Quality of Life

The world of graffiti writers and art has never before been explored in depth by film or media. Director Benjamin Morgan’s new film ‘Quality of Life’ gives an inside look at the unique subculture of graffiti artists and their essentially public works of art.
‘Life’ chronicles the life of two young graffiti artists, Curtis and Mikey, as they struggle to express themselves through nights of writing graffiti on city walls.
In a very raw sense, the film explores the subculture of graffiti artists and the motivations and consequences associated with their medium of art. ‘Life’ is void of fancy lighting techniques, expensive film sets and well-known actors; this all adds to its immense charm and reality.
The film is rough around the edges in that the cinematography is gritty, giving the film a dark feeling that fits the subject matter perfectly. I found it to be entirely engaging.
The accompanying soundtrack, was amazing, featuring a wide variety of hip-hop and indie rock songs. Each song complemented the tone and pace of the film perfectly.
The film paints a picture of graffiti writers in a real element. I recommend the film to anyone who wants to take a real and entertaining look at the life of graffiti writers in their own environment.
The pacing was energetic and lively, apparently mirroring its shooting schedule and resources. Whatever the reason behind the gritty style of the film, the result was aesthetically unique and added a whole new dimension to the atmosphere of the film.
I caught up with Director Ben Morgan, a San Francisco native to answer questions about the filming of ‘Quality of Life.’
New U: Where are you from and how did you get into directing?
I was born in San Francisco and lived in SF and the surrounding Bay Area for most of my life. About ten years ago, I was working at a residential treatment center for at-risk youth in Santa Cruz. At about that same time, I read Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez and it really lit a fire under me. Rodriguez’s whole plan was to produce three no-budget features, learn as much as he could along the way, and then move on to a ‘real’ film intended for distribution. I adopted this model. It took me about five years, but I finished all three and learned a lot along the way. Then I set out to make ‘Quality of Life’.
New University: What did you enjoy most about directing the movie?
Morgan: Chaos. I love it. There’s nothing like going into battle. We had a really difficult shoot, but, as our [Director of Photography] Kevin Robertson would always say, ‘If this isn’t the hardest thing we’ve ever done, we’re doing something wrong.’ And it was definitely the hardest thing I have ever done.
New U.: What were some of the obstacles you faced while filming?
Morgan: Well, we shot ‘Quality of Life’ in 18 days for $30,000 dollars. We were often getting locations the same day of the shot, which meant no location scouting, et cetera. Graffiti writers create these powerful compelling pieces with little or no resources, and they do so with diligence, passion, teamwork and a get-in get-out and don’t-look-back kind of work ethic. So we adopted the graffiti philosophy as our production model. I think it actually contributed to the authentic, raw feel of the film.
New U.: Where was the movie filmed? Was there a closed set?
Morgan: ‘Quality of Life’ was filmed on the streets of San Francisco, almost exclusively in the Mission District, which is the epicenter of this movement. The community was generally very supportive of what we were doing, since we were showing a side of San Francisco that had never been seen on film before. No shots of the Golden Gate Bridge in the film, you know?
New U: How do you approach actors when you are directing? Do you have a method?
Morgan: First off, I do not over-rehearse the material. We do spend a significant amount of time in ‘rehearsals,’ but it’s more about bonding and character exploration than anything. Also, I always encourage actors to re-write their dialogue so it feels natural coming out of their mouths. And we don’t do a lot of coverage when we’re shooting. It’s pretty much one or two master shots and we’re out.
New U.: What was your favorite part about making the film?
Morgan: My favorite part of the production was working within the graffiti subculture. [Graffiti writers] were so psyched that we were telling their story, not some bullshit Hollywood version. Since Brian Scott, a well-known figure in the San Francisco graffiti scene, was the creative force behind the story, they knew we were going to be true to the subculture. The support we got from the subculture really reaffirmed my faith in this crazy, suicidal project.
New U.: The raw style of the film was very fitting for the subject of the film. Did you choose this style to fit the subject or is this something that you like to do in all of your films?
Morgan: Well, I am definitely drawn to a cinema v