An Interview with The Green Brothers
We recently had an opportunity to talk with the men behind the New York-based Green Brothers Films, Reinaldo and Rashaad Green. We asked them about how they got into the industry, what they’re working on now, and some information about their past projects.
Hi Reinaldo and Rashaad, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! Let’s get started--how long have you both been making films and writing stories? Is it something that came naturally, or did you just happen upon filmmaking and realized it was what you wanted to pursue?
Our upbringing had a profound impact on our each of our artistic journeys. We grew up in a single-parent household with our father. Our father was passionate about music, movies, and sports. Dad also recorded hours and hours of our lives, and when time allowed, he edited the footage, recorded voice-over and selected music that corresponded with the various images.
Rei: I took a non-traditional route to filmmaking--starting out as an elementary school teacher--which eventually led me to a five year stint on Wall Street--and then finally to film school.
Ra: My first love was acting for the stage, which I never considered until I reached college and had the space and time to explore what I wanted to do with my life. I pursued acting passionately, majored in Drama and English at Dartmouth College, earned a Masters from NYU’s Grad Acting Program and stepped out into the real world where I learned there were forces at work within the industry that at times seemed to separate artists from the art. As an artist of color, especially, it often felt as if I was being asked to compromise my artistic integrity to portray characters that didn’t offer the same complexity and depth as others. To combat this issue, I began writing plays at first but found the theater slightly limiting once I considered the audience I wanted to address. In an effort to speak to and impact a wider cross-section of people, I decided to jump behind the camera to tell stories.
What kind of films have you watched since you were little? Can you share some films that have shaped you both as a person and as a filmmaker?
We grew up on popcorn movies like the Rocky franchise, Rudy, Goonies, Back to The Future, Indiana Jones, Star Wars. A few culturally-relevant films that helped shape our outlook of the world included Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X, Boyz N the Hood, La Bamba, The Five Heartbeats.
Most of your films seem to be rooted in the Bronx, which is where you both grew up. Has this particular landscape, or cityscape, inspired your work?
Absolutely. We were both born in the Bronx. Although we grew up primarily in other parts of New York City and New Jersey, we have vivid memories of traveling back and forth to the Bronx each weekend to spend time with our abuelita and cousins. Our family roots goes back several generations. It's a borough rich with history and culture that has influenced our work in many ways.
Both of you deal a lot with social and cultural issues in your films and screenplays. What inspired you to talk about issues like sexual orientation (Gun Hill Road, 2011) or racial profiling (Stop, 2015)? So many filmmakers are trying to touch on the same issues that you’re bringing to the screen.
Rei: In both Gun Hill Road and Stop, we tried to tell stories that speak to humanity, that resonate universally.
Ra: With Gun Hill Road specifically, I simply witnessed members of my own family in crisis because they didn’t have the necessary tools to deal with change and transformation. I surmised that many families experience similar issues and would be able to relate regardless of their particular circumstance. I didn’t set out to make a film about an issue. I just tried to tell a story about a family.
It sounds like you both support each other’s projects, but beside the few acting debuts you’ve made in each other’s films, do you have any plans to team up in a collaboration?
The Green Brothers is something we started from the beginning. We support each other 100% on all of our projects. Our roles vary from project to project but the goal is to continue making work together for as long as we're in this business.
Both of you have been named, at separate times, one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film by Filmmaker Magazine. Did that honor change your careers in any way?
It was a great honor for both of us. The visibility certainly helped get us noticed--we all know how tremendously difficult it is to break through. We’re extremely humbled and grateful whenever our work is recognized.
Similar to the previous question, you’ve both been to a Sundance Institute Screenwriter's Intensive. What are some of the things you learned by working with talented peers and some of the greats of screenwriting and showrunning?
We learned that every artist has his/her own process and that even the most seasoned writers struggle. It may look easy from the outside, but it really isn’t. Everyone has a unique voice and Sundance helped us to harness our own strengths and abilities.
You’re both deeply immersed in the narrative film world. Did either of you ever have any interest in documentary or nonfiction film work?
Absolutely. Rei is currently directing an eight-episode documentary series for The Players' Tribune. We have a lot of doc-style shooting in our narrative work. It would be fun to blur the line between documentary and narrative and explore other opportunities in that space.
As relatively young artists, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced trying to “break into the industry”?
Like everyone--accessibility and relevancy. We're always trying to stay fresh, remain current, and stay ahead of the curve. There's no magic formula.
Rei: It's like fashion--sometimes you get a total revolution and wild trends and you have to keep up--or not. Sometimes a good old t-shirt and jeans works just fine. The idea is to figure out what works for you in order to tell your stories.
Ra: I’ve always been a huge advocate of following one’s heart to tell the stories you truly want to tell. Trends come and go, but truth lives on. The ultimate challenge is attempting to make one’s truth viable in a competitive marketplace.
Reinaldo, you’re currently working on your first feature film, “Monsters and Men,” which is rumored to be in production over this summer. Can you tell us what the process was/is like?
We've pushed our production back to get the script in the most optimal place it can be. We've gotten a lot of institutional support and are very excited to start physical production some time in the next calendar year.
Rashaad, you’ve stepped away from the independent film world recently and have focused more on television. Can you shed some light on the differences or similarities between those worlds?
Both the independent film and television industry present challenges to a director. In both worlds, you are constantly pressed for time, always hoping and praying you’ll make the day. In the television world, you get paid handsomely for those efforts. In the independent film world, you generally don’t. In television, you get to play with big and expensive toys, you have a seasoned crew of a hundred people who work at breakneck speed, and you get to see the result of your labor along with several million viewers two months after you shoot it. But the material isn’t yours. In independent film, you labor for four or five years to shoot a film with a small crew that only a handful of people will see, but it’s yours entirely. Ultimately, I hope the stability of one world will enable us to traverse the rocky terrain of the other.
What are some ways that you stay inspired? What do you do when you don’t feel inspired?
We meet every Friday night--it's our night together to hang as brothers. No wives, babies, friends or other family members--just us. We stay on top of each other. We're very much inspired by our peers and contemporaries. We thrive off people who make great work, in whatever form. When times get tough, we call each other up and try to keep each other motivated. It can be difficult at times, but it’s much easier to know we’re in it together.
Do either of you write music, draw or paint, or dance? What’s another type of creative expression you do or have done in the past?
We like to dance, but our real moves are with the pen and paper. Our baseball and football playing days were numbered a long time ago. Rashaad used to draw when he was younger and Reinaldo snaps beautiful photos for fun. We both love listening to music. Our father played the guitar and left behind a collection of records that still we listen to.
You both have grown up as young artists trying to make it in the artistic world. Do you have any advice for fellow young artists who may want to pursue a career in the arts?
Ra: Don’t wait for anyone to give you permission to live your dream. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but it’s also extremely rewarding.
Rei: There's no better time than now. “The worst thing in life is wasted talent.” — A Bronx Tale
Interview conducted by Betsy Neis.