Spring 2019


Family Dynamic

Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo went from no-budget indie underdogs from Cleveland to Marvel tentpole overlords, without sacrificing their storytelling vision

By Robert Abele

Anthony and Joe Russo. (Photo: Courtesy of AGBO Studios)

One way to look at the careers of dynamic co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo is to, well, marvel, at how a pair of Cleveland-born movie-nerd brothers went from the DIY indie world of the 1990s to network comedy in the 2000s to the biggest comic book brand—and hottest tentpole genre—in movies: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This spring's Avengers: Endgame, which follows their massive hit Avengers: Infinity War (2018), marks the culmination of a four-film, seven-year, billions-earning run with Marvel that has earned the Russos the rarefied status of acclaimed franchise stewards who include Christopher Nolan, James Cameron and Peter Jackson.

But examined another way, the gang-that-couldn't-shoot-straight heist comedy Welcome to Collinwood (2002), the fractured-family silliness of their groundbreaking Emmy-winning pilot for Arrested Development, the misfit camaraderie that marked their style-establishing work on the sitcom Community, and the mix of humor, in-fighting and world-saving superhero teamwork that runs from Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) through Avengers: Endgame all point to a common truth: They've been telling ensemble stories their whole lives. It's just the budgets and stakes that have grown bigger.

Sitting in the downtown Los Angeles offices of their company AGBO, which the pair started with the idea of creating a "storyteller-driven studio," the Russos dig into the mechanics of entertainments large and small, the ingenuity that doesn't have to be sacrificed to see a vision through, and the relationships that have helped them along the way. Whether it's been the antics of Arrested Development's Bluths or the power of the costumed and crusading, the brothers agree that the fortunes and follies of a tight-knit collective have always appealed to them, no matter the medium.

"It's a critical through line in all of our work," says Joe Russo. "We grew up in a large Italian family, with a lot of colorful members, so we've always looked at the world as a family unit. Also, what family units can you create in your work environment?" Adds Anthony: "We like the idea of competing points of view in a single narrative. We keep being drawn to it."

From left, Joe Russo, Anthony Russo and Chris Evans, who plays the title role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. (Photo: Everett)

DGA:Let's say you find yourselves teaching a class in How to Direct for Marvel. What's the first thing you write on a board behind you?

Anthony: Get enough sleep.

Joe: It's like any project. It's having a point of view, knowing what you want to say. We've had a great creative experience with [Marvel]. They've given us an insane amount of freedom. We had such creative control in television, we didn't want to leave it, and we thought, if we're going back to do movies, we want to be in a similar situation. And I think we feel like a bit of a sub studio [at Marvel].

A: Your whole motivation for being there has to be powered by your passion for the material. That's what carries you through.

J: What's unique is, they're very lean structurally. Kevin [Feige], the head of the studio, interfaces with you every day, so you get the answers that you need immediately. There're no layers of infrastructure, people trying to guess what it is the boss wants. You're talking with the boss, and he's a pure creative. It works no different from any other studio. There's material, and the main drivers of the material are the directors [who] come in and tell them what you want to do. Kevin's very supportive of the different voices working there. James Gunn's voice is very different from our voice, which is different from Ryan Coogler's, and from Taika Waititi's.

Q: You've worked with writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely on all four of your Marvel movies. How does that relationship work when you're dreaming up these films?

A: It's a deep partnership. We sit with these guys for months in a room talking through every possible narrative thread.

J: We borrowed our process from television. Having worked in all this different media, we've selected the best elements and combined them into a codified process. It's a room, and the best idea wins. Collaboration is essential to our relationship. It's very easy for us to talk to other people, because [Anthony and I] have talked every day for 25 years.

A: As a director on movies this big, it's essential that the script is exactly what you want to shoot. Because there's such an elaborate process in terms of how things are designed and built and structured, it all needs to come from a document everyone can understand, i.e., the scripts.

Q: Originally, Infinity War and Endgame were going to be shot concurrently using cross-boarding. What changed that?

