Blindspotting is a film from first-time filmmaker Carlos López Estrada.
Co-written and produced by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, the film follows two friends, Collin and Miles dealing with life in Oakland and maintaining a friendship amidst all the chaos of their surroundings. Blindspotting is a movie willing to talk about racism, cultural appropriation, America’s prison system and other pressing issues in today’s society.
The Knockturnal: From the looks of the film, you can tell you and Daveed had a great chemistry. How was it collaborating both off and on camera?
Carlos López Estrada: It was great. He’s a cool guy. I’ve known him for a long time, and we’ve loved working together on a handful of projects- music, theatre, and everything in between. I think that really allowed, and Rafa as well, so I think that really allowed for a shorthand on set. I think he trusts me and I obviously trust him as an artist and storyteller. I think it really facilitated the communication on set. We didn’t have a lot of time to prep this movie. It all happened really quickly. We really did have to rely on each other’s skills in order to be able to make this happen. We’re good friends, so that helped as well
The Knockturnal: What about the story made you want to do this project?
Carlos López Estrada: I unofficially signed on to do the project before I even read a script, just because I talked to Daveed and Rafa and they verbally pitched the story to me. Having worked with them for a while, I knew they only become involved with projects that they’re passionate about, and they really care about. After the verbal pitch, I could tell this was a story that really meant a lot to them. I could tell it was very important to tell today. I could also tell that the collaborative experience we would have would be unlike any other I could expect as a first-time filmmaker. I knew this was something that I just couldn’t pass on.
The Knockturnal: The film tackles so many important topics in today’s society like racism, appropriation, the American jail problem. Was this at all intimidating and were they difficult to tackle?
Carlos López Estrada: Definitely. It’s a daunting task, I think, for a first-time filmmaker to work on a movie that deals with so many different ideas, and so many complicated ideas. It’s also very challenging to deal with them as an outsider because I was not born in Oakland because it’s a Black story and I’m not African American. I think there’s a respect that I needed to have going into this knowing that I was going to have to learn a lot as I was putting this movie together. I was also going to have to listen a lot to both Daveed and Rafa so that I could understand Oakland; I could understand all of the things about the city that they’re so enamored with. So for that, and many other reasons, it was a daunting task, but I think we had the right group of people and everyone’s heads and hearts were in the right place. I think we’re happy with how we handled them.
The Knockturnal: Who are some directors that have inspired you?
Carlos López Estrada: That’s a tricky question. I grew up watching a lot of music videos, so I think that was sort of my gateway drug into film. I also played music growing up, so I grew up watching the work of directors like Mark Romanek, Spike Jonze, and Michel Gondry. I think for them, I found an appreciation in terms of film. I went to film school. I started making my own projects. I think for this movie, in particular, I don’t think this is clear from watching, but we saw a lot of Spike Lee movies. We also saw a lot of first-time filmmaker films, not only because we were first time filmmakers ourselves, but because we wanted to make sure we captured that energy that we felt like movies like Good Will Hunting, or Jackie Brown, or movies like Friday. Which are essentially a group of people making movies for the first time and putting all of themselves into it?
The Knockturnal: Speaking of music, music is like another character in the movie. How was it incorporating it into the film?
Carlos López Estrada: It was tricky because, even though music plays a very important role in the movie- it’s not really a musical. I don’t think any of us would describe it as a musical. I don’t think anyone would describe it as a musical. On paper, we do have a few musical numbers, and there are also rap numbers. There’s so many things that are unusual about the use of music. It just went through a number of different phases. At first, I think we had two or more in there that we thought weren’t necessary. We also worked with Jonathan Snipes who is Daveed’s group mate in “clipping” which is his rap group. He produced all of the music, not for the film- he didn’t do the score. He did the songs in the film. I think that helped. Daveed does so much spoken word. He does so much rap that it’s not a foreign discipline to him. I think it just felt like a natural form of expression. Because we were working with so many people that we knew well and that we’d worked with, it never really felt like we were forcing it into the movie or like it was extraneous. It was just a tool that the characters used to express themselves and we tried to make it feel like that. No one breaks into dance; it’s more of a presentation of their internal monologues coming out. I hope they feel like that to people watching.
The Knockturnal: Can you name a film that’s changed your life?
Carlos López Estrada: I can name a few. I think recently I’d seen Do the Right Thing. I’d seen it when I was younger, but I saw it recently when we were putting this movie together. It just reminded me how powerful a movie can be and how it can simultaneously be a really valuable, sort of artistic accomplishment. It can also just be a social mirror of a place and a time and of people. And a time capsule of how the world is behaving. So I would say that one.
The Knockturnal: When filming ‘Blindspotting’ what was the hardest scene for you to execute?
Carlos López Estrada: Probably the argument that Daveed and Rafa have toward the final third of the film because in many ways it’s the most important conversation in the movie. It’s the scene that Daveed and Rafa first wrote nine years ago and kind of reverse engineered the whole film to lead to it. We just knew how much emotionally and physically it would require from the actors. We shot it late at night. We knew that we weren’t going to be able to get too many takes just because of how draining the performances needed to be. That one was specifically challenging.
Blindspotting hits theaters July 27.