When Birdman first came out last year, people couldn't stop talking about its unsettling dark humor, Michael Keaton's meta performance, or the dynamic, jazzy soundtrack. But perhaps the most talked about aspect was the fact that it was a "single-shot" film.
The technologically flawless "single" take was not actually -- the film was comprised of many, many shots, but the techniques used by director Alejandro González Iñárritu, DP Chivo Lubezki, and editors Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione succeeded in hiding the edits, making it all appear as a single take. This video by The Film Theorists explores the ways the filmmakers approached selling this illusion to an audience, even delving into how Alfred Hitchcock approached it on his 1948 film Rope.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=FthEJGR61c8
Pulling this kind of thing off is tricky, because it's not just about hiding the edits -- it's also about giving your editor a good place to hide them. This takes clever choreography from the director, as well as the cinematographer. As the video points out, Iñárritu and Lubezki carefully planned places to make cuts by employing certain camera moves and blocking. But they weren't your typical Hitchcockian "dolly-in-until-the-frame-is-blacked-out" move. (No disrespect to ol' Hitch. He was paving the way at the time.) Instead whip pans and tilts were used by Lubezki to provide a place where edits also love to hide -- in blurred footage.
Through well-choreographed character and camera movement, as well as expertly placed edits, we're able to become immersed in the very immediate, very kinetic story space where a dismantled Riggan pulls us along every step of the way.