January in London can be an unforgiving month. With winter well underway, temperatures average 6 °Celsius (42 °Fahrenheit) and it rains a majority of the time. There is even the possibility of snow on the rare occasion. London’s inhospitable weather, however, is but one of the unknown variables that could thwart actor Woody Harrelson’s attempt to direct and star in the first feature film shot and broadcast live to cinemas.
During a rehearsal for “Lost in London” just last week it wasn’t weather but rather a locked car door that caused one scene to go awry. John Rubey, the CEO of Fathom Events, believes such incidents will get ironed out before January 19, 2017 when the company is scheduled to oversee and distribute the broadcast of the movie to over 550 theatres throughout North America.
Still, having worked in live content at major events like Live 8 his entire career, Rubey is keenly aware of the endless pitfalls that can bring the whole production crashing down. “You have to embrace the unknown,” he said in discussing the project. “Once you embrace not only the excitement and the expectation, but the danger, then you’ve got something really special.”
“Lost in London” found it’s way to Rubey after Harrelson reached out to Lee Roy Mitchell, the founder and Executive Chairman of Cinemark. “I thought it was one of the coolest things I ever heard of in my life,” recalled Rubey of his first conversations with Harrelson about the idea.
The film is loosely based on an incident in which Harrelson, after a night out in London, found himself in a brush with the law that involved a taxi chase. Harrelson, who wrote the script for “Lost in London” will be playing himself, as he endeavors to get home to his family. Owen Wilson and musician Willie Nelson will also be appearing in the film.
When Harrelson first began working with Rubey, he compared the film to “Victoria”, a 2015 thriller about a runaway party girl shot by director Sebastian Schipper in one long take. What Harrelson is trying to pull off with “Lost in London” could also be compared to Alexander Sokurov’s stunning 2002 film “Russian Ark”, which was also shot in one take (and used hundreds of cast members), however unlike “Victoria” that movie only used a single location.
While shooting a movie in a single take may not be as novel as it had been previously (think of “Birdman”), what Harrelson pointed out is that nobody has ever done it live. As Rubey explained, “To do it one camera, one take, and then to do it live from 14 different locations, no stops, in London… in January. Wow!”
Of course, that’s where hiccups like that locked car door can really upend everything, and Rubey wanted to make certain Harrelson was aware of all the challenges that come with a live production. “The more we talked through the logistics, the more I understood that Woody really knew what he was signing up for,” said Rubey. “And I think he understood that he would find it professionally challenging and that his audience would love it.”
“I guess that helps with the adrenaline,” Harrelson said about the risk of shooting “Lost in London” live. “You know there’s 14 locations, there’s 30 cast members, there’s all kind of chances for sound to go out, for the live feed to go out, for some technical aspect of the thing to not work. And every day we work at it I find dozens of things that don’t work, so at this stage it’s surprising that we’re optimistic.”
Though Harrelson can joke around about the complicated undertaking he has created for himself, he does so knowing with the confidence that professionals such as Rubey and his team at Fathom will have his back on January 19th. “I know what can happen and will be fully prepared for everything we’re aware of and what we’re not aware of we’ll deal with,” Rubey said with the unwavering confidence of someone whose pulled off more than a few live broadcasts in his day. “With that being said, what’s the expression… ‘Leap and the net will appear’?”