Before they directed the biggest movie of all time and three more of Marvel Studios' largest films in the MCU, directors Anthony and Joe Russo were independent filmmakers who began to dabble in television. Among their efforts, the Emmy-winning and fan-favorite comedy series Arrested Development. The Russo brothers directed not only the pilot of the show but 13 additional episodes of the series. Speaking in a new retrospective about their careers with GQ, they opened up about the inspirations for the trademark style of shooting that they developed for the series, revealing the roots of the show come from a gritty, nihilistic movie.
The pair revealed that their work on an FX pilot, Lucky, got them noticed by Arrested Development EP Ron Howard, who praised their work but lamented the sudden burst of reality television might make single-camera comedies quickly replaceable. "You can move so quickly with a camera," Joe Russo said about reality TV. "They can tell stories, they don't cost a lot to make. And it's really expensive to make single-camera comedies. And we don't wanna do a sitcom. So what do we do? Can we go guerrilla with it? And Anth and I love loved a movie called Man Bites Dog, that had won Cannes a few years earlier. A documentary team following around a serial killer, and then the documentary team actually gets pulled into these murders with the serial killer. It was a very twisted comedy that was shot extremely verité, we love the style of it."
He adds, "And we said, Look, we think we can use this as inspiration to make a show at a cheaper budget, that, you know, has 30, 35 location changes, over the course of 5, 6 days of shooting. Which was unheard of at the time, for television, was very expensive to do that. So we proceeded to execute that pilot using digital cameras, like a reality show, shot documentary style."
Anthony Russo added, "Yeah, it was the first primetime scripted show shot on digital video, not shot on film. That was all a part of the effort that Joe and I were bringing to it, that guerrilla energy that Ron Howard was looking for to shake things up. With the idea that reality TV was kind of eating the dial up, in terms of how much it was expanding, 'cause it was so cheap to make, and so watchable. And so we developed this attitude of, 'Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.' And I think part of the reason why it works so well is because the show is completely absurdist, but to apply a very grounded verité realism, documentary realism to it, felt pretty weird."
The Russo Brothers new movie, Netflix's upcoming release The Gray Man, sees the pair tackling a new subgenre, espionage, digging into some of their other influences like James Bond and more. Currently playing in select theaters, The Gray Man will premiere on Netflix on July 22.