A: Blocking the two together was an effort to economize on how much we would have to spend on the cast, so we could play with more actors in each movie. Its upsides are typical to television. Once we got the greenlight, though, we began to see the downsides. It's a really complicated process, especially two movies as big and complex as these are. Any meeting lasted all day because we had to cover so much ground. People started to get confused, including ourselves. We finally just had to separate these two behemoths. In our brains, the movies are very distinct, so we didn't want creative bleed-over in people's minds.

Q: So you opted for back-to-back shooting, which is still not for the faint of heart.

J: It's more physically and emotionally demanding than people realize. The sheer force of will it takes to translate a story to the screen of this scale is staggering. I've gone gray from the experience. There's a story someone told us once, where a young filmmaker asked Spielberg, "I'm gonna do my first big movie, can I get some advice?" And Spielberg said, "Yeah, get a trainer."

Q: Physical caretaking aside, what ensures a successful experience in a back-to-back shoot?

J: Focus and discipline. It's having enough time to prep the material, and you have to be efficient.

Q: How much prep time did you have?

A: We were in Atlanta for six months of prep [for both films].

J: But we were in Los Angeles before that for eight months. What's interesting is, having done television for 10 years, we hit one point where we had three shows on the air at the same time, all on the Paramount lot, producing all of them, directing, so when showrunners convert from television to film, they've had that training. You think of J.J. [Abrams], [Joss] Whedon, [Judd] Apatow. We can handle a large amount of volume, and we have efficient systems in place, because we were forced to during our work in television. We always say to young filmmakers, if you want to be a carpenter, you have to build a lot of tables. You want to be a filmmaker? Go shoot. TV affords you that opportunity more than anything.

Q: With movies of this size, how does communication with your key crew work?

J: Everything has to be a Vulcan mind meld.

A: It's imperative you walk through everything together over and over again.

J: And that storytelling remains consistent. First of all, it's putting everything in the script that you're thinking, so when they read it, they know exactly what's on your mind. Second, you hold regular meetings with your key crew: your AD, cinematographer, second unit director, VFX supervisor—your consortium of generals.

A: We use a lot of visual examples, because a lot can be lost in words. Visuals tend to convey a more specific idea. You can't have seven conversations every day with different people about different things. Visuals are a great shorthand, they get to the idea quicker than words sometimes.

J: And those visual references can be helpful in pre-production, production and post. If we're creating a CG world, in pre-production we'll have concept artists go through an iterative process where we get them to what we're looking for. We then bring in our DP, who lights it in concept art. We bring in the production designer, who then works with the DP in the concept art. You bring that to set, and you use it as a guide for lighting, for actors understanding what universe they're in, and then we pass that to the myriad of VFX houses that are working on the film. Now there's consistency through [it all].

Q: Comic books earned their reputation with distinct graphic storytelling. Movies create their own unique aesthetic movement. How do you approach merging the two?

J: Our shot-making is really organic. We never shoot the storyboards and previs, and it's kind of a joke on set with us. We use the storyboards and previs to communicate the storytelling of the action, but on the day it's impossible for the camera to capture the exact same shot a computer did in a digital format. So we get more improvisational, based on the elements on set.

From the top: Actors William H. Macy and Sam Rockwell are flanked by directors Anthony and Joe Russo while filming Welcome to Collinwood; With Kate Hudson on You, Me and Dupree; (Photos: Everett)

Q: Do you like actors to improvise?

A: We're very performer-orientated. We like to give actors lots of freedom.

J: Having worked with improvisational actors on comedies for many years on TV, we've developed a muscle. A lot of times you have to play with a scene for two or three takes before you understand how improv can help shape structure. We sit with the actors and writers for a few minutes, reshape the scene based on the improv, and then that becomes the new scene. It's not really a grab bag of let's-see-what-happens every take.

A: That can lead to dialogue changes, and it can lead to set changes. One of the amazing things about working at Marvel and having these kinds of budgets and visual effects capabilities, is we can change a lot on set and fix it later in post. It's an amazing tool, obviously.

