Producers today lifted the veil on Blue Highway, expecting it will be the first feature-length, live-action, 3D-360, immersive movie made for virtual reality headgear such as the Oculus Rift.
Today the team behind the planned immersive cinema film, Blue Highway, announced they are moving into pre-production on the innovative film. To be directed by best-selling author, photo-artist and filmmaker, David Marlett (who also penned the screenplay), the film will be unlike anything in cinema history.
It will be crafted to be viewed, or better put, experienced, from within virtual reality headgear, such as the Oculus Rift, or the soon-launching Samsung Gear VR, or the rumored Sony Morpheus. “The audience will feel as though they’re in the scenes with the actors,” said Marlett. “They’ll be able to look anywhere, a full 360 degrees, up, down, all around. They’ll be ‘there’. It is cinemersia, an experience unlike anything you’ve had before, and it’s a great fit for Blue Highway.”
“With Blue Highway, David has created a hauntingly beautiful story dealing with some of the most compelling, yet unknowable questions we all face. And his cinematic vision for the film feels right out of a Terrence Malick fever dream,” said Richard Middleton, award winning producer of such films as Hitchcock, I Love You Phillip Morris, and the Academy-Award winning The Artist.
The script is of such a close and intimate nature, with limited locations and a small number of a characters, that the producers, Richard Middleton (The Artist, Hitchcock, I Love You Phillip Morris) and Marlett (author of the best-selling novel, Fortunate Son) decided last year to make it as both a stage play (aiming for Broadway) and a traditional feature film. First came a successful table read at Telsey & Company in New York, with Broadway actors including BD Wong, Isiah Washington, Dominic Fumusa, Liza Colon-Zayas, and Peter Maloney. Then plans were commenced for the production of the film version this year. “With Blue Highway, David has created a hauntingly beautiful story dealing with some of the most compelling, yet unknowable questions we all face. And his cinematic vision for the film feels right out of a Terrence Malick fever dream,” said Richard Middleton, award winning producer of such films as Hitchcock, I Love You Phillip Morris, and the Academy-Award winning The Artist.
— After two strangers pass each other on a lonely highway, they’re each pulled over and taken to an isolated police station where they’re interrogated about a murder that maybe one or both of them committed. This immersive, surreal journey into the realms of forgiveness, despair, guilt and love is an experience that will take hold of you… and never let go. —
Plans changed this year when the sale of Oculus to Facebook for $2 Billion spurred the astronomical launch of the consumer VR industry. Meanwhile, Marlett was engaged in obtaining a PhD in Immersive Cinema from the University of Texas (Dallas)’s Arts & Technology program. “It was an a-ha moment, when it all came together,” said Marlett. “Blue Highway was the perfect material for this new media form.”
Marlett added that the material was inspired by the circumstances surrounding the murder of his writing partner, Nick Kharabadze, killed in the infamous 2002 Los Angeles Russian mafia kidnappings and murders in which the producer George Safiev was also killed. “At the time of Nick’s death,” said Marlett, “we were, ironically, working on the conceit of the story that would later become Blue Highway: Could you forgive someone who has killed you?”
Currently there are three or four areas of entertainment content being produced (to varying degrees of success) for the Oculus. First is the big one: gaming and animation. Then there are non-fiction shorts, including music and sports events, and promotional pieces for traditional films like Interstellar. Then there are a few looking at the horror genre for live-action shorts. And there’s The Mission, a live-action short-film set in a WWII combat zone. “Its all great stuff, and we can learn from each other,” said Marlett. “But I wanted to do something different, to create a narrative dramatic piece from the ground up that will work well as a full feature in the cinemersive space. Immersive cinema is going to be unforgiving. Just because we can tell a story in it, doesn’t mean we should. Audiences will not appreciate being in headgear for over an hour unless the story not only takes advantage of the tech, but would fall short without it. That is not easy to find, but we have it with Blue Highway.”
Marlett acknowledged that though the technological hurdles are abundant, they being conquered quickly, including “the virtual sickness issues, and the perfection of a camera (rig of cameras) that will capture 4K, 3D, at 80+fps in 360 degrees spherically, with a manageable digital workflow. We know that by the time we finish our trial work and re-engineering of elements such a blocking, close-quarter acting, production design and so forth, the camera tech will be ready. In fact, we welcome tech companies to work with us to help perfect their gear.” In addition, Marlett is working with a team to build what he calls a ‘chromadome’, or an immersive green-screen studio.
“At the time of Nick’s death,” said Marlett, “we were, ironically, working on the conceit of the story that would later become Blue Highway: Could you forgive someone who has killed you?”
Marlett, who is also the Executive Director of the National Crowdfunding Association, plans to use crowdfunding and crowdsourcing significantly over the course of the pre-production tests and preparations. “It is a perfect tool for this, to allow the interested crowd to be involved,” said Marlett. There is a current Blue Highway Kickstarter campaign underway for some of the early tech needed, and discussions regarding collaborations with both industry players and academic departments are also underway. Even a popular LA radio station has gotten behind Blue Highway, choosing it among four for promotion.
If all goes as planned, the producers anticipate principal photography could commence as early as June, 2015.