A Closer Look at the Hidden Editing Techniques Used in 'Birdman'

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.     

You Might Also Like

Your Comment


Same principles applied to covering on event (a recording of a band):


More details in an earlier comment.

October 16, 2015 at 2:48PM

Almosh Taltosh

Insightful breakdown, some of these I'd probably not have thought to consider cuts -- I probably would have assumed a lot of the takes were actually longer than they were. However, towards the end of the video two other long takes are cited as having hidden cuts, when they don't have any cuts at all: the opening shot in Boogie Nights, and the van scene in Children of Men. Here's the breakdown for the CoM shot:


I don't have proof for the Boogie Nights shot, but even though PT Anderson does hide cuts in whip pans throughout the film, I suspect that opening shot is actually a single take. Does anyone else know if this is the case?

October 16, 2015 at 3:15PM

Jeff Payne

Boogie Nights was done in a single take.

October 16, 2015 at 4:05PM

Namar Burton

The COM shot is multiple shots into one, when they pan across from the back of the car to the front showing the flaming vehicle, they quickly cut, then they cut again when Miriam gets shot, then a few more times as the window breaks and the police cars go by, then finally when Theo exits the car it goes into handheld. I might do a video analysing this some day :)

October 17, 2015 at 7:10AM


An article about "Victoria" or a real masterpiece as "Russian Arc" would be much more relevant to the topic of single-shot films. Sometimes it seems nothing is produced outside Hollywood, when actually what is done in the whole US is just a tiny fraction of what is been done around the world.
Would be nice to see more original articles (like those of C.Boone for example) and not just video-embedding what some one else has already done.

October 16, 2015 at 8:58PM, Edited October 16, 8:58PM

Jupiter de la Bâtardise

The narrator misses the major thing in most shots he presented - the cuts often also hid a change of camera motion, that means, they changed from handheld to steadicam and then again to handheld...

October 16, 2015 at 11:33PM


Not to mention that I'm fairly confident that the cut between these two shots is not disguised in the slightly blurry water, but a moment earlier as the camera pan down behind Keaton's shoulder. There is a clear jump, especially when played back in slow motion (as he does in this video @ 4:00).

October 19, 2015 at 2:03PM, Edited October 19, 2:12PM