Q: Does that experimentation work even for a complicated action scene?

J: Absolutely, as long as you understand what the beats are.

A: If we're changing it, we're changing it within reason. Sometimes a stunt, even though you've rehearsed it in a stunt gym, on set you have to respond to how it looks. You have to be adaptable.

J: Take the fight between the Winter Soldier and Captain America in Winter Soldier, where an elaborate highway sequence ends with them in a three-minute fisticuffs. We worked on that fight for months in a stunt vis, where players in a gym executed the fight. You get to set, and now you're burning cars, there's smoke, it's overcast. There's a tactile environment, a mood…

A: The set is also a hundred yards long now.

J: We don't dress the set according to where mats are placed in a gym. We dress based on what looks good visually. So we'll rehearse the stunt vis in the location, then start making adjustments based on what props are there and the setting. Does it feel long? Too short? Every fight illuminates character, so how are we doing that? What lenses are we going to use? We spent one day rehearsing it, changing it, adding moments, taking away moments, and altering the choreography to fit the location, then the next few days shooting it. A best-captured action plan is to have the plan, then throw it away.

Q: How do you decide when to use a low angle or high angle in a fight?

J: We operate usually at a 45-degree skinny shutter or 90 on the skinny shutter depending on what our frame rate is.

Q: Skinny shutter?

J: It's a way you angle the shutter, and the way that the film receives light as it comes through. If you angle the shutter at 45 degrees or 90 degrees, it can create that flickering effect.

If actors are executing a fight sequence, we tend to accelerate our frame rate to give it a little bit more pace. It allows them to be a little bit more intentional. So if we're accelerating frame rate, then we can't be at 45 on our skinny shutter. Typically, we'll revert to 90 on that. That's where you're getting that sense of pop and agitation. And we like it because it creates an aggressive image not dissimilar to what Spielberg did in Saving Private Ryan. It creates a skip frame, which allows punches to feel more aggressive. It allows people to feel like they're moving at a faster pace, and if you add foreground to that, you can create a much more dynamic frame, and a much more aggressive image.

A: Basically, this is a style we developed on [our] first Captain America movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Joe and I sort of fetishize action. We love it, and we study it very extensively.

Q: Why would you choose a low versus high angle in a fight like that?

J: Well, a low angle tends to be a more heroic angle. If you want to diminish a character, you tend to go high and down on them. But also, high angles are great for geography, and a sequence like that, when you're working with that many characters, geography is incredibly important. The visual geography of these movies like Civil War and Infinity War and Endgame is really an art in and of itself, because you have to make sure the audience can track all of the characters, not only on an emotional level, but you have to just spatially track them through the film, because this is very dense.

Q: Is that what dictates a bit like that airport fight, when the two sides come to a line-in-the-sand moment before they actually run at each other? Does that reorient everyone geographically?

J: One hundred percent. It's like watching sports. The audience's brain can only hold so much visual information. We need to spatially orientate them, and then maintain that line as much as possible throughout the sequence. Lens choices are dictated by geography versus emotion. Obviously, we're getting in a lot tighter if we need an emotional moment out of a character. Certain fights, hand-to-hand fights, look a lot better on tighter lenses than they do on wider lenses for us. It's just the way we like to do it.

Q: How do you two work as brothers who direct together?

A: I think every directing team works differently, in the same way every individual director works differently from another one. It's really a function of personality and process. So yeah, for Joe and I, we don't divide any duties. We both like to be present for everything. We very much move through the process together. And that's how we like to do things. We have a real shorthand with one another. We both talk to everybody. We always look at it as our responsibility to stay on the same page so that we don't confuse anyone. And that's our approach to it.

Q: Does that extend to the way you view the DGA?

