Interview: Director Carlos Lopez Estrada – Blindspotting

Carlos Lopez Estrada is the man behind the camera for Blindspotting, a film two lifelong friends – Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal – co-wrote and star in. The story follows Collin (Diggs) during the last 72 hrs of his probation. The film touches on a lot of serious topics and covers current issues people are dealing with in the Bay Area and other cities across America. Estrada is the man responsible for capturing the many societal concerns addressed in the film while telling a compelling story. He sat down to talk about making his film and how it all came together.

We knew [Daveed and Rafael] were talented and would have chemistry because they’re friends in real life. It wasn’t until the first day when we started shooting and realized this was really going to be something.

I’ve been excited about Blindspotting since I heard about it during Sundance. How did you get involved in the project?

Carlos Lopez Estrada: I’ve known Daveed for 7 years. I went to film school with one of his group mates from Clipping, his rap group. He scored one of my students films and I found out he had a group. I shot a video for them around 6 years ago and we became friends. We worked together a bunch and I did around 6 or 7 videos for them. Right around the time Daveed moved to New York to do Hamilton, I moved to New York for different reasons. At the same time, Rafael moved to New York to work. We started working there together and did a few theater and music projects. When the Blindspotting came about, we’d been working together for so long, it just made sense. We weren’t going to have a long time to prep for the film and the movie was so personal to them, I think they wanted someone who understood them and was familiar to their very particular brand of work.

It sounds like a natural fit.

CLE: We found out the movie was happening in late March of last year and we started shooting in May. There wasn’t a lot of time to think about it.

I had no idea Daveed was such a star. I knew he was good in Hamilton, but he really pops onscreen in Blindspotting.

CLE: I’ve worked with him and Rafael on a number of projects and have known how talented they were. I don’t think any of us expected they were going to be so fantastic. We knew [Daveed and Rafael] were talented and would have chemistry because they’re friends in real life. It wasn’t until the first day when we started shooting and realized this was really going to be something. Rafael had never acted onscreen before. He’d done little projects with his friends on camera and acted a lot on stage, but he’d never been in a movie a certainly never been in a role like this.

One of the pivotal scenes in the film involves the two main characters in a parking lot. The film builds to this moment and then it happens. What was it like shooting that scene?

CLE: We were definitely anticipating that scene throughout the whole shoot. That was the first scene they wrote in the movie. It started with this confrontation they thought was a very important conversation to have. They sort of reverse engineered that into what the movie became. There was a lot of pressure as that shooting day got closer. We saved it toward the end of the shoot, around the second to last week. By then Daveed and Rafael felt so comfortable with each other, the characters, and the crew. This was one scene we wanted to shoot straight through with no stops. I asked them to learn it perfectly and we treated it like play. We knew it was going to be such a draining experience and they could only do it a handful of times. After the 6th or 7th take, Rafael could barely speak. It’s a heavy scene.

There are a lot of very important conversations happening in this film. How did you balance all of it in one film?

CLE: That was a very tricky balance we had to find. We didn’t really find it until the week we wrapped the film. There are so many choices to make sure the comedy wasn’t distracting from the drama and the drama wasn’t distracting from the comedy. There are so many issues the film deals with; we wanted to make sure it never felt overwhelming. If it did feel overwhelming, it felt like that for the right reasons. It was a lot of experimentation seeing how certain scenes played. We also did a lot of test screenings to make sure the feedback we were getting was being considered.

You’re a very young filmmaker shooting this movie with a lot of heavy themes. Did you feel the weight of that during the shoot?

CLE: Definitely, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t. A number of things helped me. Daveed and Rafael had never done a film like this before so it was a journey we were all figuring it out on the go. Our producers were very helpful and our mentors as we were going through this. I shot a lot of shorts, videos, and commercials, but needed someone to be there to guide us in the right direction. We didn’t have a lot of time and by the time we realized we were shooting a movie we were almost done.

There are a lot of really good scenes, do you have a favorite?

CLE: We had a lot of memorable experiences, but I think it was the first day on set. We had been working so hard putting this together and for a while we didn’t know if this was going to happen. It happened so fast, not until a few weeks before shooting that we had the official green light. You get so caught up in all the details and then you show up and see Daveed and Rafael in their costumes. That’s when it hit us that we were making something special.