Cinema history is being made in the early hours of this morning, with all eyes on Camden, as Woody Harrelson shoots a full length film in one take, covering two miles of Central London, with one camera, simultaneously broadcast live to 500 cinemas in the US and London’s Picturehouse Central.
Owen Wilson, who featured in the real events the film is based on, also stars, and Willie Nelson makes an appearance too. The film is based on real events in Woody Harrelson’s life in 2002 – which he describes as the worst night of his life. It’s been turned into a comedy – and Camden has stepped in to play Soho, where it would be have been logistically impossible to re-create the events.
Location manager David Broder is also a Camden resident. He explains how he and Woody Harrelson arrived at the decision to film in the London Borough of Camden.
“They outlined the story and what they were trying to do. I thought okay this is crazy but interesting,” he says.
“Woody Harrelson came over… At that stage it was one camera, one take… We looked at real restaurants, real nightclubs, lots of the West End theatres.
“That was with Woody and it took a few weeks to realise that actually to technically do it we needed to set up in one place – which is the old Central St Martins building, where we could have two big sets – our nightclub and a police station setting in the basement, and make that our base.
“Around that time in October the live broadcast idea started to come into the mix, which made it even more complicated and technically it had never been done before.
“Here we are in January and we’ve managed to pull it off. We’ve managed to get permissions for all the locations from the council authorities, the police, Transport For London. Also technically being able to get RF (radio frequency) aerials, transmitters on rooftops, which at last count was 47, that takes a huge amount of work and a lot of cable.
“We have a run that’s nearly two miles in length. This is in central London where that’s virtually impossible to do.”
Following the live broadcast, as David says, “The idea is to turn it into a film for cinema broadcast here and around the world.”
In a brilliant understatement, he agrees, “It’s quite an unusual project,” while adding that working with Woody Harrelson has been a great experience.
“Woody is very engaging and very friendly and he’s a great character,” he says. “Being with him scouting and planning… and just when we’ve gone for a coffee, people approach him and he’s fantastic with everyone.”
David explains how the film pans out: “He was in a play in the West End and he leaves the theatre, goes to a restaurant very close by to meet his wife who’s come in from the States to see him.
“But she’s read a newspaper article where he’d got in trouble with the paparazzi and some scantily clad women in a nightclub with Owen Wilson.
“He ends up in a nightclub and meets Owen Wilson again, which turns into a fight… He gets in a taxi… the taxi driver realises Woody has left his wallet behind… so they get into a big argument.
“The police chase Woody through the streets and then eventually arrest him and take him to the police station… and this all really happened… so this film is loosely based on that story…”
Key sequences have been set up along Grape Street just behind the Shaftesbury Theatre. David says, “We’ve dressed this street to give it a busy West End street feel. This was quite boring, with the blinds down. We’ve opened everything up, lit it from inside, so it feels as if it’s a busy West End Street.”
Local businesses have supported the effort by working with the production to improve lighting and the window dressing. David says, “We’ve worked with the creative agency based here to come up with some designs for the windows. “It helps us because it looks great and modern like a buzzy London West End feeling.”
And businesses have opened their doors to be turned into locations for the film. David describes a studio called IceTank which is “plain white but it was in the right place for us so we’ve turned it into a French restaurant… this is a West End restaurant Woody comes in plays a scene and leaves 15 minutes later. It’s where he meets his wife but things go a bit wrong.”
In the film Woody Harrelson leaves the Shaftesbury Theatre stage door on Grape Street, and walks to the restaurant on the same street with his assistant. When he leaves, he gets into a taxi, drives along Bloomsbury Way and Vernon Place and stops outside Old Central St Martins building for the nightclub scene.
About thirty minutes later, Harrelson gets into a taxi on the corner of Southampton Row. He argues with the taxi driver, gets out and tries to escape across Bloomsbury Park. But he’s arrested and taken to the police station set in Old Central St Martins via Fisher Street.
FilmFixer manages Camden’s Film Office service, and has been supporting the production in this role. FilmFixer director Karen Everett says, “This is an important cinematic event – and yet the filming itself is extremely low key.
“Given that there’s no cabling or equipment in the streets, no generators or lights or noise at all, and nobody on the streets except one camera and the relevant cast members, it’s hard to believe this a big deal starring Hollywood actors.
“Each outside shot lasts no more than fifteen minutes. For a film which could well have a huge impact on the history of film – it’s made very little impact, if any, on the streets where it’s filming.
“Woody has made wonderful donations to a charity local to Grape Street, as well as Friends of Bloomsbury Square and to the Cuban Embassy which is nearby. It’s been an absolute pleasure to support this incredible project.”