Taking the Blue Highway to Cinemersia

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Thu, 11/20/2014 - 10:37 -- Nick Dager

Blue HighwayPre-production has begun on Blue Highway, which the filmmakers intend to be unlike any film in cinema history. Written and directed by David Marlett (author of the best-selling novel, Fortunate Son) Blue Highway will be crafted to be viewed, or better put, experienced, from within virtual reality headgear, such as the Oculus Rift, or the soon-to-launch 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 producer Richard Middleton (The Artist, Hitchcock, I Love You Phillip Morris).

The script is of such a close and intimate nature, with limited locations and a small number of a characters, that the producers, Middleton and Marlett decided last year to make it as both a stage play (aiming for Broadway) and a traditional feature film. Blue Highway tells the story of two strangers who pass each other on a lonely highway, and are 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.

First came a successful table read at Telsey & Company in New York, with Broadway actors including B.D. Wong, Isiah Washington, Dominic Fumusa, Liza Colon-Zayas, and Peter Maloney.

Plans changed this year when the sale of Oculus to Facebook for $2 Billion spurred the astronomical launch of the consumer virtual reality 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 said 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 the murders in which the producer George Safiev was killed.

Marlett said, "At the time of Nick's death, 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."

Marlett is working with a team to build what he calls a chromadome, or an immersive green-screen studio.

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 (http://kck.st/1tETrS0) underway for some of the early tech needed, and discussions regarding collaborations with both industry players and academic departments are also underway. If all goes as planned, the producers anticipate principal photography could begin as early as June 2015.

See more details and Marlett's blog on the subject at www.cinemersia.com.