Reinaldo Marcus Green’s Big Year
Shortsfest alum’s ‘Joe Bell’ out this week, followed by ‘King Richard’ and Bob Marley biopic
It’s looking like filmmaker Reinaldo Marcus Green’s year to level up as the Aspen Shortsfest alumnus aims to deliver on the promise of “Monsters and Men,” his acclaimed 2018 feature film debut, with two major releases in 2021.
Green has two feature films set for release this year – the first, “Joe Bell,” due out this weekend – and recently signed on to direct a Bob Marley biopic for Paramount. He has studios and the indie crowd behind him and an awards season run ahead of him. But for Green, 39, it’s all still a bit surreal.
“I still feel a little bit like an imposter,” Green said during a talk at the virtual Aspen Shortsfest in April. “Like, how did I get here? I don’t know?”
The first 2021 release is “Joe Bell,” a Mark Wahlberg-led drama based on a true story about a dad who walked from Oregon to New York in tribute to his son, a gay teen who died of suicide. Based on a screenplay by the great Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year to some rough early reviews, and is due in theaters July 23.
In November comes “King Richard,” one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year and a favorite among Oscar prognosticators, with Will Smith starring as Richard Williams, the tennis coach and father to Venus and Serena Williams.
Green worked with the legendary cinematographer Robert Elswit on “King Richard” for Warner Bros. and said the experience was eye-opening – seeing this 71-year-old Academy Award winner show up early and stay late everyday, approach every shot with the meticulousness and hunger of a first-timer.
“I thought I had worked hard until I met him,” Green said. “But I wasn’t working hard before then – I thought I was working hard.”
As to the question of how Green got here, it starts – in part – at Shortsfest. Green’s short film “Stop” was among the selections in competition at the 2015 festival. He expanded it to create “Monsters and Men,” an incisive drama about the police killing of a young Black man. It was inspired by the killing of Eric Garner in the New York neighborhood where Green once delivered pizza.
At the Sundance Film Festival it won a Special Jury Award for Outstanding First Feature and the film launched Green’s career along with helping launch co-stars John David Washington and Anthony Ramos. He returned to Aspen that spring to serve on the Shortsfest jury and then came back for another virtual visit this spring.
Green had, as he puts it, “two full careers” before he began trying to make movies in his late 20s, he explained in the Shortsfest talk. A baseball star out of Staten Island, he reached the cusp of the major leagues with a handful of tryouts before he began his professional life as a kindergarten teacher and then working in human resources on Wall Street (teaching kindergarteners, he joked, helped him craft a skillset for working with actors).
Green didn’t grow up dreaming to be a filmmaker. He got on-set experience acting and working as a production assistant on his brother’s independent short films. Eventually he got credited as a producer, but Green plays down those early days.
“I was really just a glorified brother and helping any way I could,” he said.
Deciding to make a go as a writer-director at age 27, Green entered NYU film. Out of school, he looked to Shortsfest alum Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) as a career model, hoping to replicate how Chazelle built out his debut “Whiplash” from a short to a feature and studying how Chazelle did it.
“I was trying to emulate how you make a successful short film into a feature,” Green said. “It’s not just about adding 80 minutes.”
It worked. The short got interest from producers, including the team behind the indie hit “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and helped Green land an agent, which got the feature-length “Monsters and Men” rolling.
Doors have continued to open, he said, as he sought tough-minded mentors and committed himself to his vision as a filmmaker even in the snakepit of Hollywood studios.
Director Todd Solondz, the dean of downer cinema, has proved to be a mentor whose tough love approach has helped Green sharpen his skills.
“He wasn’t someone who stroked my ego,” Green said. “He was someone who said, ‘This is not good, don’t do that.’ … I like surrounding myself with people who tell me I’m not that good, because it makes me better.”
Similarly, the indie success of “Monsters and Men,” he said, gave Green a confidence in his personal vision that he’s carried with him into the big leagues of filmmaking. As he started agreeing to direct films based on other people’s scripts, like “Joe Bell” and “King Richard,” Green said, he knows it has to be his personal auteur’s narrative for it to work.
That’s what landed him the Marley movie, he believes.
“During my pitch, I wasn’t trying to make their movie, I’m trying to make my movie,” he said. “I had to note be afraid to get the job or not get the job. I pitched my version of that movie, what I wanted it to be, and I walked out of there with the job.”
He still approaches filmmaking as a form of writing, he said. What might be director-for-hire gigs for someone else, he explained, are for Green an opportunity to shape every aspect of a film as a storyteller. “King Richard,” he said, is his most complete story yet — not only his biggest budget and widest expected audience, but the fullest expression of what he can do on film.
“There is something about putting it all together,” he said. “I hope as I continue to grow as a filmmaker that you’ll see the evolution in the work, that I grow better each time. I think ‘King Richard’ will be that film that puts it all together.”
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