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Quality of Life

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 filmmaker?

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 independent.

- 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

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