Play it By Ear: How Filmmaker Reinaldo Marcus Green Went From Working At Chuck E. Cheese To Playing His Film At Tribeca

Reinaldo Marcus Green

Everybody wants to find a way to get paid to do what they love. But the path to making a living off your passions is often an unscripted journey filled with unexpected twists and turns, reinventions and surprises. After all, it’s estimated that our generation will change jobs 15-20 times over the course of our lifetimes.  In our new Play it By Ear series, we’ll take a look at the career 180s that got some of the young creatives we’re excited about where they are today.

It doesn’t take more than looking at our own backyards, at our friends and family, to quickly be inspired to tell a story. And then there are times of searing serendipity when we’re reminded that what’s happening in our own backyards is a reflection of a larger reality. Inspired by the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, filmmaker Reinaldo Marcus Green was compelled to pick up his laptop and write his Sundance-selected short film Stop.

Shot mostly with available light and a handheld camera, Stop is a detailed look at the inhumanity of racial profiling. The short was filmed throughout Red Hook, Brooklyn, and in the real-life apartments of cast members who participated in the film. The treatment is simple but the effect substantial.

Reinaldo Marcus Green wrote and directed under the tutelage of such luminaries as Todd Solondz and Spike Lee via NYUs Graduate Film program. He produced the film with the help of his brother Rashaad Green, who is also an accomplished actor and filmmaker. They have thus far collaborated on several projects under the handle “The Green Brothers.” Since making its Tribeca debut, the film has gone on to play the LA Film Festival and will be playing the Guanajuato film festival in July.

Below Reinaldo Marcus Green briefly descends from an ongoing whirlwind of accolades to share how Stop came to be, and how he went from working at a Chuck E. Cheese to taking his film to festivals around the world.

Where did you grow up? What were you like when you were Xavier’s age?
I grew up in Staten Island, New York. Like Xavier, I was an athlete in high school and college, and played baseball and football.

Can you tell us a bit about your background, ethnic, cultural and/or otherwise?
I’m 1/2 Puerto Rican and 1/2 African American. I have an M.A. in Education and am currently pursing an M.F.A. at NYU’s Tisch Graduate Film School.

How did you become interested in film? During that budding time, what was your favorite movie?
My brother Rashaad is a filmmaker — he inspired me to follow my dreams. He’s my mentor and my best friend. I’ve always loved Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.

Young Reinaldo vs. Now Reinaldo: has there been a personal obstacle that you’ve had to overcome in order to be the filmmaker you are today?
I’ve had over thirty jobs in my life, from dancing as the rat at Chuck E Cheese, to working for an equestrian company doing traveling horse shows, to becoming a director on Wall Street. I think they all tie into my personal narrative to become a filmmaker. I am a teacher, a coach, a brother, and son.

What inspired the look and feel of Stop?
We wanted to keep it very naturalistic, so we shot with only practical lights. My D.P. suggested that we use an anamorphic lens, and when he speaks, I listen.

How did you find your actors? What was your approach in directing them?
Spike Lee recommended I reach out to Keishawn’s mother who works for his advertising agency so I did. Keishawn had never acted, so I wanted to keep his innocence fresh by not giving him a script until moments before the scene. We talked a lot about things that were important to him in his personal life and what it would feel like to loose them.

Your brother is also an accomplished filmmaker and you two worked on Stop together. Can you tell us about your creative relationship?
Rashaad is a super creative and very intelligent guy, with great sensibilities. He understands story and structure. We talk about our ideas; we toss out lots of them. But sometimes they stick. This one resonated with both of us, so we kept it. It really depends project to project who will talk the lead. Rashaad has his ideas that he develops and I have my own. We support each other in our individual processes in order to make the collective project stronger.

Rashaad Ernesto Green and Reinaldo Marcus Green
Read more

“I’ve had over thirty jobs in my life, from dancing as the rat at Chuck E Cheese, to working for an equestrian company doing traveling horse shows…”

Given the topic of the film, I imagine it must make for a pretty lively Q&A. What has the audience response been?
The responses for the most part have been positive. It’s definitely a conversation starter, and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to get people talking about it… for the right reasons. Thinking about it, for the right reasons. And doing something about it, for the right reasons.

Speaking three to ten years from now, what is your goal as a filmmaker? What are you trying to accomplish with your work?
I am telling socially conscious stories that resonate with universal audiences. Like any filmmaker, I think my hope is to keep making films. I want to stick around for a while, I feel like I have a lot to say. I’m open to TV, web, branded, commercials, docs, as well as narratives. They all interest me in varying degrees — and I, as a filmmaker, have to adapt to the way audiences are digesting content. I go where my audience demands us to go, or I create a new opportunity, a fresh perspective, in an already existing channel.