Tak­ing Flight

Five things you need to know about… the surreal drama cen­tred on an ex- su­per­hero ac­tor

SFX - - Welcome -

The need- to- know on Michael Keaton’s new( ish) su­per Bird­man.


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”

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