It’s 1985. Teenagers Anthony and Joe Russo are sitting in their Cleveland home, discussing the merit of the movie they saw last night while Joe pores over the latest addition to his comic book collection.
Fast forward to 2014, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier premiered in early April. Connection? Simple. Anyone who knows how to work IMDb would find that Anthony and Joe—the “Russo brothers” as they are now called—are listed as directors for Marvel’s latest blockbuster. In short, they are living the dream. With The Winter Soldier hitting theatres on April 4th, Marvel had been bulking up on publicity and exposure for the film, which includes interviews galore with the two directors. I spent time talking with Anthony, the younger of the two, hoping to understand how a Cleveland upbringing can turn into major success in Hollywood.
“It started initially with a shared passion for film,” Anthony responded when I asked him how they got involved in filmmaking. “We started a little sketch comedy troupe at Case. It was a shared passion that we just kept sharing together as we went from being film fans to filmmakers.” Their first film together, Pieces, went to Slamdance—a sort of spinoff of Sundance—and from there, the two brothers have never stopped directing and producing work. Not only was a Cleveland upbringing conducive to this success, but it turned out to be an advantage. “Part of the appeal to Marvel was that we knew Cleveland so well, and that we could find locations very easily in Cleveland in terms of what we were looking for,” he commented during a conversation about last summer’s craze over the filming downtown.
This level of excitement was not new to Anthony and Joe, who produced and directed the first two seasons of Community. “That was something we got very used to on Community, which had a very active fanbase online,” but Anthony admitted that anything Marvel is bound to be different because in the comic book universe, “there’s not a universal opinion about who the character is, or what the character should be, or how the character should be handled.” The brothers enjoyed a movie of this size because they got the chance to make these interpretations themselves. Months before filming started, Anthony and Joe worked closely with the script to decide what kind of movie they wanted to make. Even so, the creative process, Anthony said, was “surprisingly similar” to other works they’ve done. “The biggest difference with this movie [Captain America] is that you have a massive visual effects department,” which the brothers had never seen on such a scale before. After working mostly on smaller movies or popular television, they found that the main difference with a superhero movie is the sheer number of bodies on set and behind the scenes.
“It’s a real adrenaline rush,” Anthony said. Along with added visual effects, “You have a massive amount of equipment and people to shoot the movie, so it’s extremely expensive…Every day is just a race,” and that element of filming was exhilarating for the brothers. Being part of a production like this, with so many moving parts, has to be difficult, but they love every moment of it. “[Post-production] is fun because…it becomes a very private process again. You get to go from production, which involves hundreds of people, to very quiet work in a room with your editor, and…it makes the movie very personal and private,” he added, illustrating his point that “in order to be an effective filmmaker, you have to be in love with all of it.”
This conversation logically brought us to the classic but difficult question, “What was your favorite moment or memory on set?” which is entirely unfair to ask any artist. “That’s a very hard thing to say,” Anthony responded as expected. He did, however, have an answer. “Certainly working with Robert Redford was an incredibly special experience for us. He’s a legend. Not only do we love his movies that he’s acted in and directed, but he founded the Sundance Film Festival,” which, in bringing about the independent film craze, provided a road into filmmaking for a lot of people, the Russo brothers included. More than that, the brothers loved getting to make this film their own. “At the end of the day, the reason you’re making the movie is to make a version that you love, and you have to be true to that. That’s the best movie you’re going to make…There’s a great diversity of opinion about what the best version of Captain America is. People argue bitterly about it, so you’re never going to satisfy everybody. You have to do a version of the character that is faithful to its history and that is an expression that you love and that excites you.”
As the Captain America mania comes to a close, where will these brothers be? “Well, we’re just finishing work on Captain America right now. It will be done by Wednesday,” as in Wednesday March 3rd, “and after that, there’s a lot of publicity work for the movie.” The Russo brothers and the cast of Captain America will be hitting Cleveland and cities around the world on a publicity tour. “After that, we’ll be moving into work on something else, but we’re not quite sure what,” Anthony said, which may very well mean that they are not allowed to disclose this information yet. Either way, there are certainly adventures in store for audiences and the Russo brothers alike.