June 7, 2002. Woody Harrelson, in London rehearsing for his West End debut in On an Average Day, leaves Chinawhite nightclub and hails a black cab. He's drunk. On his way back to his hotel, the star of Natural Born Killers soon becomes restless. "I turned round and he was kicking the inside of my taxi," the driver Les Dartnell later tells The Sun.

After smashing a door handle and an ashtray, the then 40-year-old forces his way out of the taxi, and immediately hops into another one, with Dartnell giving chase through central London. Eventually, the police intercept Harrelson, the actor having fled the second taxi on foot, and he spends the night in a cell. (All charges are dropped after a month when he pays Dartnell £550 for the repairs.)

This implausible tale of alcohol-soaked hijinks forms the basis of Harrelson's directorial debut, Lost in London, which he also wrote and will star in.

Promising humour and pathos, this ambitious new film/theatrical hybrid will be shot in real-time in a single take, and shown live in 500 cinemas across the United States, as well as at London's Picturehouse Central, at 1.30am (GMT) on Friday morning.

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"I've always loved theatre and film and wanted to find the best way to merge the two," said Harrelson last September.

"When I decided to shoot this in real time, I realised it wasn't quite like true theatre because the one piece missing was a live audience. By broadcasting the film live as it is being shot I hope to truly blend the excitement of live theatre with the scale and scope of the film."

The movie represents the toughest challenge of Harrelson's 32-year career, which began with the sitcom Cheers and has since seen him star in films such as White Men Can't Jump and The Hunger Games.

Cara Delevingne, Woody Harrelson, Kanye West and Paul McCartney attend the Stella McCartney show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2015/2016. Photo / Getty
Cara Delevingne, Woody Harrelson, Kanye West and Paul McCartney attend the Stella McCartney show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2015/2016. Photo / Getty

Luckily, he'll have a vast and experienced team behind him. Among the 30-strong, predominantly British cast assembled are his friends Owen Wilson and musician Willie Nelson, both of whom will be playing themselves. In charge of cinematography, meanwhile, is Downton Abbey's Nigel Willoughby, who, inspired by the German thriller Victoria, suggested that Lost in London be filmed in one unbroken 103-minute take.

"Just to give you an idea of the kind of scale," explains the movie's live producer Vicki Betihavas, "there are 650 people on our catering bill. There are 300 crew - production and technical - and 320 extras. And the reason for that is," she continues, "unlike an enormous film, which has a small team moving day to day, scene to scene, we've got 14 locations and there are countless things that go on within those locations."

Actors Woody Harrelson (L) and Matthew McConaughey are old friends. Photo / Getty
Actors Woody Harrelson (L) and Matthew McConaughey are old friends. Photo / Getty

Much of the action will take place in a previously unused building, where multiple sets including a gaudy, Asian-themed nightclub and a police station have been meticulously built. Against these artificial settings there will also be chase sequences on foot and by car across the capital, which is why, says Betihavas, "the cameraman is wireless and his camera is handheld, and why there are 24 sound technicians on board... It's the most complex sound job any of us have ever done," she adds.

This isn't the first time someone has attempted such a feat. Only last year the art-film trio Blast Theory successfully broadcast My One Demand as it was being shot.

Whether Harrelson and his team can pull it off remains to be seen, however. Certainly the project has invited scepticism - not least, rather comically, from his peers. Indeed, in a promotional video for the film, his Hunger Games co-star Jennifer Lawrence calls it "by far the worst" idea he's ever had, while Justin Timberlake joked that it was "f---ing stupid".

(L-R) Gwendoline Christie, Natalie Dormer, Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Julianne Moore attend The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 Premiere. Photo / Getty
(L-R) Gwendoline Christie, Natalie Dormer, Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Julianne Moore attend The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 Premiere. Photo / Getty

Of the many things that could go wrong - the electricity blowing, say, or a cameraman tripping over - Harrelson is most worried about the caprices of the British weather. "It'll be bad if it rains," said Harrelson, speaking to fans during a recent Mashable Facebook Live. He's also had doubts about the concept. "God, I rue the day I had that thought," he admitted last week.

Since then, though, he's being encouraged by two full, filmed run-throughs, says Betihavas. "There was this big feeling of relief from everyone that this thing might just work and be good," she explains.

"So just so you understand the technology involved: there is something in the region of 54 receive points. That is more coverage than Wimbledon and the British Open golf combined."

Whatever the outcome of the production, at the very least we'll now have a more coherent understanding of that infamous night back in 2002.

Lost in London is in US cinemas on January 19 and at Picturehouse Central on January 20. Tickets from fathomevents.com. The film is likely to go on general release in the UK later this year.