Greta Scacchi, Alex Etel and Robbie Kay prep for a scene in the film Ways to Live Forever. (photo by Alan Peebles)
Ways to Live Forever is an unforgettable film based on an evocative award-winning debut novel by young writer Sally Nicolls, and stars Ben Chaplin, Emilia Fox and Greta Scacchi. It relates the story of Sam, an 11-year-old boy dying from leukaemia, who wants to ensure that his last few months remain in his family's memory. So he sets about writing a diary and taking video shots of himself, all the time maturely seeking answers to questions about life and death that grown-ups often avoid.
|Cinematographer Miguel P. Gilaberte on the set of Ways to Live Forever. (photo by Alan Peebles)|
A Spanish/British co-production, Ways to Live Forever brought together director/screenwriter Gustavo Ron and director of photography Miguel P. Gilaberte, in the latter's debut feature. They met on Ron's first feature, Mia Sarah, on which Gilaberte was colour grader. "I saw the emotions that Gustavo transmits through a film; the stories he likes to tell. He's passionate about human relationships, friendships and illusions; exactly the kind of stories that I like," says Gilaberte. "When Gustavo finished writing the script, I felt it captured the soul of the story perfectly and I was very flattered when he asked me to shoot Ways to Live Forever. Although it is a drama, the moments when the kids experiment with their lives are really moving and full of life, and that premise inspired me to undertake my first project as DP."
"From the very first draft we began talking about the tone, the looks and the style we wanted. I think it's great to be able to develop the photographic design of a film at such early stages and it helps a lot when you begin looking into other aspects such as costume or production design," responds Ron.
A colourist at Fotofilm Deluxe, Madrid, Gilaberte admits that he "easily won the battle to use film. I love the look of film; it's today's best tool for registering an image. Film has a very rich depth of colour, plus huge latitude, which allows the image to be worked perfectly in post."
"Gustavo said that he wanted to use film stock instead of digital from the very first moment," he continues. "As a director he is especially interested in quality and is always concerned that he achieves the best. He showed his confidence in me all the time and was my greatest ally. What can I say about my first feature, shot in film without any discussion? As a grader, I know what I can expect from the different formats and, definitively, Gustavo chose the best. And when we began pre-production, I told him what we could fix in post and what we couldn't. My premise was to do everything in camera and undertake a basic grading in post. The concept worked really well."
|Young actor Robbie Kay, in his room (studio). (photo by Alan Peebles)|
The final decision on the film's look proved a tricky one. "We wanted it to look very real, but we also wanted to avoid the standard look of television reality. Therefore we decided to sacrifice colour a little and emphasise lights and shadows in a dramatic way," explains Ron.
Gilaberte's next step was to identify ways in which they could make savings in the budget, without compromising on quality. "Gustavo and I preferred 2.35:1 aspect ratio for the film and the best way forward was with 3-perf. It enabled us to save 25% of the film stock and it meant that we could retain the aspect ratio we wanted." Gilaberte chose KODAK VISION3 500T 5219 for interiors as he had worked with the stock on several films in the grading suite. "I love the textures and colours it produces. On the other hand, the excellent contrast and saturation of KODAK VISION3 250D 5207 was the best choice for exteriors and matched 5219 perfectly."
"Shooting in Newcastle, England, in winter was an incredible experience. The light is beautiful but the hours of sun are really short. It was therefore essential to prepare the shots in advance and try to use every last moment of each day. We were working with kids and tight schedules, and every minute counted."
The "great quality" of available natural light precluded the need for any additional lighting on daylight exteriors. "I bounced the sunlight onto different surfaces and used several silks to diffuse it." Gilaberte recalls a challenging dusk-to-night scene when Sam receives an unexpected kiss. "There's a time lapse effect in five shots as they climb up the steps of the lighthouse. It's one of the magical moments in the film. We had shot the establishing shots in the last minutes of natural light then, several days later, we did two shots on a lighthouse set. It was tricky because it was too windy in the establishing shot to use any artificial light, except for a backlight in the interior of the lighthouse, which we gelled with half straw. For the close-ups I had a 12K HMI bouncing in a silk and then diffused it through a half silk to produce a very soft sidelight, similar to the light we had on location. I also placed a 2K HMI gelled with half straw as backlight. I endeavoured to match both set-ups in camera and we resolved several slight differences in grading."
In the scene in Felix's house, the light is more directional and harder. "He is from a different social class to Sam and the location is rather seedy," explains Gilaberte. "All the light in the location came through the windows, with 6K HMIs and frames with half grid cloth. Then I placed several Kinoflos inside as fill."
|Robbie Kay and Ella Purnell in a night scene. (photo by Alan Peebles)|
"The camera generally remained at the eye level of the characters, and occasionally went a little lower. Gustavo loves low camera angles and I must say that the results are really good. We shot wide open with spherical Primo lenses, giving minimum depth of field; a look that Gustavo loves."
"I like working with Miguel for many reasons, but primarily because he focuses on what's best for a movie, even if that means sacrificing what's best for him," says Ron. "His techniques remind me of a craftsman. He walks about the set looking for the smallest details inside the big picture. He is bold when I dare him to take risks and very confident when it comes to trying new tactics. I like that attitude. I think Miguel succeeds in his debut film with one of the most impressive works I've ever seen from a newcomer."
"Grading films is the second best job in the world," concludes Gilaberte - designating his new-found role of DP as the very best. "It's exciting to grade with different DPs and to get involved in features from the pre-production stage. But in this case, as DP, I didn't always know exactly how things were going, so I called different colleagues to see what they thought. Gustavo and I knew very well what kind of aesthetics we were looking for, but we always invited the opinions of others."
Ways to Live Forever is co-produced by El Capitan Pictures and Life & Soul Productions. Miopía Efectos Visuales devised the film's remarkable visual effects.