A: We're people who like community, and since we came from a million miles away from the film business, the DGA became our first community in Hollywood. This was in the '90s, when the DGA had come up with all kinds of adaptations to their regulations to incorporate and welcome indie filmmakers and make it possible for people like that to work. So we participated on the Independent Directors Committee for many years early on, and we would do a lot of outreach to non-DGA members at different film festivals, to tell people they could join even if they thought they were nowhere in the zone of being able to do that. Look, I used to be a member of [a labor union], and our grandfather worked in the steel mills all his life. Coming from Cleveland, the unions are a part of your social pattern.

Q: Have any directors' action sequences, and how they made them, influenced you?

A: When Joe and I became filmmakers, our background was as film geeks. We grew up near a wonderful cinematheque in Cleveland, and that was our film education. We didn't grow up messing around with cameras. We just loved movies.

J: And studied them.

A: Almost in an academic way, if not formally academic. So we're not as familiar with the processes people used as we are with the end product.

J: We would sit with the VHS tape—we're that old—and rewind to watch the car chase in The French Connection over and over, study how [William Friedkin] made his edits, how he used sound to drive the edit, how certain angles created more tension than others. We took ourselves to film school. Watch Goodfellas a hundred times and you'll learn more than you ever could in film school.

Anthony and Joe Russo on the series Arrested Development. "TV just aligned creatively with where our brains were at. We wanted to do risky material. We realized the indie scene from the '90s was turning into [television] in the 2000s." —Joe Russo. (Photo: 20th Century Fox)

Q: Who wanted to be a director first?

J: It was a communal decision. He was in law school, and I was getting an acting degree. Robert Rodriguez had just made El Mariachi and we read a book about how he spent $7,000 to do it. Suddenly it became attainable to a bunch of wannabes around the country.

A: I was unhappy with what I was doing, and I remember the moment he said to me, "Why don't you go to directing school?" I said, "There's such a thing as directing school?"

J: We were a million miles from the film business. We had no connections. When we made Pieces in 1994, nobody in Cleveland knew how to make a movie. Our film sat undeveloped in a refrigerator in our garage for six months because we couldn't afford to get it developed. If there had been a power outage, we would have lost the entire movie.

Q: How did your credit card movie get in front of Steven Soderbergh's eyes?

A: We brought [Pieces] to the IFFM (Independent Feature Film Market) in New York, where you pay a couple hundred dollars and screen your movie. We filled the theater. By the end of the movie, two-thirds had walked out, except one person stopped, and it was Jon Fitzgerald, who was one of the original founders of the Slamdance Film Festival. He said: "I dug your movie. You guys should apply to our festival." We go to Slamdance. Same thing. We did a whole campaign, we filled the theater, and a week after the festival, we haven't heard from anybody. Except a week after that, Steven Soderbergh called. If you find just one person moved by your work, that can be it.

Q: Was this 1997, when he had his berserk comedy Schizopolis at Slamdance?

J: That's why we bonded with him. Our first movie was nonlinear and riotous, absurdist in tone, the kind of movie only Steven Soderbergh would respond to.

Q: What did he say when he cold-called you?

J: I was in film school at UCLA at the time, and I thought it was one of my fellow students fucking with me. But Steven was very thoughtful. He took us to lunch and scared the shit out of us a little bit. It was "I want to help you guys get another movie made, but I'm worried my career may be expiring." That lunch gave us a perspective we still talk about to this day. At the time, Steven was the poster boy for maverick filmmakers, the most famous story to come out of Sundance, and eight years later was struggling with what to do.

Q: He was making Out of Sight then, right?

J: Yes. He said, "I've got to make somebody some money." He stressed to us that it's called show "business." That was the first time we thought about it that way, that your art has to in some way support the investment that's been put into it. So we went on a journey with him, watched him make Out of Sight and Ocean's Eleven, and tried to get our next film made, called Welcome to Collinwood.

Q: What's a memory of watching Soderbergh shoot Out of Sight?

J: There was a dinner scene in a glass-walled restaurant on the stage at Universal. Steven likes a very quiet, calm set. This was before he was DP-ing, so he sat right next to the camera, and has a dialogue with the actors as the scene is progressing. I think the only other people besides George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez and the camera operator were Anth and I two tables away. All we could think of was George thinking, "Who the hell are these two guys? Teamsters?"

