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Russo brothers back in Cleveland for 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier'

TNS Regional News • Apr 4, 2014 at 2:07 PM

Finally, the secrets can come out.

When former Clevelanders Joe and Anthony Russo came to the area last year as directors of the new Captain America: The Winter Soldier, they had to deal not only with some huge logistical challenges — such as staging a massive chase and fight on the Shoreway — but also with keeping some major plot elements secret from lurking photographers and other snoops.

“You’re like CIA operatives for two years,” Joe said during the brothers’ promotional visit to Cleveland this week. “You can’t say anything to anybody about what you’re doing. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to finally be talking to people who have seen the movie.”

The Winter Soldier, after all, includes a huge change in the arc of Marvel movies, one that will have viewers asking how this affects all future Avengers-related tales, on TV and the big screen. “Kevin Feige at Marvel is a risk-taker, a gambler. Very smart — probably the smartest guy we worked with in the film business,” Joe said. “He knows to keep challenging himself and the material so it doesn’t get stale.”

Captain America does not have the big-screen profile of Iron Man or the everybody-together Avengers projects. It nevertheless made sense to use him for this shift in the story, the Russos said.

“Captain America is always looked at as the leader of the Avengers,” Anthony said. “Even though there’s a lot of big personalities in the Avengers and a lot of favorite characters. Nominally, on a narrative level, he’s kind of thought of as the leader. So it’s appropriate that, if you’re going to turn the world on its head, that he be at the center of that part of the story.”

As a result, interest during the shooting in Cleveland was intense, with photos and reports popping up that seemed to give away plot points.

“You think about it, but you can’t do anything about it,” Joe said. “And it’s publicity. It’s great publicity for the movie, and it’s great publicity for the city.” Just the news that the movie was going to be made in Cleveland drew tens of millions of online hits, Anthony said.

“We’ve been around the world now promoting the film now,” he added, “and every place we’ve been to, it’s come up several times that we’re shooting in Cleveland.”

The Ohio film tax credit was one reason the city got the movie, as well as the first Avengers film, even though neither was set in Ohio; Cleveland stood in mainly for New York City in The Avengers and for Washington, D.C., in The Winter Soldier.

The Russos also credited Ivan Schwarz, president of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission. Anthony said Schwarz “is so amazing at what he does, He’s way ahead of the game in terms of his counterparts in other cities. Coming here, Cleveland is so user-friendly. So when you’ve got a company like Marvel, a very smart, very well-run company, meeting with something like the Cleveland Film Commission, and it’s like a dream.”

The Russos are also set to direct the third Captain America, due in 2016, and would love to come back to Northeast Ohio to make it. “We’ll have to see what the setting is for the movie, and if it makes sense for Cleveland,” Joe said.

Regardless of how that works out, they hope to be back after Captain America 3 to make Murray Hill, a movie drama inspired by the gang wars in Cleveland.

And they will have been steeled by the challenges of making Winter Soldier. The toughest shoot during the film’s six weeks in Northeast Ohio was the two-week period when for a big action sequence “we shut down the Shoreway,” Joe said. “It was emotionally tough because then everyone in the city was angry at us.

“It was also a physically and mentally demanding time because it was probably the hardest sequence in the movie. We had limited time. It seems to everybody like two weeks is a long time, but …”

“We wanted three weeks,” Anthony interjected.

“We worked around the clock, we ran crews around the clock,” Joe said, “and we didn’t sleep for two weeks.” And they did it in tandem.

“We’ve been doing this a long time,” Anthony said. “This is our process. We don’t have any formal divisions. We have a very fluid process with each other, kind of a nonstop dialogue … where we heat up our ideas before we bring them to the rest of our collaborators.”

All of that came after the years of work involved in each segment of the Avengers saga. (The Russos are already at work on Captain America 3.) Known mainly for smaller movies like the locally made Welcome to Collinwood and for a lot of television work (Arrested Development, Community), the Russos found themselves dealing with the demands of a mega-project.

It took “months and months of preparation where we conceive it, then you write it, then we start to draw it,” Anthony said. “After that, we do a crude animation of it. We add music and sound effects and we test it. Then we get our stunt team to rehearse it. And we shoot the rehearsals. It’s a very thorough process where we craft it over many months. Because when you shut down the Shoreway, everything’s got to work. You get no second chances at something like that. …

“Of course, there’s always going to be unexpected things that happen,” Anthony added, referring to weather challenges that forced some on-the-spot adjustment. “But a strong plan is critical.”

Still, after all the work is done, there has to be a movie that people will want to see. And the early reaction to The Winter Soldier has been good. It took in just over $75 million overseas in its first weekend (ahead of the U.S. premiere), and early reviews have been overwhelmingly favorable.

“We’re really happy with this movie, and we’re very proud of the movie,” Anthony said. “We had an amazing experience making it, so the fact that it’s being received well is the cherry on top.”

“It’s tough with these movies to get the critics on board, and we seem to be doing pretty well with them,” Joe added.

They are doing so with a film that is not only big on action but also loaded with ideas, especially about politics, national security and how America defines itself — both now and historically. Although it is rooted in fantasy, the movie aims to touch on very real anxieties.

“That’s the one thing we loved about the story. You’ve got this guy from World War II, a very passionate, black-and-white time, and this guy missed Watergate, missed Vietnam, missed 9/11. … He missed everything and now he’s got to look at the state of the world.” A world, Anthony, said, where the president of the United States every Tuesday goes over a kill list of potential assassination targets.

Captain America “did not have a transition to cynicism,” Joe added. “When he’s faced with this notion of trading freedom for security, he doesn’t quite understand.”

Of course, local audiences may be watching it differently than those in other parts of the country, noticing when a scene is in, say, Tower City or the atrium of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

“See it twice,” Joe said. “See it once to say, ‘Hey, that’s Cleveland.’ Then hopefully watch it again for the story.”


By Rich Heldenfels - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)

©2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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