Birdman editors Stephen Mirrione and Douglas Crise were faced with a daunting task: how to make their work look completely invisible. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s critically-acclaimed film was shot as a series of long takes made to look like one seamless long take—work that required the editors’ input right from the start.
“It was built into the concept, so we knew going in that each shot was going to blend into to the next and the next and the next, and that the viewer wouldn’t see any cuts,” Mirrione tells The Credits. “Those decisions meant we had to be involved in pre-production, in how the camera was mapped out and how they blocked all the shots. Beyond that, the rest of our work was hidden in the same way that is on all movies.”
“For example, in a normal movie, actors perform the scene, and by the time we put the scene together, we might change the rhythm or move a few frames, make something longer, or take a moment and add a beat or a pause after the fact,” he continues. “By the time we’re looking at it, in context with the rest of the scene, you may need to build in a breath or a beat with that. With this, we could still do that, we just had to do that during the rehearsal process. We recorded and edited all the rehearsals, so that way we could work with Alejandro and we could talk about pacing issues moving forward. If you saw the work we did on other movies, you’d never assume we did the hundred little things we had to do. The same process happened here, it’s just even less obvious. It’s best to assume we did nothing, which was what we wanted.”
Subtracting the possibility of traditional cuts also made one aspect of the film extra important in order to help define rhythm: Antonio Sanchez’s score. “It goes back to Alejandro, when he decided to do this movie this way he probably sat down and made checklist about all the tools he was giving up as filmmaker, and one of those was just the rhythm of a scene, which you can change dramatically with when and how you decide to cut,” Mirrione explains. “Every single cut creates a heartbeat throughout the whole movie that the audience might not be aware of. So we can speed that up, slow that down, etecetra. By eliminating the cuts, we no longer have that tool, so by adding in drum tracks, that gives us the ability to adjust and change that rhythm after the fact, if we need to. That was very important.”