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Stitching ‘Birdman’ Together with Editors Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione

Stitching 'Birdman' Together with Editors Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione

The film’s challenge: the number of tracking shots with hand-held cameras and Steadicams made maintaining the film’s continuous shot structure incredibly difficult. And so the editors had to be proactive and creative in collaborating with G. Iñárritu, Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel (Chivo) Lubezki (“Gravity”), production designer Kevin Thompson, Rodeo FX, and Technicolor.

They shot the film in only 30 days at the storied St. James Theater in Times Square and on a soundstage in Queens, which served as the backstage, but not in chronological order due to the compressed schedule. Like the director, who is trying to preserve some movie magic, the editors won’t divulge how many cuts there are or what the longest shot was, but they do describe how they put us inside the wild and crazy mind of Michael Keaton’s former Batman-like superstar.
“They blocked everything out and it allowed Alejandro and us to look at scenes before they were completely shot and fix things that you would normally fix later on in any other movie,” explains Crise. “But the rehearsal assembly was pretty similar to what was shot.”

“It still ends up being the same process but we are little bit more present and vocal in terms of chiming in and getting direction,” adds Mirrione.

The director requested Crise’s presence on set everyday to discuss where to strategically remove edits. They tried different techniques and experiments: panning on walls and posters and the actors’ bodies, with Rodeo FX digitally removing the seams. And without cutting points, they relied on Antonio Sanchez’s percussive score (particularly his incessant drumming) to provide rhythm and pace.

But early on when Crise recommended cutting to Keaton during a scene when he’s interviewed by a group of snarky journos, G. Iñárritu joked, “‘Does Doug know that we’re not cutting any of this movie?”

The director then reshot the scene to put the emphasis on Keaton and Crise was surprised to learn that he had that kind of influence. Yet it’s still about selecting the right performance, which was often tricky during the stitching process. For example, when Keaton performs his monologue in front of the audience at the first preview and the camera pans around him, Ed Norton angrily attacks him and they had to find a natural flow, so they inserted a 20-second wipe while the camera was still moving.

“But if Michael Keaton and the rest of the cast hadn’t been rock solid, they wouldn’t have been able to hang everything on [the continuous take],” Mirrione suggests.

With everything revolving around Keaton’s POV, whether he’s present or not, Mirrione wonders if it all might all be fantasy. But G. Iñárritu isn’t telling. He prefers to keep “Birdman” a poetic mystery.
“The first time I watched it after everything was fixed and done, I really had the experience of a dream,” Crise offers. “Have I seen this before? I have but it was different. Something about not having the cuts makes it harder to organize what you’ve seen, which is really fun. The fact that Alejandro and Chivo and the rest of us jumped into this movie without having a frame of reference for what it would actually be and all the surprising ways that we were able to relate to it beyond what we had planned was great.”

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