The Russo Brothers Kept Arrested Development's Camera Operators On Their Toes

Though they helmed two of the five highest-grossing films of all time, "Avengers: Endgame" and "Avengers: Infinity War" directors Joe and Anthony Russo still serve as a punching bag for critics sometimes for their arthouse pretensions. They've cited François Truffaut and the French New Wave as their biggest inspirations, which might not be immediately apparent from their blockbuster work in the superhero genre — not to mention their 2022 Netflix action flick "The Gray Man."

The prevailing notion in some circles online is that the Russo Brothers were journeyman guns for hire and that their directorial style, such as it were, was largely subsumed by the house style of Marvel Studios throughout the 2010s (when they also made "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "Captain America: Civil War.") The Russos got their start in comedy, however, directing the pilot and many other episodes of "Arrested Development." Even on that show, they were experimenting with camera technique.

Breaking down a scene from the "Arrested Development" pilot for Vanity Fair, Joe Russo cited the cinema vérité style of the NC-17 Belgian mockumentary "Man Bites Dog" as another unlikely influence. Anthony Russo talked about marrying the absurdist tone of "Arrested Development" with the language of reality TV, the idea being to "commit to a camera style that says to an audience instinctually: hardcore realism, naturalism," and thereby bring out the laughs in a dry humor sort of way. To achieve this, he explained:

"One of the techniques we used, again to create a feeling of realism, is we wouldn't let the camera operators watch rehearsals, so that we would just throw them in there as we were ready to shoot. So they weren't prepared. They didn't know exactly where things were happening. They had to find it."

'That's where we got some of our best footage'

"Arrested Development" itself is a show that was originally meant to be improvised. Since the camera operators didn't always know what was going to happen, it gave scenes an added feeling of spontaneity, as if they were really happening and the camera was just a fly-on-the-wall observer playing constant catch-up. As the Russos further dissected the opening boat party from the show's pilot, Joe said:

"That's where we got some of our best footage is, you know, an operator catching up to a subject. In a shot like this, there's probably a camera operator hiding just off over here. There's probably one more over here. This shot here, me and two other operators shooting run-and-gun on digital cameras."

In "Cherry," their first non-Marvel directorial effort in the 2020s, the Russos employed a flashier style, with the camera taking on a God's eye view of a barracks and doing a 360-degree sweep of the backseat and front seat of a moving car, like in Alfonso Cuarón's "Children of Men." For better or for worse, it's as if the directors who defined a decade of superhero cinema were so excited to be let off the leash that they couldn't resist showing off a little.

Starring "Civil War" breakout Tom Holland, "Cherry" strives to be visually inventive but it's not necessarily showing us anything we haven't seen before. There's an element to it of, "Look, ma! See what I can do?" Still, it's clear from all of this that, whatever you think of the Russos and their place in the pantheon of popular directors, there's at least a method to their madness.