Russo Brothers Launch Studio to Produce Chinese-Language Films (Exclusive)

Anthony and Joe Russo GETTY H 2016
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The directing team behind Marvel's 'Captain America' franchise and the upcoming 'Avengers: Infinity War' films are planting their flag in the booming Chinese market.

Anthony and Joe Russo, the sibling director duo behind Marvel's Captain America franchise, are setting up shop in China.

In a hush-hush deal last week, the brothers secured financing for Anthem & Song, a startup studio to be based in Los Angeles and Beijing, which will develop and produce Chinese-language films for the country's booming theatrical market.

In 2015, China's box office grew an astounding 49 percent. It is expected to surpass North America next year as the largest theatrical market in the world.

The Russos' partners in Anthem & Song are Beijing-based distributor United Entertainment Partners and HDQH, a Chinese private-equity fund, also based in Beijing. Financial terms were not disclosed, but a source with knowledge of the deal tells The Hollywood Reporter that the brothers' Chinese backers have created a fund in the range of $200 million to $300 million to co-finance the studio's initial output. United Entertainment Partners also will handle distribution of Anthem & Song's releases in China.

The Russos tell THR that they have no plans to direct Chinese-language films through the imprint, but will instead develop and produce Chinese helmers. The studio has set a target of having two films in production by the end of 2017.

The project came about, according to the brothers, from a promotional trip they took to Beijing in 2014 for Captain America: Winter Solider, which grossed $115.6 million of its $714.4 million global total in China.

"We made a lot of friends on that trip and just fell in love with Chinese cinema," explains Joe Russo. "We made a bunch of personal trips back to Beijing to nurture and grow those relationships in the film business there."

The brothers say they will be open to co-financing offers from the Hollywood studios and other international investors, but Chinese partnerships are their primary target.

"This is really about fostering Chinese cinema, so the more we can collaborate with the Chinese, whether it's on the financing side or creatively, that's the priority for us," says Joe Russo.

On their creative attraction to working in China, Anthony Russo says: "China has such a rich cultural history and tradition of storytelling, and also this huge domestic market that is undergoing explosive growth. So they're at this really interesting moment of exploring what their domestic cinema is, and how it relates to international cinema."

The Russos' plunge into Chinese-language moviemaking hardly sets them apart from the pack in Hollywood, where the studios have been racing to secure cross-border deals targeting the domestic Chinese box office. DreamWorks Animation, Warner Bros., Sony and 20th Century Fox have all escalated their presence there, with joint venture studios or expanded Chinese-language slates.  

The brothers say they are approaching Anthem & Song with an open mind and might get behind projects of various genres or budget sizes.

"It could be anything from a $5 million movie to a $100 million, depending on what the content can support," says Joe Russo.

The studio's slate is still under development, but the brothers have been traveling to Beijing on a monthly basis to meet with several Chinese directors, whom they hope to produce.

"We're trying to engage Jiang Wen," says Joe Russo. "We love what he did with Gone With the Bullets. We've also sat down with Ning Hao and we're talking with Wu Jing about a couple of projects." (In 2014, Jiang's Gone With the Bullets grossed $83 million at the Chinese box office; Ning's Breakup Buddies took $187.9 million; and Wu's The Breakup Guru pulled in $111.4 million)

Although best known for their work on big-budget superhero pictures — their next directorial release will be Captain America: Civil War on April 28, followed by two Avengers: Infinity War movies — the Russos' filmography is characterized by diversity. They got their start in the indie filmmaking scene of the 1990s, financing their debut feature Pieces (1997) with personal credit-card debt. The film screened at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where it was seen by Steven Soderbergh, who was so impressed by the picture that he helped arrange their entrée into Hollywood. The brothers later won an Emmy for their work on Fox comedy Arrested Development, and executive produced and directed early episodes of NBC sitcom Community. They are also prolific commercial directors.

"What Joe and I get excited by, creatively, is exploring all of the different forms of filmmaking," says Anthony Russo. "So this is sort of like a new venue for us to explore Chinese cinema and see where it takes us. It's a very fun creative thing, and it's made possible by the fact the industry is growing so fast there."