November 5, 2014

How 'Birdman' Was Made to Look Like It Was Shot in One Take

How do you make a feature film look as though the whole thing was filmed in one shot? 

Well, Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman was made to look as though it was filmed in one shot. It obviously wasn't, but making it look like it was must've been no small feat for the filmmakers, namely the film's world-class DP Emmanuel Lubezki and editors Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrone. However, Variety Artisans sheds some light on Birdman's digital intermediate colorist, Steve Scott, who had to solve the unique problem of color correcting and grading the frames that were constantly on the move. He shares his experience, as well as the collected effort it took to pull this film off, in the video below:

So much goes into selling the illusion of continuity. For Birdman, Lubezki's cinematography had to be nothing short of miraculous -- moving the camera so seamlessly that it never became disjointed. Crise and Mirrone had to be right on the money with finding good transitions as to not give away cuts (their safe haven being mostly in pans). Scott, like the film's editors, had the same objective, only instead of editing the flow of images, he edited the flow of color in the images, and his work helped make the film what it is now -- a single-shot feature film made up of hundreds of shots.

Really, it takes the effort of the whole team to make something this complicated a reality. Once the goal is set, everyone must pool their creative resources, whether they be in cinematography, editing, color grading, writing, directing, in order for it to work. Think of each contribution as a selling point for the illusion of a single take. The video shows that without Chivo, the movement of the camera wouldn't have been a selling point. Without the Crise and Mirrone, the editing wouldn't have been have been a selling point. Even without Scott, the  control and expression of the constantly changing color and light wouldn't have been a selling point.

Here's the trailer to Birdman, just in case the incredible feat of the filmmakers, as well as the promise of both Michael Keaton and Edward Norton running around in their underwear didn't convince you to see it.

Your Comment

15 Comments

Such a great film! Insight, the direction, and the cinematography, all superb.

November 5, 2014 at 3:29PM

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Caleb Price
Director
192

That trailer was freakin awesome! Haven't seen it yet but now it's a must!

November 5, 2014 at 3:56PM

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Justin Miller
Director/DP/Editor
348

Saw this last night. Blew us all away. So many layers of narrative and commentary and cross commentary. Filmmaking tour de force! Writing and acting is brilliant. Sound design is as good as it gets, real design meaningful design. And then the film being all in one shot just kept it feeling live and under pressure. Simply amazing unique film. I looked for everything behind the scenes to absorb as much as possible the process of making, this clip is neat and the others i've found, but its a lot of promo stuff really.. I hope there will be a real making of about this film because it deserves it.

November 5, 2014 at 7:28PM

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Jean-Marc Abela
Director, DoP, Editor
89

Agreed, want more BTS such a great piece of art.

November 5, 2014 at 11:00PM

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Richard Conti
Camera Assistant
81

the best looking film ever shot on the Alexa. I had no idea it wasn't shot on film and I was in the front row of the theatre.

November 6, 2014 at 8:56AM

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Ed David
Director of Photography
1383

simply incredible. i want to go to there

November 6, 2014 at 4:35PM

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That did not at all say how they made it look like one shot. Cuts in the pan, sure, that's one technique, but there were lots of others used in Birdman. fxguide has a good podcast and write up on this movie.

November 6, 2014 at 4:58PM

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Thomas Koch
Director/DoP
244

What color program is that? I'd love to have those masking capabilities

November 6, 2014 at 5:48PM

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Alex Smith
Documentary/Cinematographer
1476

While it may not be that app. Davinci Resolve and Resolve Lite has great masking and tracking tools. Davinci Resolve Lite is free.

November 6, 2014 at 6:08PM

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Thomas Koch
Director/DoP
244

Alex. Not sure what system you edit with, but Premiere/After Effects also allows for precise mask tracking.

November 7, 2014 at 9:59AM

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Thanks for the replies guys. I have Resolve and CC Suite. From this video, the masking they were doing seemed much better than the experience I've had in Resolve. Maybe I need to approach it again though.

November 7, 2014 at 11:56AM

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Alex Smith
Documentary/Cinematographer
1476

Looks like the color grading was done in Autodesk Lustre.

November 7, 2014 at 4:14PM

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Hitchcock did it with a freakin' giant 35mm camera that was too heavy for a cameraman to carry, so it was on a dolly the whole time:

http://youtu.be/qPKBV5QPzP8

November 8, 2014 at 2:53AM

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William C. Martell
Screenwriter
81

Rope is a great film by him that was done all in one take similiarly. They would shoot in 12 minute takes because that was how long the film rolls were. Every time there was a cut it would like move in on someone's dark shirt to fill the screen for a moment, and then pan off it. Brilliant

December 28, 2014 at 8:42AM

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Jeremy Dulac
Director/Cinematographer/Editor
132

Adam Howard. That's how. Someone didn't do their homework about all the insanely genius VFX that went into this movie. In fairness, it seems the filmmakers are going out of their way to pretend there wasn't TWO different VFX supervisors working on Birdman. Pity, to deprive such talented artists of credit. As much as I love the film, I truly hate this aspect. When it becomes more common knowledge, and I hope it will, it will mar "someone's" reputation. The question is, whose?

December 31, 2014 at 2:27AM

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anyone has a note on how they made the camera disapear in the mirror while Riggin and his exwife are in front of the mirror and then someone comes into the room in the mirror? Is that done by shooting plates of the reflected room afterwards and putting it in via cgi? thanks for a reply

March 5, 2015 at 2:49PM

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harry c
81