As Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War directors Anthony and Joe Russo see it, though the film landscape has changed significantly since the 1980s/early ’90s golden age of independent filmmaking, the industry hasn’t become closed off to indie voices. Echoing comments they’ve made elsewhere, the directors said this morning during a discussion moderated by Deadline’s Pete Hammond at the Produced By Conference that television has picked up where film industry left off.
“I think it’s very apparent now but at the time we could sense that the independent scene that we loved in the ’90s was actually transitioning to television,” said Joe Russo. “I think when you look at content now you’ll see that the TV space is much more adventurous and quirky, left of center content than the feature space does right now.”
That’s due in part to the year-round schedule of blockbuster releases as well as the changing nature of how people consume entertainment. Citing Fox’s surprise hit Deadpool as proof there’s no longer a blockbuster window limited to summer, the brothers also note movies don’t just compete with one platform. “The feature space is a spectacle space,” Joe Russo continued. “It’s about getting people out of their houses to go to theater when we all have a lot of things in our home now that occupy our attention.” Television, meanwhile, can take risks on smaller, weirder ideas that take advantage of these new content consumption options without breaking the bank.
That doesn’t mean the Russos are dissatisfied with their move away from television and into blockbuster films. Both self-described comic book geeks insisted, as Anthony put it later in the panel, that they are having “the best time we’ve ever had” working on their current Marvel Studios projects (the next of which, the still untitled Avengers 3, is set to begin filming later this year). But they both consider their experience with television — which includes long stints on both Arrested Development and NBC’s Community — as critical to making their current career possible.
That’s first and foremost because of their experience making their debut feature, Pieces, which they said helped them develop a process of “understanding every role that’s involved” in a production. But the move into TV also placed constraints that turned out to be creatively beneficial. DGA regulations, they said, prevent shared directors from splitting the DGA minimum payment most low-budget or unestablished shows are likely to pay directors. This meant a routine in which the Russos would switch up who directed an episode, and who produced it.
“It ended up serving us very well,” Anthony Russo said, “because we’re also producing so we are still connected, while we’re also directing individual episodes. It’s been a nice way for us to handle these things.”
“Joe and I got to draw on our sort of guerilla filmmaking background for how we approached [Arrested Development],” added Anthony.
Describing their overall career as “a series of shoestring saves,” the Russos ultimately credited their experience on TV as helping to hone skills learned from the indie film scene. “A lot of the creative innovations that were done,” Anthony Russo said about Arrested Development in particular, “were motivated by financial, producing questions. Hard-core producing questions. That’s when filmmaking is at its best often times, when the sort of structures that you’re [are] is feeding off one another.”