emma Tillinger Koskoff and Miami native Randall Emmett attended a special screening of ‘Silence’ in Los Angeles on Dec. 4.
(l. to r.) Irwin Winkler, Dante Ferretti, Issey Ogata. Liam Neeson, Thelma Schoonmaker, Adam Driver, Martin Scorsese, Andrew Garfield, Emma Tillinger Koskoff and Miami native Randall Emmett attended a special screening of ‘Silence’ in Los Angeles on Dec. 4. AB IMAGES

Miami native Randall Emmett has been producing movies in Hollywood since 1999 — everything from commercial fare such as the Denzel Washington-Mark Wahlberg shoot-’em-up “2 Guns” to more ambitious pictures such as the LAPD thriller “End of Watch” with Jake Gyllenhaal and the crime drama “Broken City” with Russell Crowe.

But even a jaded industry veteran gets excited when Martin Scorsese calls.

“About four years ago, my agent [Ari Emanuel] told me Marty was looking to make ‘Silence’ and would I be interested,” Emmett says via telephone from Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and two kids. “Of course I said yes. I flew to New York to meet with Marty and [co-producer] Irwin Winkler. I bowed down and said I’d do whatever it took to make this movie.”

The job turned out to be daunting. The film rights to “Silence,” which is based on the novel by Shûsaku Endô, had snowballed into a tangled mess since Scorsese first optioned the book in 1989 and various false starts had stalled (a whopping 28 people received some kind of producer credit in the finished film).

In order to secure the movie’s $50 million budget (which included the settling of contracts signed during previous attempts to make the film), Emmett, who is credited as a producer on more than 70 feature films and TV shows, convinced Scorsese to go to the Cannes Film Festival for three days in 2013. The idea was to court potential financiers face-to-face.

“The subject matter of the movie is hard to sell, so it was very important that Marty went to Cannes,” Emmett says. “When buyers came into the room and saw him, they were in awe. Hearing Martin Scorsese talk about film in general — but especially a project as personal to him as this one — made a huge difference.”

Emmett says that as a result of that Cannes trip, the filmmakers were able to secure distribution in every territory around the world (Paramount Pictures is releasing “Silence” in the U.S.). And Emmett will serve as executive producer on Scorsese’s next film, the crime drama “The Irishman,” which will reunite the director with actors Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel.

Not bad work for a guy who still identifies himself as “33183!” — the zip code of the Kendale Lakes neighborhood where Emmett was born and raised. While an eighth-grader at Hammocks Middle School in 1984, Emmett studied under drama teacher Susan Ryan and soon began acting in TV commercials, unofficially launching his career. In 2015, he paid homage to Ryan, who is now retired, at a luncheon at the Sundance Film Festival.

After one year at Sunset High School, Emmett transferred to the then-fledgling New World School of the Arts, where he studied acting and filmmaking. One of the movies he made there starred fellow student Katie Finneran, now a Broadway star who won a Tony Award in 2002 in a revival of “Noises Off.”

Emmett continued his film studies as a college student at New York’s School of Visual Arts. While working as a production assistant on a low-budget movie during summer break, Emmett made a surprising discovery.

“I called my parents and told them ‘I’m not going back to acting,’” he says. “I was done with that. I wanted to spend the rest of my life working on movie sets. They were so magical to me.”

Emmett says that after that breakthrough moment, he became to “go-to producer” for other students at college.

“Everyone was studying to be a cinematographer or a director, but producing wasn’t really a track,” he says. “I liked putting the budgets together and renting the trucks and helping to choose the cast. Being a producer allowed me to be involved in every aspect of the process. It let me touch every part of the film, including marketing and distribution.”

Upon graduation, Emmett moved to Los Angeles, where he sought out the advice of his “distant cousin,” mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer (“Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Top Gun”).

“He said ‘Let other people tell you what you do best: They will tell you what your knack is,’” Emmett recalls. “And my skills were that I loved literally putting movies together. In college, everything you learned was creative. I wasn’t taught the business end of this industry. So it took me many years of raising money for films without understanding what their market worth was before I knew what I was doing.”

Rene Rodriguez: 305-376-3611, @ReneMiamiHerald

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