Q: Is it weird to think that you were once indie guys as he was making his big studio leap, and now you're directing massive tentpole films and he's shooting movies on an iPhone?

A: We've thought a lot about the first half of that, but not the second half!

J: It's interesting because we didn't understand how to make commercial content until we met Steven and George Clooney.

Q: How did you go from Welcome to Collinwood to directing network series?

A: The Sopranos had recently changed television, and people were looking to independent filmmakers because TV was aspiring to be more cinematic. Kevin Reilly was running FX at the time, and he came in the edit room while we were shooting Collinwood 'cause he was looking for somebody to direct a pilot called Lucky, about a degenerate gambler whose life was falling apart. They had just made The Shield, so they were really pushing in that direction. For various reasons, it didn't work as a series, but that pilot became an industry favorite.

J: And we got a phone call from Ron Howard, who had been working on Arrested Development.

A: That became our template for television moving forward. We'd direct a pilot, do many of the episodes, and produce the show. Once we won the Emmy for the pilot of Arrested, we had a lot of work offers in television coming at us.

J: TV just aligned creatively with where our brains were at. We wanted to do risky material. We thought, we're getting a $2 million budget to make an episode of Arrested. Ten episodes, $20 million. Nobody would have given us that money to make it as a feature, to experiment with that tone, to make something as absurdist. Yet here we are with great production value, great actors, and the ability to execute at the level we want to execute at. That's when we realized the indie scene from the '90s was turning into [television] in the 2000s.

Q: Arrested and Community are two very different shows in look and tone, too.

J: Lucky was a low-budget show, but it had a lot of location changes. So we used little to no light, we shot digitally because we could roll for longer periods of time without cutting, and you potentially save a day over six or seven days. Ron Howard saw that and said, "I want you to apply that to Arrested Development because we've got 35 location changes over seven days, and we don't want to lose any of them because we think that's part of what's essential to the show." Dogme was popular at the time, so we had a top sheet that went out to the actors that said, "Do your own makeup, we're shooting with available light."

A: This was the rise of reality television, right? The half-hour spots were getting eaten up by cheaper, popular reality TV shows. Ron was a very smart producer, so his pitch to us was, we have to save TV comedy. The sitcom in front of an audience had gotten a little stale, and single cams were so expensive, so how do we do this? Well, we knew how to make movies for nothing, so Arrested Development became the first scripted show on major network television shot on digital video. We got a lot of flak for that from the studio. They said, "It's gonna look like shit." We were like, "Yeah, we want it to look like shit. It's a mockumentary." The language is already out there. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em! We were like, "This will be a reality TV show as a comedy."

J: The aesthetic of that is inspired by Man Bites Dog, the whole notion of a documentary team following around a family the same way they did a serial killer in that movie. That was a favorite film of ours. If you watch the two back-to-back, you'll see the influences.

Q: What about when you directed the pilot for Community?

A: Well, our jumping-off point was John Hughes. We very much felt like there was a texture, a spirit of that in the essence of the pilot. Then, of course, that show went on to become more an exploration of genre and style.

J: The idea was then to shift the look of the show almost on a weekly basis. There's a thriller episode, an action episode, a Lord of the Rings episode, the cartoon episode.

(From top) Anthony and Joe Russo, with actor Frank Grillo, on Captain America: Civil War; Giving direction to Scarlett Johansson, who plays Black Widow, on Avengers: Infinity War. (Photos: (Top) Everett; (Bottom) Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios)

Q: Perhaps that versatility is what Marvel noticed when they tapped you to make Captain America: The Winter Soldier?

J: Kevin Feige had seen the paintball episode in the second season, which was a spoof of Sergio Leone, another influence of ours. Kevin probably watched that episode and said, "These guys understand action, and they're really funny."

