‘Avengers: Infinity War’ Directors Russo Brothers Reveal That a Paintball Game Led to Marvel Gig

Joe and Anthony Russo describe their “20-year Cinderella story” at Produced By conference on Sunday

Last Updated: June 5, 2016 @ 1:56 PM

The brothers behind Disney-Marvel’s behemoth billion-dollar hit “Captain America: Civil War” are riding high as they embark on their first set of Avengers movies.

While there’s tremendous pressure to perform, directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, who are also producing an array of projects, are bent on staying focused.

“We really try to block all that stuff out,” Joe said during Sunday’s Produced By panel at Sony Studios in Culver City, Calif. “We’ve found over years our best successes have been finding a piece of content that we make for ourselves and hope everyone likes it … When you make choices from fear or under pressure you make bad choices,” he added.

When it comes to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, there’s a danger in working in the comic book genre, warned Anthony. “It can become stale,” he said. “We love manipulating and subverting genre in ways audiences aren’t expecting,” he added of the directing duo’s approach.

The filmmaker siblings were on hand to share their career learnings and offer the audience, filled with directors and producers, advice. They’re more than qualified to do it, seeing as “Civil War” is the first movie in 2016 to gross more than $1 billion worldwide.

Their blockbuster breakout was 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” but before that they worked on television comedies “Community,” “Happy Endings,” and won an Emmy for “Arrested Development.”

So how did they make the leap from TV to one of the biggest film franchises on the planet?

It turns out Marvel president Kevin Feige really liked an episode of “Community” that they did, a show that involved a contentious paintball competition, which cleverly spoofed the action genre.

“Feige brought us in and found out we’re huge comic book fans and pop culture junkies,” said Joe. “We connected on a lot of levels and had a lot of specific ideas about Captain America.”

Now, the two are preparing to make both upcoming “Avengers: Infinity War” movies back-to-back — with Part I due out in May 4, 2018, and Part II set for May 3, 2019. “‘Infinity Wars’ is being shot together purely because of the scale of cast,” said Joe. “Cast schedules are the driving force.”

Cameras will start rolling on the next set of Avengers movies at the end of this year, Joe said, adding that they’re spending a lot of time with Feige and the writers to perfect the screenplay. “What’s most important in these large-scale movies is if you add as much information in script, typically, the movie has better chance of being comprehensive and the audience enjoying it.”

But big movies aren’t the only place where the Russo brothers’ passion lies, Joe recalling how they pair were discovered by Steven Soderbergh after their 1997 debut indie “Pieces.”

“He was the only one in the business who responded to this film,” said Joe. “It’s a Cinderella story, but a 20-year Cinderella story,” he added, calling the brothers’ career “a series of shoestring saves,” wearing many hats on micro-budgeted projects.

His advice to filmmakers looking to grow their career: “If you want to be a carpenter, build a lot of tables. If you want to be director or producer, direct and produce as much as you can.”

The two share a capacity to take on a lot of work and say making television shows is more labor intensive than moviemaking. “Creating for television and film is at its best when content and structure are feeding off each other,” said Anthony, referencing production constraints on “Arrested Development” which, in turn, inspired them to reinvent the long tradition of single-camera comedy into the show’s innovative mockumentary style.

Now the world is, quite literally, opening up for the brothers, as the two have launched Anthem & Song, a studio based in Bejiing, China.  The two go to China every other month, now, to work with Chinese filmmakers on Chinese-language films. “There’s more diversity of storytelling than you can find her right now,” said Joe.

The sibling filmmakers are also producing the STX Entertainment thriller “17 Bridges,” written by Adam Mervis (“The Philly Kid”), and currently in development. The story, said to be a hybrid of “Inside Man” and “The Fugitive,” follows a fallen NYPD detective who is offered one chance at redemption as manhunt for a cop killer ensues.

“New York is on lockdown for 90 minutes,” said Joe. “It’s a real-time thriller.”

Joe and Anthony have also joined Michael B. Jordan as producers on MGM’s planned remake of the classic heist movie “The Thomas Crown Affair,” which is currently in development. Joe called Jordan “one of the great actors of today,” noting that he’s been a fan since the actor’s run on “Friday Night Lights.”

On top of all of that — plus the Avengers movies —  the two are working on a marijuana-themed half-hour sitcom for Showtime. The series follows a family of pot dealers whose operation is upended when the drug is legalized and marks the Russo brothers’ return to TV.