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Spotlight: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Director, ‘Birdman’

In his own words, the director explains how the film was conceived as one continuous life experience

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton)—famous for portraying an iconic superhero—as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. Before the film was shot, the project was conceived as one continuous life experience.

Alejandro González Iñárritu: Since the first page of the script, I knew I wanted it to be live and make the audience experience a real point of view from the main character in a radical way. This represented a completely new approach for me and all the people involved, so the challenge started from the script to the last frames of postproduction.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC (holding camera)

These unbroken shots were accomplished with Steadicam and handheld cameras, so blocking and dialogue were timed with the camera movement.

We first blocked, rehearsed and designed the shots in an empty set with stand-ins. In comedy, rhythm is king. So through this process I not only found the internal rhythm of the scenes, but the sets and spaces were designed with enormous precision after we all learned from it.

Chivo [cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC] was the best partner I could have had. Not only is he a master of light, but I think few DPs would have been able to handle the technical requirements of this film. We were not able to light the actors in the traditional way—when you do conventional coverage, you light each angle and have the time to do it. That he was able to accomplish the lighting in this way without compromising the look of the film took incredible skill and craft. I think only Chivo could have done it.

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) and his play’s replacement lead actor, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton).

The actors really had to understand what I was doing—every movement, every step, every turn of the face was pre-decided and meticulously choreographed. Nothing was improvised. It was a study in timing, with the precision of a clock.

I had a picture of [tightrope walker and subject of the documentary Man on Wire] Philippe Petit in my office and I sent a copy of it to every actor. I wanted them to remember that we would all be walking on a high wire—dependent upon precision, confidence and a trust in each other. We could fall very easily.