October 9, 2019

3 Things You Can Learn From the 'Avengers: Endgame' Directors Commentary

The Russo Brothers and their screenwriters on Avengers: Endgame reveal how they pulled off the highest-grossing movie of all time -- and how you can learn from them.

There is life before, and life after, watching Avengers: Endgame. Whether you have been there from the jump with 2008's Iron Man, or just entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time with this summer 2019 blockbuster, the work directors Joe and Anthony Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely did to tie together and wrap up three phases worth of Marvel movies is an unprecedented feat. It's also something all filmmakers, no matter the size or scale of their films, can learn something from.

We made the time to listen to the filmmakers' commentary and took notes of some essential tips that can make your process and collaboration in general more effective. We love this movie 3000. 

1. Give Yourself Time to Rehearse - Even In a Movie This Big

We realize full that not all shooting schedules and budgets can accommodate rehearsal time before principal photography. Or maybe not allow for a generous amount of it. At the same time, it's vital to the execution of the material to make sure everyone is on the same page and feels like they are rowin the boat together. 

To that end, the Russos employed an effective on-set strategy that helped them and their cast. On the commentary, the Russos revealed that a typical shooting there for them had them rehearsing that day's scene in the morning, and then -- while the actors left to get ready to shoot it -- the writers would do a quick polish or scene rewrite to tweak dialogue and/or specific scene beats. Then, they would shoot in the afternoon having the benefit of spending the time in the morning to get the scene in a place where all felt comfortable executing. 

2. Avoid Being Precious With Scenes and Ideas

It's well known that the Russos planned to end Infinity War with the first scene of Endgame. They would use Clint Barton's family outing and their subsequent (and emotionally compromising) vanishing post-Snap as Infinity War's end-credits scene. 

So what changed their minds? On the commentary, they say that "after the first cut, we decided the film was already cutting away to too many different people." So the filmmakers opted to rethink and place the scene at the top of Endgame to set the proper tone for the film with audiences. 

Every choice is written in pencil. Not ink. Even in the edit. The more malleable and accepting of change one can get with their project, the faster the best end result may present itself. 

3. Character and Thematic Arcs Are Your Best Friend

Threading emotionally-driven character narratives, and tentpole themes that all audiences can relate to or resonate with, are AP-level Blockbuster Filmmaking. All the great blockbusters you own or rewatch likely are examples of how building movies atop of themes and character arcs -- threading the themes through the plot so characters and drama drive it -- are the fastest ways to deliver a great theatrical film experience. Endgame is no different. 

Joe Russo explains that the film’s plot is in service on Tony Stark's emotional journey and its completion. “Tony started in the universe as an egotistical, self-involved character and by the end of this film is selfless.” The selfish-to-selfless arc is a staple of many Tom Cruise movies (see Top Gun and Edge of Tomorrow). It's a relatively easy and accessible arc to nail narratively, and Endgame does it effortlessly with significant emotional payoff. The only thing more important than structure is building that structure upon the backs of characters worth giving a shit about.

Plot is what the movie is, character and theme are what the movie is about. The latter is what puts movies on your shelf. Is what makes you think about them long after the credits roll.     

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