‘Interstate’ dir. Camille Stochitch

Joaquin, a driving instructor who teaches illegal immigrants how to drive, must help a HSI agent arrest his boss, Lalo, during their next drop-off, or he will be locked away. Will he save himself or the immigrants he has been helping?

Writer-Director: Camille Stochitch
Producer: Brett Myer
DOP: Justin Kane
Editor: Franzis Muller
Key Cast: Benny Nieves

C8: Where did the idea for ‘Interstate’ come from? What inspired you?

CS: As an immigrant myself (I’m French but I now live in the US), I’ve always been interested in the global theme of immigration in our society, and in social subjects in general. When I moved to Los Angeles, I was struck by the number of undocumented workers who are forced to live on the margins of society because of their immigration status. I thought of a story inspired by a real driving instructor I met there, who used to help undocumented migrants get papers by taking them to Utah, where you don’t need any proof or residency to get your driving license. The story of Joaquin came from there.

C8: Describe your writing process. How long does a draft usually take you and did it differ at all with this film?

CS: I think it took almost six months overall to go from the very first draft that I wrote in one night, to the final shooting script. Some of Joaquin’s backstory and activities changed, but the main story remained the same. It usually takes me a few days to rewrite, from my notes and notes my team would give me.

C8: Echo Park is a huge landmark for Chicano culture. How early in the process did you decide to film here?

CS: I live in Echo Park, but we actually shot in Boyle Heights and East LA, which are southeast of Echo Park. I always wanted the film to feel real. We started scouting early on all over the East side, and just spent hours driving around until we found the right spots.

C8: Were you worried that ‘Interstate’ would join a long line of films that use Echo Park as a filming location?

CS: I wasn’t, because I don’t think it’s portrayed that much. I got inspired a lot by ‘A Better Life’ and ‘Training Day’, and I think the strength of these movies is that they feel so real (and they have a lot of driving scenes!)

C8: You capture some beautiful shots of downtown and suburban Los Angeles. What do you think the city has to offer to filmmakers as a location? Do you think it is currently overused in commercial cinema?

CS: I think Los Angeles has the best resources for filming. Downtown LA is very cinematic, but we also drove 50 miles northeast to Palmdale and Lancaster to fake our desert Utah locations. Our more lower middle class, suburban areas are all in East LA, which I found so great to film in.

C8: ‘Interstate’ is very much about the American Dream but how did you avoid straying into clichés when looking at this subject?

CS: I read a lot of immigration stories, talked to a lot of people about it. I tried and gather as much personal stories as possible and see what the more general pattern was…  And honestly I also just thought about why the American Dream is still a valid concept nowadays, despite what some people say – it is what brought me here too, this idea that opportunities will strive if you work hard.

C8: What obstacles did you face during the shoot and how did you overcome them?

CS: We didn’t cast our lead, Benny Nieves, until the day before the shoot. This was nerve wracking to say the least. But I just trusted my instincts and a miracle happened! During the shoot, we had a hard time in the desert on the first two days, some of our production equipment was stolen, and we had to move around a lot.  But nothing that was insurmountable and our producer Brett Myer just hid these issues from me and dealt with them, which was awesome!

C8: Upon reflection is there anything you would go back and change about the film?

CS: I would find a better location for the few scenes in Joaquin’s apartment. It was really hard to find what I had in mind within our timeline and budget.

C8: ‘Interstate’ was part of your degree at the American Film Institute (AFI). How involvement did AFI have with the project?

CS: AFI brings a quarter of the budget, as well as editing facilities and the constant support and help from the faculty and mentors. A lot of the crew is also AFI and works for free on our thesis projects.

C8: What had you done up in your career to this point and what have you done since?

CS: Up until I went to AFI, I was working on and off set in Paris as an AD and in development.  But I’m originally an English major and took a radical turn after getting my Masters to go into film.

C8: What, in your opinion, is the essence of a good collaboration?

CS: I think you have to be able to surround yourself with people whose talent you trust, but who can also be your friends, that you also like as a person. It’s also key to listen to and incorporate everyone’s opinions, but also to know which ideas to keep or not.

C8: What’s on the horizon for Camille Stochitch? Any exciting projects?

CS: I co-wrote a feature script about the dangerous influence of social media on teenage girls with another AFI alumni, and we are shopping it around at the moment. I’m also working on a new script on my own, which is a little bit lighter in tone and tells a personal story of divorce and new beginnings. And I’m attached to direct a feature this Spring in New York, if everything goes well!