Five things you need to know about… the surreal drama centred on an ex- superhero actor
The need- to- know on Michael Keaton’s new( ish) super Birdman.
MICHAEL KEATON IS STILL A BIT BATT Y
1 In the rapturously- received black comedy Birdman ( The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomas, former star of three Birdman movies, who now craves critical acceptance by directing and starring in a Broadway play that he’s written. If that doesn’t sound very SFX, then the opening scene – with Riggan levitating in his dressing room – hints at weirder things to come. “It’s about the constant struggle between what we are, and what we think we are, and how we can get lost in these fake ideas of ourselves,” says co- writer Nicolás Giacobone. “And if you’re forced to face that fake reality, it can be catastrophic.”
IT’S A ONE- SHOT
2 The film is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, previously best known for hard- boiled dramas like 21 Grams, but it’s not just the fact that he’s decided to make a comedy that marks Birdman out as unusual. He’s outdoing fellow Mexican Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, with Birdman looking like it’s been shot in one continuous take. “I worked with Alejandro on Biutiful, so I was surprised that he wanted to do a comedy,” says Giacobone. “Also, to do it in one shot! Anybody who knows about comedy will say that’s a recipe for disaster, because comedy is about rhythm, it’s about reaction shots. You can’t have those with a continuous take.”
A QUESTION OF TIME
3 The “continuous shot” technique doesn’t mean the film is in “real time”. Far from it; it takes place over many weeks. This requires some clever transition shots, and was a headache for the writers. “It was frightening because we knew everything we left on the page would end up on screen. That put a lot of pressure on us. The transitions were very difficult to work out and Alejandro did an amazing job with them. His use of time is fantastic – like an actor switching on a light that belongs in the next scene.”
MANY COOKS MAKE TAST Y BROTH
4 There are four writers credited for Birdman – as well as Iñárritu and Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr and Armando Bo also worked on the script. But this wasn’t a case of “pass the draft”. Birdman was a truly collaborative effort. “At the beginning our discussions were about form rather than content, usually over Skype,” says Giacobone. “Then we began meeting, the four of us, in Mexico, Europe, and LA. Slowly we began to discover the story. You have to hide your ego in this weird place and allow yourself to say whatever comes into your mind – even if it’s the worst or most stupid or most mediocre idea ever. It’s difficult to describe precisely how the script happened. Everybody learned how to make this film while doing it.”
5 In the middle of all this, there’s a huge superhero action scene, because Riggan finds it hard to bury his past. “I like when Riggan is on the other side of madness,” says Giacobone. “Every scene with crazy Riggan I loved. And Michael Keaton did it brilliantly.”
Birdman takes flight on Friday 2 January 2015. Check out what we thought on page 98.
“If you were a proper superhero, you’d wear your pants on the outside.”