Watching Alejandro González Iñárritu's new film, “Birdman,” feels like watching a high-wire act being performed by multiple people all at once. The film is constructed in a terribly precise manner that requires everyone involved to be in the right place at the right time.
It might look wonderful and fluid on film, but don't let that fool you for a minute. Making it happen wasn't easy.
That is what two of the film's stars, Naomi Watts, and Andrea Riseborough, told us when we sat down with them last weekend to discuss the movie. They were very forthcoming about just how hard it was.
“Yes, it was definitely up there with the most difficult” movies she's made, said Watts. “The DP was having to dodge around tables; there were tables being removed then slid back in and we had to sort of pretend this was just not happening.”
Riseborough continued Watts' thought, explaining that the actors would be, “Really trying to hit an emotional beat, whatever it was at that time… and then as soon as that was finished, it was get behind a table or get behind Naomi or both of us get behind a wall.”
It wasn't that the experience wasn't enjoyable (Riseborough said it was indeed fun), but there were definitely moments when it felt insurmountable. Watts recounted times when she would look at Iñárritu and know that after 12 hours, the director still felt as though he had nothing usable.
“That's scary,” Watts put it bluntly. “On a relatively low budget film, to think that we're nearing the end and nothing is okay.”
Of that, Riseborough said, “I look back now and I do think he had an extraordinary amount of patience with us.” Iñárritu, as she described it, had to watch on a monitor as something didn't work quite as planned, an experience that had to be frustrating.
Watching “Birdman,” the audience will instantly know that, in the end, they did get the shots they needed. The actresses indicated that there was certainly a sense of triumph on set at those moments.
One of the games that will surround the release of “Birdman” is guessing just how many different cuts there are and how long a single shot may run. It is not a game from which the actors are immune.
While Watts and Riseborough said they couldn't offer the most authoritative of answers there, they have talked about and they think the longest single shot runs 12 to 14 minutes. They believe this longest shot is a scene relatively early on in which there's a wardrobe fitting.
Starting this weekend, you'll be able to play the game for yourself as “Birdman” opens Friday. It also stars Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, and Amy Ryan.