Inside Woody Harrelson's Ambitious, Groundbreaking Live Film Screening 'Lost in London'

With 'Lost in London' streamed into 550 theaters across the U.S. by Fathom Events, Harrelson may have accomplished the first-ever feature-length film shot in real time and broadcast live, but he says he's not ready to do it again.
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Woody Harrelson pulled it off.

The actor found a way to cross the finish line in fine form Thursday night (actually Friday morning, in England) with his directorial debut Lost in London. The word "ambitious" doesn’t quite capture what this 105-minute film was, but maybe this helps: Harrelson wrote, directed, produced and starred in the project — billed as the first feature-length film shot in real time and broadcast live to cinemas — featuring 14 Central London locations, 30 actors, 300-plus crewmembers and one single take. Take that, Jennifer Lawrence!

The film streamed into 550 theaters across the United States through Fathom's Digital Broadcast Network, and it got some traction online from actors Brie Larson and Ed Helms, among others, who tweeted their congratulations. At the 6 p.m. PT screening attended by The Hollywood Reporter — in downtown Los Angeles at Regal LA Live Stadium 14 — filmmaker Spike Jonze was spotted with actor Jonah Hill.

Lost in London employed the tagline “Too much of this is true” because Harrelson wrote the script based on a wild night he had in the city on June 7, 2002, while in town rehearsing for his West End debut in On an Average Day. After leaving the exclusive nightclub Chinawhite, he hailed a taxi for a ride back to his hotel on Sloane Street. Not far from the club, he allegedly damaged an ashtray in the backseat, got into a disagreement with the driver and fled the scene, only to be captured by police moments later and eventually arrested and placed in a holding cell for the night at a local station.

That scenario came to life onscreen Thursday, fleshed out with a fictitious storyline involving a cheating scandal splashed across the cover of British tabloids that subsequently leads to a fight with his wife, run-ins with celebrity pals Owen Wilson (at the club) and Willie Nelson (in a dream sequence from the jail cell, where Harrelson dubs him the "Texas Dalai Lama") and a last-ditch effort to meet Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) at a scheduled set visit the next morning with his two young daughters. Lost in London, produced by Ken Kao of Waypoint Entertainment, also stars Eleanor Matsuura as Harrelson’s wife and Martin McCann and Peter Ferdinando as London police officers. Radcliffe even shows up before the credits roll.

“Even though it was a night I really didn’t enjoy, I thought this would be funny [as a movie],” Harrelson said during a live Q&A in London that was streamed into theaters following Thursday night’s screening, making it close to 4 a.m. local time. “I started tinkering around with an idea writing, and slowly it started to develop. Then the concept of the live thing came [along], and I wanted to film in real time because [the story] does happen sequentially. I found out that it hadn’t been done, but I also found out that there’s a million obstacles, so the reason why it hadn’t been done is because it’s quite difficult.”

The fact that he cleared the many hurdles should prompt marketers to add another tagline about what an impressive technical feat Harrelson and crew pulled off. ("Too much of this truly happened without a single disaster," maybe?) Earlier in the day in London, authorities discovered a WWII bomb in River Thames, forcing both the Waterloo and Westminster bridges to close during the investigation and disposal. The final scene in Lost in London takes place on Waterloo Bridge, but fortunately for the team, it was reopened in time for filming to proceed, and all was not lost.

Harrelson admitted that he found out about the bomb just as he was about to take a nap in preparation for his long night. "It was a bad dream," he joked. "Everything was fine."

And it was. Minus a few dimly lit scenes and some muffled dialogue, Lost in London suffered no major mistakes. Well, maybe one "snafu," admitted Harrelson. Ferdinando walked out of one scene at the police station right before he was due to deliver some important lines. He quickly realized the error and returned seconds later. "That was pretty challenging," said Harrelson. "He just blanked."

Harrelson never forget his own lines, some of which saw him poke fun at his own fame while in line at the nightclub, playing a version of the "do you know who I am?" game by singing the theme song to Cheers and running through his own filmography. His attempts to gain entrance are denied after being met with clever put-downs by the burly doormen, though he eventually gets past the velvet ropes. Some of the film’s more hilarious moments come during Harrelson’s club scenes opposite real-life close friend Wilson in a fictitious club called Crave.

The two argue after Wilson gushes about his "best friend" Wes Anderson, a status that makes Harrelson jealous, leading him to insult the filmmaker as a “precious” director who tries too hard. “[Wes Anderson] is a Woody Allen wannabe who hasn’t made a good movie since Bottle Rocket,” disses Harrelson. Wilson’s comeback, which garnered laughs throughout the theater, is that he was the first person offered the role of Larry Flynt in The People vs. Larry Flynt, a role that garnered Harrelson an Oscar nomination.

“You haven’t had sex appeal since the ‘80s,” claims Wilson. Not to be outdone, Harrelson retorts, “You got outacted by a dog in Marley & Me.” Another comical moment came when Harrelson phones Bono while in the back of the police car in an effort to impress the cops. The U2 frontman’s wife, Ali Hewson, answers, and before she puts Bono on the phone, she blames Harrelson, a proud pot enthusiast, for getting her husband hooked on weed by claiming it would fix his glaucoma. Bono eventually answers and rattles on using a Jamaican accent.

During the nearly 30-minute Q&A held on a stage inside Crave, Harrelson, clearly knackered from the exhaustive shoot, admitted that the Bono phone call was prerecorded because it was in the middle of the night. "It was his idea to do the whole reggae thing," he continued. "He basically wrote all that stuff — good vibrations all across the nation. It was so funny, man."

Cinematographer Nigel Willoughby, who received Harrelson's first phone call when lining up the production, joined Harrelson for the Q&A with others including Wilson, Kao, McCann, Ferdinando and the man who delivered a "herculean effort," camera operator John Hembrough.

"This man's dedication and expertise are beyond belief," praised Willoughby after dishing on his anxiety heading up to the live shoot, even with four weeks of meticulous rehearsals. "I had many, many, many, many, many, many sleepless nights."

Willoughby also said that 150 microphones were used, overseen by 24 members on the sound crew. Kao said the secret to their “incredible experience” was to stay nimble and adapt to every situation. “Fly by seat of your pants, and shift as the wind goes,” he said.

But now that they've flown, Harrelson said he's ready to stay grounded and never attempt a live film production again. "If someone was thinking of doing it, all they would have to do is talk to me, and I would talk them out of it," he said definitively. "I would never do this again — ever."

He credited his wife, Laura, with talking him off the ledge several times and helping him to finish the theatrical experiment, which he also described as a "weird love letter" to her.

As for what happens next, there are several answers. First, a rep for Fathom tells THR that there are "discussions" about the film going into postproduction, where it could be prepped for a wide release, though no details have been announced.

And lastly, Harrelson provided the answer for the night's other burning question. It was the middle of the night in England, where more than 300 cast and crewmembers were gathered on the nightclub set watching their fearless leader finish answering questions about what they all had just accomplished when the moderator inquired, "What now?"

Without missing a beat, the 55-year-old declared, "I'm ready to party."

No word on how he got home or if any other taxis were harmed on the way. Lost in London 2?
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