Last night in New York, as part of their Reel Pieces film series moderated by Annette Insdorf, the 92Y held a special screening of Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s deliriously wonderful, acerbic, and metatextual “Birdman” (read our review). On hand for the screening were stars Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, and Edward Norton, who offered up a solid mix of chatty conversation and genuine insight. The film, about a movie star (played by Keaton) made famous by a series of superhero movies who decides to mount a Broadway play, seemed perfectly suited for the screening location—a cavernous theater that had been host to countless productions over the years. Read on for the five best moments from last night’s conversation.
1. Something Really Specific Scared Emma Stone
When Insdorf asked about the challenges of dealing with the movie’s super-long and elaborate steadicam shots (it’s stitched together to feel like the movie had been composed in one single take), Stone said that she was really scared of messing up the take for everybody else. “The only time it got really scary was when you would come in at the end of a scene but you hadn’t been in the whole portion before it. So you’d come in and say one or two lines and if you messed up, you’d have ruined the scene for the other actors,” Stone revealed. “Which I did more than once. That’s kind of like my trademark.” Galifianakis then quipped, “Come in and kill it. Literally.”
2. Norton Described The Process As Shooting Without Insurance
Norton, who took on a kind of professorial tone that was even more authoritative than the moderator (who is an actual professor at Columbia), described Inarritu’s style of filmmaking as one without “insurance.” This is an interesting way to look at the movie, something that is totally 100% true considering how carefully crafted most movies are. Norton said, “Alejandro was throwing away the insurance package you have when you normally make a film. The editing process is usually one of discovery and salvage and reinvention. He put himself pretty far out on a limb and we were trying to deliver as much unpredictable magic and sense of spontaneity in each of these chunks, when possible.” Norton (who, it should be noted, has directed before and is a notorious post-production tinkerer) then added, “It was a very liberating way to work.”
3. Norton Then Totally Ruined Christmas Morning
Both the moderator and, we guess, much of the audience who watched the conversation in rapt attention, thought the movie was actually filmed at the St. James Theater, the midtown setting of “Birdman.” Norton then blew that out of the water. When talking about the blocking and staging of the takes, he said, “Just to be clear, everything from the wings of the theater to the belly, were replicated on the stages in Astoria.” Then the audience literally groaned in disapproval, like something had been irrevocably ruined for them.
4. Emma Stone Compared Working With Inarritu to Woody Allen
Stone, who starred in this summer’s Woody Allen film “Magic in the Moonlight,” was asked to compare her experiences on that film with what she did in “Birdman.” “It could not be more different,” Stone said, giggling. “I went straight to ‘Magic’ after ‘Birdman.’ But they both like those long takes. With Woody there’s no rehearsal, no read through, and he says, ‘We’re going to do it in one.’ And then you have a six-page scene in one take. You’re a little more shot out of a canon and there’s less discussion. I felt more prepared for that after something like ‘Birdman.’ ” She added, “Their personalities couldn’t be more different.”
5. Keaton Learned That Nothing Phases New York City
Keaton was asked about one of the more memorable moments in “Birdman”—when his character gets locked out of the theater and has to dart through Times Square, in his underwear, to get back in. He said that the actual staging of a scene was a combination of extras and actual Times Squares visitors, adding that at one point he was pulled aside by a member of the crew. “One of the crew guys, at the end of the night, goes, ‘Show him.'” Another man, who was just passing through Times Square, then rolled up his sleeve of, what Keaton described as “this unbelievably beautiful tattoo of Beetlejuice.” Keaton then proceeded to swoon over the tattoo, saying, “It looked exactly like the character. I go, ‘Holy moly, that is tremendous.’ And the guy is just standing there. He goes, ‘That’s it?’ And rolls up his sleeve and leaves.” Keaton then waited for a minute for delivering the punch line, “The guy never even recognized who I was.” Amazing.
“Birdman” opens in limited release on October 17th. For more “Birdman,” watch the full 45-minute New York Film Festival press conference below.