Soon Mackie is in front of the cameras for a scene where he flies Captain America onto the deck of the hovering ship. “You’re heavier than you look,” Falcon says as the duo drop to the asphalt. “I had a big breakfast,” Cap deadpans. Then — POW! Cap is sacked by the Winter Soldier, who darts out from behind a crate to tackle him. (You can see Stan lurking just behind the fellow pulling the camera man on a wooden wagon.)
They repeat the scene probably a dozen times, while directors Anthony and Joe Russo (best known for their innovative direction of TV comedies like Arrested Development and Community) check the action against screens showing a black-and-white, crudely animated version of the scene. Virtually the whole movie is mapped out and cut together in these drawings before filming. In that way, the Russo brothers are directing a live-action remake of their own animated movie.
“There’s an adage that you make a movie three times over. You write it, you film it, you edit it,” says Anthony. In this case, they’ve added a fourth layer. “You can’t guess at things you’re going to want to do in the edit room while you’re out there shooting.” For Joe, a self-described “massive comic book collector,” this is the culmination of a life-long dream. “That’s what every comic book fan wants, to take those panels on the page and their imagination and see it up on the screen.”
The Cleveland-raised brothers (seen in the image above, Joe with the paper, Anthony in the hat) owe their careers to Steven Soderbergh, who discovered an early film of theirs at Slamdance, the even more indy tagalong festival that accompanies Sundance each year. Soderbergh took the Russos under their wing and helped them make 2002’s Welcome to Collinwood, a crime comedy starring George Clooney, William H. Macy and Sam Rockwell. From there, the ended up getting work on television, laying the groundwork for shows such as Community and Arrested Development. “We did Arrested Development and won an Emmy, and then we were a comedy brand,” says Joe. “We were a comedy brand for about 10 years, but we’ve always had this love [of movies.]”
“We loved what we were doing the whole time and we were very fortunate,” Anthony adds. “But there was a side of us that kept gnawing at us: when are we going to do something else? When are we going to do some action? And it’s hard to find that opportunity when things are going so well. The work was coming so easy …”
As Joe puts it, big-budget filmmaking “kind of has to come to you. That’s what happened with this. [Marvel Studios president] Kevin Feige was a big fan of Community. I think he loved the paintball episodes. And I think he floated the idea of what don’t you have those guys come in a have a meeting about this? So, the window opened, and we fought hard to win the movie. It was not easy to win.”
Now that they’ve done it, the duo seem to have made another breakthrough. Marvel already wants them back for Cap 3, due in 2016.