Captain America: Winter Soldier — DIrectors On Board

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One of the key elements in Marvel’s success has been hiring talented directors who are capable of putting their own unique stamp on each film. For “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Marvel brought on a pair of directors, brothers Anthony and Joe Russo.

“In our meetings with the Russo brothers, I had a hunch that they had it in them to really elevate one of our properties,” says producer Kevin Feige. “They loved the idea that we were presenting to them—the ’70s political thriller, the much more contemporary, much more grounded Super Hero story this time around and they have embraced it and improved it and delivered what I think is the best pure action film we’ve ever made.”

Executive producers and directors of the critically acclaimed, award-winning television shows “Arrested Development” and “Community,” the Russo brothers were thrilled to immerse themselves in the Marvel Universe and were impressed by the way producer Kevin Feige has the ability to look for directing talent outside of the action genre. “Kevin’s done it again and again in a way that’s unprecedented and remarkable,” comments Anthony. “He likes to bring fresh voices to the table, encouraging them to find a fresh spin on the material.”

The Russo brothers had to go through a long process to take the helm, but Joe Russo appreciated the steps that they had to take to bring their vision to Marvel. “It was a great process for us, a healthy process.  It forced us to focus.  To really think through our approach to the material,” says Joe. “As part of the audition process, we showed Marvel a lot of videos—actual car chases, Krav Maga experts giving demonstrations, special forces training videos. We were pushing to bring a real-world, grounding component to the franchise.”

That “real-world grounding” was a very important element in the making of the film for the Russos since the movie has the tone of a 1970s political thriller. “You can’t have a thriller without stakes, and stakes are emotional; stakes have to play real, especially in a political thriller, which has contemporary themes to it,” explains Joe. “You have to play as real as possible in order for the audience to properly relate to the storytelling, otherwise you’re losing a layer of texture.  You’ve got to make the audience care.”

The Russo brothers also chose to go with a handheld camera, which was a technique that further grounded the film.  As Joe explains, “For us the choice to go handheld was philosophical. It had to do with the narrative. We wanted the movie to be vérité, so that you would feel as if you were there, again as a way to raise the stakes. Another benefit of shooting handheld is that you get the fluidity of the camera as it follows action; you can track a punch to a face and then whip back to the character throwing the punch.  We wanted the action to be clean and trackable in the movie and we felt the handheld camera gave us the freedom to follow the action more specifically than a locked frame.”

Anthony adds, “The great thing about vérité is that it adds a limited point of view—a point of view that lends itself to naturalism.”

Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” lends itself to the vérité style very well because it is part thriller and part adventure film. “The movie is really two different films,” explains Joe Russo. “It’s a thriller until the end of the second act. Once the plot is revealed, and Cap’s mission becomes clear, it becomes an adventure film. We were extremely mindful of that construction in the development phase. We knew that the thriller component would allow us to lean into a character-based realism. But we also knew, cinematically, that when we got to the third act, the movie would grow into a Marvel film.  It would have that scale and scope that Marvel’s famous for.”

Elaborating, Joe adds, “The thriller just by nature tends to be more intimate than an adventure movie because it’s being driven on character-based plot twists—you’re dealing with a really complex relationship between Cap and Fury, a really complex relationship between Cap and Natasha—and those relationships play out as you head into the third act, where the heroes have a joint goal. And you’re hoping that you’ve planted those seeds properly, so that when the adventure component takes over, the audience is emotionally invested, and ready to go on that journey with you for the last thirty minutes.”

Comments Anthony, “It’s fun to combine two elements that are incongruous. You’re like a scientist mixing together compounds that you’re not quite sure how they’re going to react. A thriller film and an adventure film. Handheld vérité versus the more pre-meditated shots of the third act. This has been a driving force in our careers, from ‘Arrested Development’  to ‘Community’—the desire for experimentation.”

Stepping into a film with characters that are already established did not faze the Russo brothers. “It was easy for a couple of reasons,” relates Anthony. “One of which is that we have a strong history in television, where you’re dealing with moving in and out of different stories with different characters that have been pre-established. Secondly, the actors are all amazing people and amazing actors. They made it easy for us to connect with them, to talk about what we loved about what they had done in the past and what new colors we thought they could bring to this movie.”

“The first movie in a franchise is about establishing the heroes and the second movie is about putting the heroes against the ropes,” adds Joe Russo. “This film is a much grittier story than any Marvel movie to date and we really wanted to try something different. We felt like it was our job to add something to the Marvel universe that they can then use as a tool going forward in Phase 2.”

Chris Evans comments on his directors, saying, “They have done a really good job with our film; none of the other Marvel movies were shot the way this movie was shot. The majority of this movie is handheld and that’s just a really interesting approach to a Super Hero movie. The plot is more like the political thriller but the way they’re capturing it is really different and unique.”

Robert Redford was attracted to the sensibility of directors Anthony and Joe Russo, and relates, “They’re very respectful yet they also take no prisoners. They have a very strong idea of what they want to do and they’re committed to doing it in their own way. I like that. They have a vision for this film that’s theirs. I also appreciate it when a filmmaker has a vision that they stay connected to and enforce to the best of their abilities.”

From an actor’s point of view, working for directors Anthony and Joe Russo was a positive experience for Anthony Mackie. “Both of them have very good actor vocabulary, which a lot of directors don’t have,” relates Mackie. “They really have the ability to talk to you and break down a scene and tell you why you’re doing what you’re doing, and not too many directors can do that.”

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