A: We just got a call out of the blue from our agent, who said, "Hey, Marvel's got a list of 10 directors they want to talk to about the next Captain America movie, and you guys are on it."

J: I have a $70,000 collection of comic books in my closet. These were very important stories to me as a kid.

A: But it was hard for us to win the movie. We went through a series of four meetings with them over the course of two months. I would say Joe and I spent about 90% of our time in those two months prepping for these movies. We wrote pages, we did storyboards, we came up with a mock trailer, pulled tonal images… by the end of the two months, when we finally won the job, we knew exactly how we were making the movie.

Q: What did Marvel respond to?

J: We've always appreciated experimental filmmaking. And this is a giant experiment, to take this many characters in this many franchises and try to tell an interwoven mosaic over a decade? It sounds insane. Conceptually it's turned out to be the most successful experiment in movie history. But we always preach that you have to keep surprising the audience tonally, or they're going to get ahead of you. That's why Winter Soldier is so drastically different from the first Captain America. We said, we have a logical reset here. The character's been frozen in ice for 70 years, he wakes up, and everything he knew was gone. So we can go on a very interesting existential journey with that character. We're guys who grew up on foreign films, so thematics are important to us. You have to have a political point of view. We thought, it'd be really interesting to put a character called Captain America in conflict with his country. He has to tear down the system in order to move forward.

A: Marvel and Kevin, specifically, never get more excited than when you come in and tell them something they haven't thought of. They do a lot of thinking about what these movies can be.

J: I think we probably are the directors who skewed the most away from the formula. I collected comics in the '80s, when the original mythology started to get deconstructed. That was compelling to me, tearing down characters from the golden age, making them human, putting them in the real world, the world I understood. The artwork and lighting started to get edgier, the stories were getting grittier. So everything we've done is a deconstruction. Every story tears apart the last story, until you get to where we kill half the characters.

Q: Certainly that was a big reveal in Infinity War. How do you handle the secrecy element of these movies?

J: Keep the amount of people who know what you're doing, and what the actual script is, exceedingly limited. Most people have scripts that are redacted or fake. When people don't have information, they don't have to misdirect. They simply don't have it. With actors who have to do hours and hours of interviews, that's especially true.

A: Some actually found out [their characters died] the day we were shooting it.

J: Because it never existed in script form. We had one iPad that had the full script from start to finish, and it was secure, locked, and could be wiped remotely if we ever lost it.

A: Also, because it was such a large ensemble, many of the characters were only involved in a specific portion, so they were only getting their scenes.

Q: In a sense, because of the fanbase's interest in these movies, and our media-engaged pop culture, part of your job as directors is knowing how to talk about what you've made.

J: We have to be able to entice the audience to want to see the film without giving anything away. It becomes a delicate dance, one we've gotten better at with each movie, to the extent of even writing letters to the audience asking them not to spoil the film if posting on Twitter, which serves the dual purpose of "please don't spoil the movie" but also "There are things in this movie that can be spoiled, get excited." You are a promotional tool for your very big movie.

A: A good crutch to lean on is that we work as a team. For 25 years now, we are constantly having to communicate with each other about what we're trying to do as filmmakers, constantly pitching one another ideas. The process of talking about what we're doing allowed us to be fluent and comfortable communicating, whether with collaborators or journalists.

J: But once the movie is out, we're very happy to talk about what's underneath the hood. We grew up in an underdog city—the butt of sports jokes, jokes about what's the shittiest place in the country, New Jersey or Cleveland—so you subjugate your ego coming from a place like that. You subjugate your ego in a family, and in a creative partnership. We're not reverential about the process in any way. We're actually very populist in respect to the process, and we want people to have access. We want someone else to be inspired the way we were.

Q: What's your favorite problem-solving moment from these movies?

A: We shot Winter Soldier in Cleveland, and we know it very well. And there's this massive freeway interchange, multilayered, with all these ramps. So we constructed an elaborately designed run-up to the big fight sequence for this location. Now, we're very tight with the film commissioner in Cleveland. He's an amazing guy—he can move mountains. We're like, "We have to get that intersection." But it was probably the only thing he couldn't deliver.

