Fox Searchlight hosted a presentation of Birdman at the Director’s Guild of America, Feb. 1. Attendees, including members of the Below The Line Screening Series, enjoyed a Q&A featuring Michael Keaton post credits.
Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman follows an actor (Keaton) once known for portraying a super hero who is now directing and starring in a Broadway play. As his play’s opening night approaches, the actor must confront his ego and deal with matters of family and self worth.
“It would’ve had to have been horrible, just unreadable, for me to say no,” said Keaton. Offering positive reflection on working with Iñárritu, Keaton praised the director’s work ethic and vision. According to Keaton, he and Iñárritu sat down for a meeting wherein Iñárritu explained Birdman and its relation to his personal perspective on modern Hollywood. After being made aware of the director’s intentions and all certain challenges ahead of them, Keaton said yes to the 29-day shoot. “The next thing you know we were just kind of in it, doing it,” Keaton reflected.
Rehearsals proved crucial to achieving the long takes that comprise the film’s cinematographic style. Keaton delighted in recalling the rehearsals, noting their value to both cast and crew. “Rehearsals were very intensive… There was no way to make this movie without that, at all.” For the safety of cast and crew, as much as to the benefit of performance, planning each sequence took considerable time and required all hands on deck. “Everything had to be coordinated and choreographed down to inches sometimes.”
Cast and camera crew became close collaborators on capturing scenes, the crew inventing rigs and methods of camera operation in some cases. Referencing a scene in which the camera flys gracefully from theater rafters to the stage below, continuing to follow his character to center stage, Keaton explained the rig created for the shot. According to Keaton, the camera was mounted to a large square box fitted with wheels. The rig was lowered from the rafters by wire and rolled into action upon touchdown with the stage. “They just figured out how to make it like you would if you were some kids in a basement. I just loved that.”
For Keaton, Birdman offered the challenge of playing several characters, often bouncing from one to the other within the long takes. Added to that, the natural emotional challenge therein “to have to play totally crazy, take a comedy turn and then drop back down into flat-out heartbreakingly sad, then come back up for a funny turn – sometimes not even in the entire scene but within the first quarter of a scene.” Having earned him an Oscar nomination for best actor, Keaton called his performance in Birdman a culmination of everything he’s done as an actor packed into a single film. “I don’t know if it’s my best but might be my favorite in terms of seeing if I can pull it off. I’ll tell you what, I can watch this movie over and over again.”
Birdman has been nominated for nine Academy Awards including best picture, best director (Iñárritu), best original screenplay (Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., Armando Bo), best actor (Keaton), best supporting actor (Edward Norton), best supporting actress (Emma Stone), best cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), best sound mixing (Thomas Varga, Jon Taylor and Frank A. Montano) and best sound sditing (Martin Hernandez and Aaron Glascock).