Lost in London (2017)
(Comedy/Drama – Writer/Director – Woody Harrelson – Starring: Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson, Willie Nelson)
Was it the disaster that many predicted?
Shot and streamed in real time to 500 theaters nationwide, Lost in London is based on an actual night in 2002 that resulted in Woody Harrelson landing in jail.
I gotta admit, sitting in the theater before Lost in London went live, I was pretty excited. I was curious what the film would look, sound, and feel like. The anticipation was rather intoxicating. Of all the potential problems, I anticipated the stream being the most belligerent of them.
Then the movie began.
Other than some tinny audio early on, the production went off without a hitch. The stream was absolutely perfect. The camera work was smooth and consistent. There weren’t any noticeable gaffs in blocking or line delivery. Despite the enormity of the task of shooting and streaming a live film, the players all delivered when it came to the fundamentals.
So that left me free to evaluate the movie as a movie.
That’s where the problem starts. The pacing of the movie is sluggish. It is supposed to be a comedy but a high percentage of the jokes simply don’t land.
Additionally, the story is an unexpected love letter to Harrelson’s wife. One of the major plot points is that Woody had recently stepped out on his wife and the dalliance made the tabloids. (It vaguely reminds me of a beat from Howard Stern’s Private Parts.) She finds out early in the picture and the two remain separated for the body of the film. When the two meet again at the end of the film, the wife just sorta chooses to overlook what happened. Even if it is exactly what happened, it felt flimsy and unsatisfying.
Owen Wilson seemed slightly out of sorts. He feels distracted during the club scene. I suspect it was the pressure of performing live. However, Wilson and Harrelson are real life best friends and that does translate to the screen.
The real highlight of the evening was the live Q & A after the film. Harrelson was visibly relieved that it was over. A moderator read questions submitted via social media for viewers. One query was if this live movie streaming model was the future of the film industry. Harrelson replied that if someone was thinking of doing it to come see him, he would talk them out of it.
Cinematographer Nigel Willoughby was also on stage for the interview. He was a cool customer. While Harrelson conveyed a sense of respite, Willoughby was a cool customer. He projected a “we got this” vibe that made for an interesting counterbalance.
To me, the MVP of the production was the camera operator, John Hembrough. I can only imagine the pressure he was under to shoot the entire picture solo. Beyond the technical aspects of filming, he had the stress of physically performing it. I’m not a big believer in the Academy Awards, but dude probably deserves an Oscar.
Overall, it was an interesting experience. Without the gimmick of being “live,” Lost in London would barely have made a blip on the radar of Hollywood. But this was a first. And the hard part, the technical stuff, was executed flawlessly—or at least came across as such to the audience.
If–when–someone again attempts a production of this type, it won’t have the cache of being first, but it will still have the high-wire buzz of being live. I’d very much like to see someone take another crack at this format.
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