J: We needed two full weeks of shutdown, and it would have been an absolute disaster.

A: But we were already being directed to another location by our whole production team. "Guys, you're never gonna get it, we're going over here." We were, "No! No! We're shooting here!" That's when you know you're working with the right team. They've got your back, they're listening to everything you want to achieve at the location you're never going to get, and thinking, "What's the best location [that] can deliver that?" They did that, and it worked. But it goes back to that we grew up in a big Italian-American family. That's the energy we want on set. We want everybody there to be our collaborator.

Q: As mega-villain Thanos, Josh Brolin is playing a CG-created, eight-foot-tall alien character. How did you approach shooting his interactions with your human-form cast?

A: He'll wear a motion capture suit, a skintight suit with various markings, so the visual effects department can visually and electronically track his movements. He wears a head camera with two cameras pointing at his face capturing every movement of his eyes and facial expressions. We shot some of his stuff on a motion capture stage, and some on actual sets.

J: If he's interacting with real actors, it's essential for us, for him, and for the actors to be present together, connecting. Now, because of his eyeline, an intricate system of decks was built, so wherever Josh moves, he's always standing at eight feet, so the other actors can have a direct eyeline to him.

Q: Are you editing as you shoot?

J: Typically, we're doing 10-hour days because you'll wear down the crew too quickly if you're shooting 12 hours. When we wrapped, we'd go to editorial for four to five hours, and we'd look at material we'd shot over the past week. If we felt we were missing a close-up or moment, or fumbled a performance, we'd go back and get it again. It allows us to refine the movie as we go, so there's been very little reshoots on the movies we've done with Marvel. There were two days on Winter Soldier, three or four on Civil War, five on Infinity War. We learned that directing is assessing. If you're about to rip a set down, why not look at the scene again and make sure you've gotten exactly what you wanted out of it?

Q: How do you work with your editor?

A: The editor more than anybody becomes the third Russo brother, because we spend so much time together.

J: It's perhaps our most intimate, creative relationship. Having a shorthand with an editor, where you call and say, "Did we get that?" and they say, "No you didn't" is all we need to know that we have to rework it. Or you wake up and go, "Dammit, we should have gotten a moment where X happened," and they understand what you're saying, can manipulate the material for an hour or two, and call you back and say, "No, we can make it work."

Q: When dealing with so many name actors, is ego management part of your job?

A: Look, the movies have been successful, so that's a positive draw, right? But when you get these large ensemble situations, even the big movie stars know they're only a piece of the puzzle.

J: And they don't have the pressure of having to carry the film.

A: It's the sheer number of them that's a logistical problem.

J: I think it's the most complicated schedule in history. Maybe five or six actors are run of show, so you're really working in second position to a lot of the actors.

A: So you have to be very smart about how you block it.

Q: How does this creative ethos factor into what you're doing with AGBO?

J: It's really a company run by creatives, and the mission is to support other creatives the way Steven Soderbergh supported my brother and I when we first got into the business.

A: We're looking to become a space where people can chase weird ideas and find a community.

J: We spent years working in television, supervising directors on shows that we were EP-ing, and we realized there was so much to glean from interacting with other directors. Nobody gives you a rule book on how to direct. You kind of make it up as you go along based on your intuition, perhaps some schooling, or your schooling is you made a couple of movies. But you create your own process. And once we started interacting with other people's processes, we felt like we became better directors. So we wanted to create a space where we could do that with other artists. If you're a director, and you want to develop a project, and if you want a sounding board, we're here.

DGA Interviews

Prominent directors reflecting on their body of
work through an extended and in-depth Q&A.

More from this issue
The latest DGA Quarterly includes an exclusive conversation between James Cameron and Jon Favreau, the DGA Interview featuring Anthony and Joe Russo, directors Patty Jenkins, Colin Trevorrow and Rupert Wyatt discussing VFX in tentpole films, and more!