Is 'Birdman' Really One Long Shot? How The Film Accomplished The Unique Effect

In approach of the Oscars, many of the top nominated pictures are earning more and more theatrical attention. Despite its nontraditional aesthetic, Birdman in the running for Best Picture, Best Actor, and both Best Supporting categories — is no exception to this, attracting viewers all over (and a wave of celebration in turn). Perhaps the most prevalent conversation piece in the Michael Keaton-led black comedy is its camerawork. The film, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, and edited by Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione, bears the façade of one long uninterrupted take. Viewers undergo the sensation of following Keaton and his costars around the dressing rooms of a Broadway theater, and out into the hullabaloo of a crowded Times Square, all in real time. But such is not actually the case.

A lot of technical work went into producing the visual effect in question. Director of photography Lubezki tells The Hollywood Reporter about the complications such an endeavor afforded to the process of lighting the movie: “We were moving lights; we were moving diffusions. There were grips moving with me. Every time you see a shot, there were eight people moving with me. It was like a ballet — that's what made it truly exciting.”

But the on-set toils were only a piece of the equation. Steve Scott, credited on Birdman as the supervising digital colorist, delves into the tireless CGI work that went into producing the veneer of an endless isolate instant in every frame of Birdman. In a conversation with Variety, Scott discusses the task of color correction meant to institute this static effect, as well as “hiding” secret cuts throughout the film. “We brought up the idea of using dissolves between shots, and I talked to our editor [about] those moments where you would never notice a cut,” Scott says. “In the pan.” By which he means the fluid movement of the camera from one visual subject to another. “So [we’d] go into the middle of the pan and by the time we’d get settled, we’re in the midst of the shot.”

Birdman is riddled with moments like these: passages through shadows, arches around dark corners, or adhesions to stationary figures that all allow for “secret” cuts, perfectly amenable to Scott’s touch ups later on. But, as is the glory of cinema and Birdman’s terrific physique, if you hadn’t heard it from him and Lubezki, you might never have known!

Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures (2)