Following Joaquin, a driving instructor who risks his own citizenship to provide licenses for undocumented workers, Camille Stochitch’s AFI thesis short Interstate raises questions about the tough choices faced by those living on the fringes of society, hoping to build a better life for themselves and their families. We invite Stochitch to tell us more about the development and production of her Student Academy Award-winning and BAFTA nominated short.

How did you develop the concept for Interstate?

The film tells the story of Joaquin, an East LA driving instructor who helps undocumented immigrants get papers by taking them to Utah, where you don’t need a social security number to get your driving license. I’ve always been interested in social subjects and especially the global theme of immigration in our society. When I moved to LA, I was struck by the number of undocumented workers who are forced to live on the margins of society because of their immigration status and wanted to explore that subject more. I thought of a story inspired by a real driving instructor I met in LA, wrote a script and took it to my team. This was all part of our graduate program at AFI. They all loved the script and we started developing it more together, along with our thesis mentor/instructor.

I’ve heard the casting process was particularly fraught. What were the issues and how did you ultimately bring Benny Nieves onboard to play Joaquin?

We auditioned a lot of actors for the lead, but I didn’t feel like any of them were really right. So I kept saying no until the very last minute, and the entire team was freaking out! But we’d already cast Gina Rodriguez and Max Arciniega, who knew each other from before, and Gina suggested I meet another one of their friends, Benny Nieves. I met him two days before we started shooting, and I absolutely loved him! So we just did some wardrobe fittings and that was it! Since Benny and Gina already had a connection, even if we didn’t have time for rehearsals and we started with shooting one of the last and most important scenes between the two of them (in Benny’s apartment towards the end), the fact that they knew each other made it a little easier. And in the end I wouldn’t have traded Benny for anyone else.

What was your approach to the film’s production process?

We had six days to shoot the film, plus one pick up day, so seven days total. But if you count from start to finish, the film took a whole year to get made (3-4 months of development and prep, 2 months of editing, reshoots, then almost six more months of post including the director’s cut, sound, music and color, up until delivery). We got a grant from Panavision and used their XL2 35mm camera package. We also got a grant from Fotokem to develop the film and do a telecine. Our film stock was entirely donated by Kodak (stock 5229) and we edited on Avid (AFI provided the editing bay).

Interstate won the Bronze medal at the Student Academy Awards. Have you seen that win directly affect your career as a filmmaker or the film’s appeal with festivals?

The film definitely got approached by more festivals afterwards, but we’d applied to a lot of them beforehand as well. In terms of career, I got some more attention from the industry, which is good, and that helped me circulate my other projects.

What are you working on next?

Working on a short I’m trying to shoot in France this coming Spring. Developing a feature script and shopping another one around!

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