Interview with the director of the movie
- Would you introduce to the readers the plot film?
It’s a drama, although it is based on real life—from
shit that Brian (Burnam, co-star, co-screenwriter) and
I have been through personally. The film tells the story
of two graffiti writers struggling to maintain their
lifelong friendship after they get busted for painting.
- How it came to decide to work on such difficult
theme as Graffiti writing?
I grew up in the culture in the 80s, and Brian has been
actively involved with graffiti for the past ten years
or so. So Quality of Life was a very personal story.
- We know you’ve worked as a social worker
in the last decade. Which similarities did you find
working with ASBOs and writers, since these are considered
Anti Socials as well?
Well, I grew up as an ASBO myself, which is why entered
the field in the first place. So working with writers
on this project was very natural for me, especially
since many of them were friends anyway. Most of my childhood
friends sought out some radical form of expression and/or
creative and physical outlets (graffiti, skateboarding,
music, surfing, etc.). Graffiti attracts a very specific
type of personality, one that I am very drawn to personally.
- I suppose you know the graffiti scene has got a long
relationship with medias: zines, magazines, books and
videos have played a big role in the scene, during the
years. Why did you decide to work on a fiction, instead
producing a sort of documentary?
I love documentaries. But I make narrative films. So
when I came up with the idea of making a film set in
the graffiti subculture, drama was the only path. And,
as it turns out, some friends of ours ending up making
Piece by Piece at the same time, so SF was covered.
- What your target was, when you decided to
work on a fiction based on graffiti?
At the end of the day, we wanted to make something that
we were proud of. So, if Brian and I were happy with
the finished product, we knew that our friends would
be happy with it, too. We also knew that since weren’t
making a film about graffiti (it’s more about
friendship and universal human struggles than graffiti)
it would have broader appeal than a straight graff movie.
We have had a great reaction from the subculture. The
film has totally been embraced and supported by writers.
But the reaction from the general public has been very
validating as well. The driving themes are very universal.
Anyone can relate to what these guys are going through.
- Generally, the few experiments regarding graffiti-based
fictions, are quite tragic: wack actors and wack pieces,
plus wack plots bring the film to a sure death.
How the actors have been trained to play such difficult
and unusual role?
Yeah, most subculture films in general fail for a few
reasons. First and foremost, they tend to abandon authenticity.
More often than not, they are made by outsiders who
hyper-focus on the subculture itself (i.e. surfing,
gangs, dancers, whatever), instead of the people and
the relationships. We were very clear from the outset
that we wanted this story to be driven by the characters
and their struggles. Graffiti was merely a backdrop.
And, since the subject-matter was so close to us, we
were able to convey this world in a very realistic light.
Oftentimes, Brian would just relay stories from his
life and we would find ways to incorporate them into
the film. The challenge for us was that we had no money.
In order to get more substantial funding, we would have
had to give up creative control and, thus, would have
been doomed to wackness. You’re kind of fucked
either way. No money, but control. Or money and no control.
Although more money definitely would have made things
easier (and perhaps the film better), we feel like we
made the right choice.
In terms of the actors, Brian was a real writer, but
had never acted. So I had to work with him on basic
filmmaking process. And Lane was an actor, so we had
him learn how to do nice, clean, straight lines, but
then had a friend sub in as a stunt double. A lot of
people ask if they were both real writers, so we know
the actors, stunt doubles, and director of photography
did a really good job. It’s really hard to tell
on the screen
- In the book “Putting the Pieces Together”
there’s an interesting conversation regarding
the fundraising. Did you get difficulties in finding
the right amount of money to produce the film? Could
you tell us what does it means really being an indie
It’s funny, “indie” definitely doesn’t
mean the same thing as it once did. “Independent
films” now have huge stars and even multi-million
dollar budgets. But there are truly independent voices
out there, in film, music, and art. To me, independent
means creative and financial control. On an independent
project, the artists make the creative decisions. If
Quality of Life had been made by a Hollywood entity,
authenticity would have been thrown out the window.
However, as I mentioned, this freedom has a cost.
We struggled so hard to raise the money to make Quality
of Life. Most people who were in a position to support
us, had questions about our approach. We were casting
a real writer as one of the leads. We didn’t do
an expose on graffiti. We refused to exploit the culture
in our marketing materials. Traditional financiers wanted
to ensure marketability. We tried to convey that authenticity
would translate to profitability. But they weren’t
feeling it. So, we ended up raising a little cash from
friends and family. We did a few art shows and auctioned
our friends’ pieces. We had to be really creative
and persistent. We ended up raising just enough for
film stock and food and shot the thing in 18 days. It
was a nightmare of a shoot. Most of the producers were
working day jobs, so we were often scrambling to find
props and locations (and even actors!) the same day.
It was hell. But, in terms of maintaining creative freedom,
it was absolutely the only way to go.
You just have to realise that, if you have a dream,
and you are passionate about it and relentless in your
approach to bring it to fruition, the shit will come
off. That requires a lot of faith and even more blood
sweat and tears. But it is the only way to remain truly
- Ritual question: what are your future projects?
Do you think you’ll keep on working on such themes
like street life or…?
We have a few projects in development. I am
always drawn to stories that I can relate to personally.
So similar-themed films are likely (although none of
our current projects are set in the graff subculture).
We’re still working our asses off to get Quality
of Life out there. But we hope to have some new films
out in the next couple of years. Stay tuned!
Quality of Life is available at www.graffitishop.it