Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal appear in Blindspotting by Carlos López Estrada, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Cultured Vultures had the opportunity to sit down in a roundtable interview with Blindspotting director Carlos López Estrada and writer/actors Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal during the 2018 SXSW Film Festival in March.
On their connection to Oakland, the city’s growing identity crisis, and how it affected them beyond Blindspotting: Daveed Diggs: I think Oakland and a lot of cities are changing very rapidly. That is neither good nor bad. That’s progress—that’s how it happens. The tricky thing comes when a city’s development and influx of new people start to ignore the foundation in which it was based on—in fact, try to actively start pushing out the people who created the environment that drew people to the place.
It’s a tricky situation and one that I certainly don’t have the answer to in terms of how I—and I’m sure Rafa as well—have related to it particularly being someone who works away often. I don’t spend all of my time in Oakland. I’m away for chunks of time and then come back. Some things are so drastically different. Families that I knew don’t live there anymore. My mom and dad can’t afford to live in Oakland anymore. My dad was born and raised in Oakland so they’ve all moved further out and further north to Richmond, another beautiful city. There are sort of real life consequences of these things and I think in terms of stuff that we were trying to show in the film in ways that are a little more human. My favorite discussion of “gentrification” in the film is Miles and Ashley trying to figure out where to send their kid to preschool. That’s a direct result of a influx of people and there being a different class of schools that cost more to go to. That is a product of gentrification that we don’t talk about.
On tackling the script together in terms of process for fleshing everything out in Blindspotting: Daveed Diggs: The early days of it—we’ve been writing this for nine years—were literally the two of us sharing a laptop and arguing over every word in the thing. We only had one pirated copy of Final Draft so we couldn’t spread it out across our laptops. That’s sort of how the early drafts came long. It developed slowly over time in spurts…in starts and stops. The last rewrite of the thing really happened very quickly. I was booked up—like running over the place. Rafael hit me up and said, “Jess [Calder] and Keith [Calder] want to do it now. We could make this now.” I was like, “Sure we could but our script sucks now. What do you mean?” He was like, “We should rewrite it.” I was like, I don’t think I have the time to be in the room the way we have ve always done this. What if I go to LA right now and work with them and rewrite it and talk to you every night. I’ll do all the lifting and you poke the holes in it. That’s kind of what we did. The page one rewrite was really Rafael and Carlos and Jess and Keith kind of sitting in a room together and then Rafa calling me sometime between midnight and 2 AM being like, here’s what we decided today or here’s the ten things we think are wrong with that.
Rafael Casal: We just had a process of sitting with Carlos, Jess, and Keith as the people who are going to have to execute all these ideas and make sure that structurally, we’re really sound. Daveed sort of going away for two days and me writing to the best of my abilities the scenes that we needed. At any time there was a point of confusion or an element of this that felt like it wasn’t full tying in, we would sit on the phone for two hours and just talk through the beat of it and what ifs and this character could do this or this person is in this place at this point. We had a fully fledged script, which we weren’t sure we were going to be able to have in time to do this in the one month window that we had to make it. Luckily we did and it was significantly better than the draft prior. That became our shooting script a month before we went into production.
On Carlos López Estrada’s growth as a director: Carlos López Estrada: I feel like I got really lucky with the collaborators that I had for my first movie. I walked into this project with an existing relationship with both the writers and stars of the movie. We had known each other for years. We’ve done a number of projects. Not only have we worked together but we’ve worked on projects that I think we all tremendously cared about and spoke about issues in a way that we were all very excited about.
Blindspotting feels to me like the result of all these previous collaborations. Starting a project like that already gave me more tools than I could have ever imagined that I would for my first movie. I got the job in a coffee shop before even having read the script from just hearing the verbal pitch from Rafa. We had dinner that night. I read the script and we were already talking about dates and actors that we liked and people that we thought could collaborate. I remember just looking around and being like, do I need to send you guys a proposal or do we shoot a test scene? Like how do I—they just looked at me and said no, no, no, we’re doing the movie. You’re doing the movie.
I know it sounds simple but to have that much trust from Rafa, to have that much trust from Daveed, from Keith and Jess—our producers—I feel like it just created this environment where it was safe to try to do the things that were exciting to us. It was safe to—we didn’t feel like there were any filters. I tried to sort of like bring that to the set. I tried for the crew and the set to feel like it was a creative space for all of us to set our best foot forward. So how did I grow? I think I was able to do what I love to do with people that I respect tremendously. I think that allowed me to do the best work that I could have done. I learned a lot from working so closely to Daveed and so closely to Rafa. We spent the last nine months together working every day from sunrise to late, late at night. It’s a collaborative experience that I never would have dreamed of so I’m excited to see where it takes it all. A year ago, I couldn’t have imagined that we’d be here with this movie but it’s certainly changed my life in more than one way.
Summit Entertainment will open Blindspotting in theaters on July 20, 2018.