How Steven Soderbergh Shaped The Russo Brothers' Filmmaking Style

Joe and Anthony Russo's path to becoming the kingpins of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was neither direct nor likely. Prior to taking on "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," the brothers had been most successful as single-camera sitcom directors; they won an Emmy for their work on the pilot of "Arrested Development," and shot some of the most beloved episodes of "Community." They were far less successful as filmmakers. Their first feature, "Welcome to Collinwood," a remake of Mario Monicelli's delightful heist flick "Big Deal on Madonna Street" starring William H. Macy, Sam Rockwell and George Clooney, fell flat with critics and audiences. Their second effort, the pricey studio comedy "You, Me and Dupree" top-lined by Owen Wilson, Kate Hudson and Matt Damon, met the same fate.

TV comedy seemed to be the Russos' thing, so it came as a shock when they were announced as the directors of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." As much as people loved "Arrested Development" and "Community," these shows weren't exactly telling stories on the massive scale of a superhero epic. For fans giddily anticipating the eventual conclusion of the Thanos saga, Marvel's hire was troubling. For the Russos, however, it was natural fit. Because, as their mentor Steven Soderbergh advised them early in their careers, it's best for directors to not have a natural fit.

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In an interview with Wired, Joe Russo recalled meeting the director of "Out of Sight" and the "Ocean's" films at the 1997 Slamdance Film Festival. He was impressed by their "very non-linear, experimental" comedy called "Pieces," and offered to help get "Welcome to Collinwood" made. Soderbergh is a chameleon of a filmmaker who's at home in just about any genre. He's dabbled in comedies, dramas, noirs, sci-fi, and horror (among others). There seems to be no rhyme or reason to what he chooses to make. He just finds/generates material that turns him on, and makes the version of the script he'd like to see. He advised his protégés to approach their career the same way.

"A common thread in our style is that we like to not have a common thread," said Russo. "Something [Steven] Soderbergh taught us very early on when he was mentoring us was: Don't let the world pigeonhole you. Don't let them put you in a box. We zig and zag as much as we possibly can. And it's more compelling to us to leave a trail of confusion."

Jacks of all genre trades

The Russos' first Marvel hire generated no shortage of confusion, but it worked out for all involved. The brothers delivered and then some with their four Marvel films, finishing off their run with the triumphal "Avangers: Endgame." Now what? It looks like the Russos are living up to their promise to zig and zag. They followed up "Endgame" with the gritty crime drama "Cherry," and just knocked out the $200 million Netflix action film "The Gray Man." Whether you like the movies or not, the Russos aren't typified by one genre. If that's their measuring stick for success, they're the Kubricks of the Russo Cinematic Universe.