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Russo brothers on the numbers of branded entertainment

Russo Smirnoff

A screenshot of the three-minute commercial for Smirnoff Vodka directed by Joe and Anthony Russo.

Hot off their success in directing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Russo brothers are diving into a type of directing not normally associated with creativity, technological innovation, and narrative storytelling. They’re starting a company that makes commercials.

The pair have launched Bullitt, a branded entertainment company that will make long-form commercials with ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise director, Justin Lin. The company is named after the Steve McQueen film from 1968 which they call a great advertisement for Ford Mustang.

Joe and Anthony Russo directed a three and a half minute commercial for Smirnoff Vodka earlier this year. The commercial ran as a 30-second spots on television while the full version was posted online, with the hopes that it would go viral.

The pair has directed commercials since they first got into filmmaking – it was something they did between TV and film projects. “We kind of fell in love with the creative possibilities that you have shooting commercials, “says Anthony. The process is faster than a feature length film or television show and there’s more freedom to be experimental.

The two draw a line between traditional product placement and what they plan to do. Joe points to FX’s Sons of Anarchy as a sort of commercial for Harley Davidson where the product is seamed into the storyline – it’s not overt product placement. “It’s finding new ways to use money to advance creativity.”

And they’re pretty sure advertisers will get on board as services like Netflix get more popular. Joe says, “these are non-advertiser based services, right? So the brands are going to have to find new ways to reach eyeballs.”

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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