During my fifteen minute chat with Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s directors Joe and Anthony Russo, they referred to Marvel Studio’s Kevin Feige as “an auteur producer” twice, and Joe later used the term during the film’s London press conference.
The obvious suggestion is that Feige has a very tight grip on the reins at Marvel. I imagine that some directors would hear this and run a mile, but digging deeper with the Russos, it became very clear why they didn’t. Indeed, any fear that the brothers’ input into The Winter Soldier might have been superficial was very quickly dispelled.
I started by asking about the situation the Russos walked into when they first got involved.
Joe Russo: “They had a script when we got involved, an excellent script by [Christopher] Markus and [Stephen] McFeely, the credited writers.”
Anthony Russo: “That script already had some of the bigger ideas. It was in really good shape, but what Marvel do when they get a script, they go through a process of talking to a lot of potential directors. We underwent a two and a half month audition process.”
Joe: “Part of a group of, probably, ten directors.”
Anthony: “We met maybe four times over those two and a half months and each time got more specific about our vision for the movie. We’d fallen in love with it right from jump Street, though, as soon as we’d seen the script because we have a long history with comics and we love the political thriller subgenre, so the fact that this was a combination of the two was extremely exciting to us.
“Part of what’s great about Marvel and Kevin is that they don’t want you to come in and tell them what they’re already thinking. They want you to come in and surprise them, to put things on the table and take them places where they wouldn’t have gone. It was fun figuring out how we could surprise Marvel.
At the end of the audition process we got the movie and then started a several month process with the writers. We’d sit in the same room with them, very much like the process we developed for our television work, in the room with writers, reading out the script, pitching out scenes, pitching out lines, pitching out beats. During that period we developed a lot of the action for the movie.”
Joe: “A lot of the set pieces.”
Anthony: “Pushed a lot of the character further.”
Joe: “And we pulled out and developed the theme more, of Cap’s isolation. We restructured some things and put a lot the political components into the film. We changed the direction of what the third act was about, what the drone technology equivalent was about.”
Anthony: “And by the time of what we got to the end of that process, we know exactly what the movie is. Our first question had been “What do we love about the character of Captain America?” and everything in the film was then designed around that.”
Joe: “We did look at it as being like two movies as we were making the film. It’s a political thriller slash espionage film up until the big reveal and then the third act turns into a more traditional Marvel adventure film. We didn’t shift tones too much, though that third act is larger, and the camera work does become more settled. That final set piece is clearly enormous. Most of the stunts up until that point are practical but that’s when the movie moves into a more VFX-heavy world.
“Kevin very smartly does not look ahead in a way that distracts from the movie they’re currently working on. He says, ‘This movie has to be the best movie it can be and then we’ll figure out where we go next after this.'”
Anthony: We weren’t trying to hit a mark at the end of this film in terms of where the characters are.
Joe: And if Joss [Whedon] wanted to pick up our threads, he could. Now, we’re hard at work working out the story of Cap 3. People ask us about it, and I can say, “Well, clearly the Bucky story isn’t finished, so…”
Anthony: I saw those headlines about William Burnside [appearing in the third film] and I thought “It’s smart of those guys [Markus and McFeely]” We cannot either confirm nor deny, but there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in the Marvel press machine, that’s all I can say.”
And just like that, the Russos vanished in a flash of light.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is released in the UK on Wednesday, March 26th and in the US on Friday, April 4th.