Joe Russo weighed in on Scarlett Johansson’s “Black Widow” legal battle with Disney on Thursday, calling it “unfortunate” that the conflict spilled out into the public domain, but suggesting that it’s a sign of the times for an industry gripped by uncertainty.
“There’s a lot of tension, just like there is in a lot of industries, because there’s a lot of disruption,” he said. “People’s nerves are fraying, and it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen or where anything is going.”
The “Avengers: Endgame” and “Avengers: Infinity War” co-director spoke to Variety during Rome’s MIA market about Johansson’s breach-of-contract lawsuit against the Mouse House, in which she alleged that the company sacrificed the movie’s box office prospects — and millions in potential backend payments — by releasing “Black Widow” simultaneously in theaters and on its streaming platform, Disney Plus.
Before the lawsuit was settled last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Russo Brothers had hit a standstill in talks to direct another movie for Marvel, which is owned by Disney, due to uncertainty over how a potential next feature would be distributed and how they would be paid.
Russo declined to discuss the status of those negotiations, saying “it would be inappropriate for us to comment on a deal if we were in the middle of it.”
However, he added, “I’m glad that the lawsuit’s resolved. I do think it was indicative of significant change that’s been happening. The resolution speaks volumes about the respect for artists moving forward in this changing landscape.”
The resolution, however, also belies an industry in a state of unprecedented flux. “Corporations are panicking at the moment, because I think that half the studios are going to disappear in the next 5-10 years, and the game has changed dramatically,” he continued. “There are content producers who can outspend any studio, and it’s just a rounding error for them, because they’re $1 trillion companies. We’ve never seen that before in the business.”
Russo spoke to Variety after a wide-ranging keynote address at Rome’s MIA market, which takes place Oct. 13-17 in the Eternal City, where he appeared in conversation with Skybound Entertainment president of film and TV Sean Furst to discuss the future of the movie industry.
Having directed two of the five highest-grossing films of all time alongside his brother Anthony, Russo insisted that the theatrical model isn’t dead, though the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued growth of streaming services has altered the business for good.
“I don’t see a resurgence of independent movies in theaters in the future. I just don’t,” he said. “You get more money to make them digitally. Less headaches. The easiest thing for Netflix to do is to greenlight a smaller film. What I’ve found, and what a lot of other filmmakers have found, is that nobody really bothers you. That’s an incredible experience to have.”
Amid the flurry of wheeling and dealing at the fast-rising Rome market, where some 350 new titles in development and production are on display for prospective partners, the AGBO co-chairman spoke about his own interest in spotting and nurturing talent overseas.
“On a personal level, I’m just more interested in diversity of storytelling. I think the world is a better place the more diverse voices can be heard,” he said. “All of my favorite stuff in the last five years is outside of Hollywood. I think that that is important because artists are coming at it with individuality and a fresh perspective that isn’t tainted by or affected by the machine that we have in Hollywood.”
He praised South Korean phenomenon “Squid Game” for its “high concept and execution,” calling the production design “gorgeous and insane,” while describing “ZeroZeroZero” and “Gomorrah” producers Cattleya as “probably my favorite producers in the world right now.”
The prolific multi-hyphenate also teased some of the projects currently on the slate at the Russo Brothers’ AGBO production outfit, screening the trailer for “Extraction 2” – the sequel to the Chris Hemsworth-starring actioner which was Netflix’s most-watched original movie – and discussing the upcoming Amazon Prime series “The Citadel,” a globe-trotting espionage thriller being produced in multiple territories.
“It’s sort of an experiment in narrative,” he said. “It has a flagship show that then has regional shows that are built around the core idea. They’re complementary narratives. It’s regional talent producing and creating each one of those offshoot shows. It’s a big experiment in community and partnership.”
This summer, the Russos wrapped filming on the Netflix espionage thriller “The Gray Man,” starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans as competing assassins. The first entry in a potential franchise, the film is said to have a $200 million-plus budget, making it the priciest original to date for the streamer.
They also recently announced that AGBO would be re-teaming with the streaming giant on a new heist movie from Emmy-winning storyteller Noah Hawley and starring Emmy nominee Regé-Jean Page.