Russo and his younger brother Anthony grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, attending the private Roman Catholic Benedictine High School. Despite their scholastic background, the pair were enraptured by movies and comic books at a young age. After making their way through high school and college, the pair attended Case Western Reserve University in the mid-1990s, studying film in the university's graduate school. While there, they worked on their comedic debut feature "Pieces" (1997), in which Joe co-starred. Financed by student loans and credit cards, they finished the film and took it to the 1997 Slamdance Festival. Celebrated director Steven Soderbergh saw "Pieces" at the festival and followed it up shortly after by calling the duo and asking to produce their next movie. At the same time, Soderbergh and George Clooney's production company Section Eight picked up the rights to "Pieces." For their next movie, Soderbergh first insisted that they direct someone else's script, but the brothers were adamant about writing and directing their next project, which turned out to be "Welcome to Collinwood" (2002), a crime caper starring William H. Macy that they toiled on for nearly half a decade. While that movie didn't receive a wide release, it got the attention of FX, leading the brothers to direct the pilot for "Lucky" (2003). Although the show didn't get picked up for a full series, it still lead to greener pastures for the pair. After seeing the "Lucky" pilot, Ron Howard hand-picked the Russos to direct the pilot for "Arrested Development," which earned them an Emmy. Together, the brothers directed more than a dozen episodes of the cult series before moving onto a variety of other TV pilots and series, as well as the Owen Wilson-starring feature "You, Me and Dupree" (2006). Two of those series were the critically acclaimed fan favorites "Community" and "Happy Endings" (ABC 2011-13). Shortly after they directed the legendary paintball-themed episode of "Community," a parody of action film clichés, Marvel's Feige told the pair that they should be making action movies for real. Soon, they began working on "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." Even before the film came out, Marvel announced that the Russos were going to return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to direct the third Captain America film for a 2016 release.
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