Directors Joe and Anthony Russo blew everyone away when they directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier back in 2014. After so perfectly bringing Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War two years later, they followed that with Avengers: Infinity War, and then delivered both the biggest – and arguably one of the best – movies ever with Avengers: Endgame.
While we’re eagerly anticipating their return to the MCU, the Russos have been keeping busy both overseeing a slate of films through their AGBO production label and with their awesome new series, Pizza Film Stories. In that, the filmmakers sit down with a slice to discuss the movies that influenced their careers with A-List guests like Mark Hamill, Josh Brolin, and, later this week, Taika Waititi.
Last night, we were lucky enough to talk to Joe and Anthony about all of that and more, including Relic, a must-see horror movie which is set to be released this Friday (you can find our review right here).
You can find links to what they had to say about Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars, and Justice League at the bottom of this post, but their insightful and fascinating comments about their work makes for a must-read, and it’s easy to see why they’ve found such well-deserved success.
I wanted to start by asking you about Relic. I watched the movie on Friday and loved it, and was wondering why you chose to get involved with the film?
Joe: It was a beautifully written script. The concept behind it is profound; it subverts the horror genre by bringing humanity to the last act and the end of the movie. Traditionally, horror movies are parables about not being an awful person, you might get killed by a monster, or underdogs rallying against the supernatural, but this seemed a very compelling movie about terror on a very human level with genuine empathy at the end of the film. You just don’t see a lot of that. When we worked in genre, we tried to find ways to elevate that, and you can do that through execution or subversion, and [Natalie Erika James] used both on this film.
You obviously directed the biggest movie of all-time, but what does it mean for you to give back to the industry by helping filmmakers like Sam Hargrave and Natalie Erika James get their starts?
Joe: It means everything. We wouldn’t be where we are without Steven Soderbergh having the integrity and the initiative to help us get into the film business. It’s a very kinetic industry and it really requires someone holding the door open for you to help you get in, so AGBO has really become a ‘pay it forward; deal for us because we feel a karmic debt to the universe. It really does mean everything to us to be able to do that.
You’ve obviously worked with a lot of huge stars at this point in your careers, but as film fans yourselves, how amazing is it to get to sit down and talk The Empire Strikes Back with Mark Hamill for Pizza Film Stories?
Anthony: It’s amazing!
Joe: Incredible. You can’t imagine a more fulfilling experience. I’ll say this: when you meet movie stars and you’re aware of their films and you become aware of them either in your teen or adult years, it’s not the same level of awe as when you meet someone who was so important to your childhood as Mark. You kind of get awestruck, and having the opportunity to talk to him about a film that was so integral to our desire to become filmmakers is almost hard to describe.
Was Pizza Film Stories something you were considering before lockdown and do you see it as a long term endeavour?
Joe: Yeah. Really, the idea came out of me and the children sitting down to watch movies during quarantine as something to do together as a family, and then I started showing them movies that were influential to my brother and I when we were younger. Then, we would have an ad hoc conversation after the movie that was equivalent to a family film school. My daughter said, ‘I think you should do this for everyone. Just talk about film influences on social media.’ We thought it was a great idea because Ant and I came to filmmaking because we were academic and because he and I like to watch films together and talk about them. So, we had a very academic approach to them. We weren’t Steve Spielberg in the backyard with cameras making accomplished movies at the age of 12, we were quoting films, talking about their themes, their tone, techniques, and camera work. We watched films over and over and discussed them over and over, so it felt like a natural extension of what he and I do every day of our lives and have done since we were kids. It felt like a great opportunity to do that and involve some of our friends like Josh Brolin, Taika Waititi, or Mark Hamill.
For me, Avengers: Endgame has overtaken The Empire Strikes Back as my all-time favourite movie, but if, like George Lucas, you could go back and make any changes to that as filmmakers yourselves, would you, and what would they be?
Joe: Not to Empire Strikes Back! We wouldn’t touch a frame. That, for us, is the Holy Grail of commercial filmmaking, right? It taught us, and I think everyone else, what you could do with a dramatic second act in a trilogy. There’s nothing I would change about it. Return of the Jedi, though…
[Laughs] Looking at your own movies, is there anything you would go back and change about those if you could?
Anthony: We’ve always been very lucky, you know? In our career, we’ve always worked with great collaborators and worked to put out the versions of movies we wanted to. Certainly, with all the Marvel movies, we’ve done that. Wanting to change something has never really been an issue because we’ve had the opportunity to do that as we’ve gone along, but I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, can you Joe?
Joe: I think we’re too close to those movies. If you were to ask us this question in ten years, maybe [Laughs] we could find something to change. We’re so close to them, it would be hard to pick them apart.
Personally, I wouldn’t say anything needs to be changed. With Pizza Film School, having worked with someone like Josh Brolin on the Avengers movie with that director/actor relationship on set, what is it like to talk to him about a film like No Country For Old Men that obviously inspired you both?
Anthony: It’s amazing. This is something we learned while working with him: he is a really adventurous, innovative, brave filmmaker. That was a very difficult role for him to do. Thanos, on screen, hopefully looks easy, but in order to make that character, the work required is really difficult. He has to do a lot of performing by himself, on a stage, in very difficult costuming because it’s all technologically based to track his performance. We very specifically wanted to map his face and his body movements, and everything Thanos did, we very much wanted grounded in Josh. So, it was an arduous way for him to work, but he really embraced it as this great acting experiment for himself. What he was able to do with the character was remarkable, and we couldn’t have been more excited by it, but we learned through that process of working with him that he’s not only a great actor, but a great fan of the filmmaking experience, and he’s very savvy and been paying a lot of attention as he’s been working through his life.
So, talking to him about that experience was very exciting for Joe and I. After working on the Avengers films, the fact we were able to continue that conversation about a specific movie that we had nothing to do with was extremely exciting for us, especially a movie that we are so passionate about. It was great, and it’s so funny to hear you talk about Mark Hamill and Josh, because for people like that to give us access to movies that we’ve known for so many years as fans, to finally start to see behind the scenes and start to understand the process of making those movies is a pretty thrilling experience and shocking one. You hold those movies in such high estimation for so long, to finally figure out how the sausage got made was a strange experience, but a fun one.
You’re using Pizza Film Stories to talk to us about the films that inspired your career, but what do you hope the biggest takeaways filmmakers of tomorrow will have from your work?
Joe: You can educate yourself through watching cinema. If you understand story structure and you sort of demystify the process behind making it, it becomes more accessible to you, and then, of course, easier for you to make. We’re trying to take all the important lessons we’ve learned as filmmakers and impart those on a new generation. That’s really the idea behind Pizza Film School with a bit of a wink and a smile. Ant and I make no bones about the fact that our upbringing consisted of a diet of movies as kids of both popular movies and arthouse films, so we have an appreciation and love for both, and aren’t prejudicial in any way towards one kind of filmmaking versus another. Our intention is always to demystify for people and allow them the access to tell their own stories.
Anthony: Like Joe was saying about demystifying the process, we feel that’s important to us because we grew up a million miles away from the film business. We saw that as something that was very foreign and that happened on another planet, and so it took us a long time to really warm to the idea that we could possibly make movies. It was not an idea that we came to very easily, even though we had an immense passion for film. I think that it’s important to humanise the process for people and show them it’s more graspable than they may have originally thought.
Thanks a lot for your time, guys. I’m a massive, massive fan of your work and what you do with films like Avengers, Extraction, and AGBO, makes my job worth doing so thank you very much.
Anthony: That’s so kind, thank you.
Joe: Of course, we totally appreciate it and thanks for staying up late!
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