Russo Bros. Stand by Netflix Model: Idea That ‘Theater Is a Sacred Space Is Bullsh*t’

The "Gray Man" directors also suggest that the moviegoing world needs to evolve beyond an old-school reverence to "auteur" filmmaking.
"The Gray Man"
"The Gray Man"

The Russo Brothers have officially entered the streaming-versus-theaters debate, weighing in on the “crisis” Hollywood faces due to a “culture war” over how films get made and released.

“We’re in crisis right now because everyone’s at war with each other,” Joe Russo told The Hollywood Reporter while promoting the release of Netflix’s “The Gray Man,” which opened today in select theaters ahead of its streaming premiere July 22. “It’s sad to see, as guys who grew up loving film. A thing to remember, too, is it’s an elitist notion to be able to go to a theater. It’s very fucking expensive. So, this idea that was created — that we hang on to — that the theater is a sacred space, is bullshit. And it rejects the idea of allowing everyone in under the tent.”

Joe Russo continued, “Where digital distribution is valuable, other than what I said earlier about how it pushed diversity, is that people can share accounts; they can get 40 stories for the cost of one story. But having some kind of culture war about whether there’s value in that or not is fucking bananas to us.”

While Anthony Russo explained that the $200-million “The Gray Man” was made for a theater — “that’s how we shot it, how we styled it and, on a technical level, how we supported it” — Joe shared that the duo is indifferent to delivery method.

“When we worked with Marvel, we traveled the world for a decade,” said Joe Russo, who directed four films with his brother for the MCU. “What that allows you is an understanding that goes beyond a Hollywood-centric point of view of how to create content. We’re agnostic about delivery. You know what might make everybody happy is Netflix starts doing 45-day windows and they have their giant digital distribution platform. Everybody wins. That feels like where it’s going.”

He also suggested that the moviegoing world needs to evolve beyond an old-school reverence to the “auteur” model of cinema — bringing to mind how directors like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola have dissed Marvel’s output in the recent past.

“Auteur filmmaking is 50 years old at this point. It was conceived in the ’70s,” said Joe Russo. “We grew up on that. We were kids, it was really important to us. But we’re also aware that the world needs to change and the more that we try to prevent it from changing, the more chaos we create. It’s not anyone’s place to reject the next generation’s ideas.”

“We love everything about classic cinema, but we’ve never been precious about that in any way, shape, or form,” Anthony Russo said, adding that the brothers are also not precious about theatrical distribution, either. “How do you get away from the old models? How do you reach audiences that haven’t been engaged before? That’s all the most interesting stuff to us.”

Reflecting on their Marvel legacy and partnership with Disney, Joe Russo added that Netflix has been a breath of fresh air.

“Disney’s gone very conservative,” he stated. “Post-[Bob] Iger, they seem to be in IP management mode. You’re going to get all the ‘Star Wars’ and all the Marvel you can handle for the next decade. They’re all changing. It’s either a reinforced conservative approach from your traditional studios or it’s forcing a tech company like Netflix to rethink its entire model.”

Former CEO Iger announced in February 2020 that he would step down from the leadership role to serve as executive chairman. Disney’s former head of parks, experiences, and products Bob Chapek took over as CEO.

Joe Russo continued that Netflix has been “easier to work with than a traditional studio” since their approach is “more the mentality of a tech company than a studio.”

“They’re very hands-off. Nobody bothers you,” he said. “They have a different approach to how they control the budget on the movie. It’s not as stressful as it is at a studio.”

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