One look at the career graph of the Russo Brothers – Anthony and Joe – and it is evident that they’ve only had an upward trajectory — from being indie film directors to telling stories on television to directing some of the biggest films the world has seen. Their fame has reached such heights that Funko, one of the leading pop culture collectibles company, launched Anthony and Joe Russo Pop! vinyl bobbleheads last year, a rare feat for directors. The duo have set themselves up on a new journey with their latest mega project, The Gray Man on Netflix, which is made on a $200 million budget. The Gray Man was supposed to happen after Captain America: Winter Soldier but destiny had different plans and the brother in arms ending up working on three more Marvel films back to back (Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame)
While you were making your first film Pieces back in the 1990s, you literally had to put your film in cold storage as you ran out of money. Cut to 2022, when you have delivered some of the biggest hits the world of cinema has ever witnessed. How does the journey from having a shoestring budget to having as much budget as required to make your film feel?
Joe: It is a long way since we kept our negative in a refrigerator in our garage to where we are now, but no matter how much money you have when you are making movies, at some point, you run out of money. It is just about scale of ambition matching the amount of money you have. But it has been a fascinating journey for us. Though we don’t feel any different then and now.
Anthony: Certainly, it is an incredible opportunity to have money available to make a movie, we never take that for granted. But at the end of the day, numbers just represent the kind of tools you can use, what kind of actors you can afford to cast in the film, what kind of equipment you can use to what kind of locations you can travel to. So it just boils down to this. Every movie needs a certain amount of money to do it properly, some are big, some are small. So, for us, money is just the reflective of what we we are trying to achieve, we are just grateful that there is enough there to do it.
There are two signature stamps of a Russo Brothers film, one is that it will have an ensemble cast and other is that the film will be laced with humour, just like in The Gray Man. How did you bring together this recipe?
Joe: Ensembles are important because we grew up in a large family, so we understand large group dynamics and it is interesting to us. Full of colorful characters and also it is a way to make the story slightly more complicated. It is hard working within a two-hour format as everything has already been done but when you have an ensemble, at least you can have characters come in and intersect at surprising moments with different points of views. So that’s the reason why we gravitate towards ensembles. It also offers more storytelling opportunities.
Coming to humour, it is important because one, we have a hard time taking anything too seriously and two we are here to entertain the audience and have fun. We are here for the audience to have a robust experience and humour can alleviate tension; it can also heighten tension. It is a paint brush that adds an extra colour to the work we are doing.
In an interview, you recently mentioned how you have moved towards doing larger IPs (Intellectual Property) that can be turned into games and merchandise to build ancillary revenue and legacy wealth. Will this be the deciding factor in the near future over which film to make or not?
Anthony: We are excited about the idea that it is evolving more in that direction. Joe and I were film fans first, when we were kids, we weren’t making films. We didn’t start making films till we were in our early 20s. So it was an important phase of our lives where fandom was how we were interacting with the films. And when you are a fan, when you find something you love, you want to explore it in so many ways like you want a poster of it, you want a video game of it. You want to spend time thinking and dreaming about it to expand the initial experience about it. So, we are very excited as creators to be able to explore material that fans would like in terms of finding various expressions and various kinds of experiences you can have with it. So we like that and we think the media landscape is evolving in that direction and we see how people are responding to that kind of engagement with their favourite material. We think there is a lot of possibility in the future to explore certain narrative universes through variety of platforms.
We are in the post-pandemic scenario; and I wanted to know which is that one thing that you wish changes or has changed when it comes to cinema?
Joe: I certainly think that digital distribution is here to say and it is going to be an important part of story-telling moving forward. I think movies via theatrical experiences are going to be spectacle-driven and I’m okay with that. I want to have an event to go to the theaters. We consume so much content that we need digital distribution. It is like the mainstay of our diet, and when you want a well-cooked steak, you go to a theatre.
I think that is the future and the future holds a new, different kind of entertainment. We don’t know what it is right now but technology is advancing so quickly and I have to imagine that we are going to move from two-dimensional projection to three dimensional immersion once we have the right apparatus to tell those kinds of stories.
The Gray Man featured Dhanush, Extraction had Randeep Hooda in a very important role, you are also making a show with the quirky Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK. I wanted to understand where does India fit in your future plans.
Anthony: India has always represented to us this vibrant opportunity for film makers because you have a strong industry here, you have created a lot of very talented people and your audience is also very passionate. So, for us as story tellers, we get to engage with passionate audiences and second, to find collaborators who help us make wonderful, fresh, new things. So there are all kinds of opportunities here, that’s why we made Extraction here, we were able to intersect with Dhanush, that’s why we are making Citadel with Raj and DK. There are all kinds of intersection points here which we are energized by. With India, we have more than we are ready to announce right now but our relationship with India will last the rest of our film making lives.
Joe: Raj and DK are flying next month to LA to talk through the show. We’ve known them for two years now and we love them.
You two have known each other since birth and worked together for more than two decades now. Between the two of you, who is the more naughty one and who makes up with the other one when you have a clash of opinions?
Joe: I eat a lot more chocolates than he does. (Anthony Laughs)
Anthony: I don’t know about that. (laughs)
Joe: I eat a lot of milk chocolates, he eats a lot of dark chocolates. I eat more pizzas than he does. He exercise more than I do.
Anthony: (Laughs) A little bit. It is hard for us to analyze each other. You should ask others.
Joe: They might have a more entertaining perspective
Image credits: Netflix