Exploring the incredible Single-Shot look of Birdman!

The creativity involved in film making in the recent times often fall under microscopic inspection as film enthusiasts try and decipher the techniques to create the visual illusion. It is quite obvious that a film attracts such mass attention if and only if it excels in some global film podium. Birdman by Alejandro González Iñárritu is one of those rare instances when a film grabbed attention for creating a visual illusion – as if the entire film was a single shot!

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When discussed over coffee the technique was appreciated by a number of film enthusiasts, however, when discussed over whiskey Birdman’s single shot illusion is often regarded as one of the great cinematic magic tricks of all time. If you have not watched the film (you must be very busy), come back after watching it and read the rest of this write-up. Some of you might find it absurd and some of you might wonder about the impossible sense of geography – I am still an explorer!

[For film buffs and intense followers of international cinema – this is not the only one take film that I have watched. There is Ana Arabia by Amos Gitai and there are various instances when a particular part of a film is shot in a long take. However, Birdman is an exception – an exception for all good reasons]

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Birdman delves into the life of a former movie-star, Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) portraying his mind and psychosis in an attempt to regain his lost fame. It is a first person account of the actor who is preparing for a Broadway production depicted in a style that appears seamlessly one-shot. Although the film looks like a 119 minute continuous shot, it is obviously not. The idea behind this blog is to congratulate the team (sometimes I feel I am a part of it) that made it possible and explore the blueprint of such a miraculous technique.

In an article published in Hollywood Reporter in December 2014, the Oscar winning cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki described the entire process of filming as a ‘ballet’.

Describing how difficult the lighting of the sets and maintaining the continuity were, Lubezki said, “That is because, for instance, the light that is lighting Michael at his makeup mirror will create a shadow a minute later if we move around the room. So we had to time all of the lighting changes, making sure you don’t see shadows. We were moving lights; we were moving diffusions. There were grips moving with me. Every time you see a shot, there were eight people moving with me. It was like a ballet — that’s what made it truly exciting.”

According to me, the entire movement of lights along with the camera that provided no clue to crack the single shot illusion gave Michael Keaton the much acclaimed dramatic look. The director, cinematographer and editor along with a team of highly creative people followed the panning of camera and the movement of color to stitch those otherwise long takes (usually in the 10 minute range). A tricky editing and a subtle VFX followed in the master copy.

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Well, theoretically the end result seems quite achievable. However, in reality the cinematography of Lubezki is nothing less than incredible – such flawless movement that it never looked disjointed. I am curious to find out how the entire team decided on this goal. The journey must have been fascinating to say the least. Cinematography is something that I am stating quite profusely in this article. However, it is aided by a pool of creatively genius people who contributed in editing, color grading, writing and most importantly directing the thought which probably seemed like a dream!

One of the striking features of Birdman, the film is probably the confusing and bold use of space. The film was mostly filmed on a mazelike set and the use of space, color of lights and the camera movements were purely out of artistic desire as I understand. And I completely believe that Riggan’s inner state of mind was perfectly described in this process. Whether that was intentional or not, I hold no version of my own. But, to be honest, every time I have seen the film, it excited me; I felt an utmost rush of desire in me that transported me to the sets of Birdman where Iñárritu and Lubezki would probably shoot the next scene planning the perfect transition!

119 minutes of visual illusion – One shot – quite an incredible feat!

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Rejection in the Oscar Awards – Yawning audiences and Duping producers!

We watch movies in theatres and now we have multiplexes to cater our pride and beat the hectic city schedules. But, have we sold our logic and reason to some unknown sheriff from a distant land or are we relentlessly poised to receive whatever trash we are subjected to? The answer to the question seems rhetorical. India produces the most number of films on this planet. However, we are yet to get congratulated by the biggest academy award in films, the Oscars! Let’s ask ourselves. Why?

India’s first ever entry to the Oscar “Mother India” got the nomination in the category of best foreign film, but lost by just one vote. After that it was a long wait of 31 years as “Salaam Bombay” by Mira Nair made it to the list of the last five. Recently, India’s interest in the Oscars was re-ignited when “Lagaan” was nominated but lost to “No Man’s Land”. I said recently to be ironical enough!

It does seem the Academy tends to favour European films with France leading the foreign language film nominations with 34 in total and having bagged nine Oscars, and Italy following with 27 nominations and 10 wins. But the Oscar has also gone to movies with people from Arab, Far East and Slavic backgrounds. Indian films never seem to have fitted the Oscar bill. Satyajit Ray, whom the Academy conferred with the “Lifetime Achievement Award” on his deathbed, never bagged a film-specific award. His “Pather Panchali” won 11 international awards, but no Oscar.

When will India represent Oscars like the ones in Europe and America?
When will India represent Oscars like the ones in Europe and America?

Ironically, Vittorio De Sica, who won two Oscars for “Shoeshine” and “The Bicycle Thief”, had deeply impacted Ray’s work. Even last year’s Oscar-nominated Iranian director Majid Majidi is a self-confessed admirer of the legendary Ray. Besides Ray, many filmmakers and an endless number of films have missed a chance at the Oscars but have gone on to join the repertoire of the finest cinema of the world. They include Jean-Luc Godard and Francoise Truffaut, masters of the French New Wave, and others like Yasujiro Ozu, Michelangelo Antonioni, Mrinal Sen, Claude Chabrol, Alain Resnais, Kristov Zanussi, Robert Bresson and many more.

The other Indian to have won an Oscar is Bhanu Athaiya, well-known costume designer from Mumbai. She was jointly named for the best costume designing for Richard Attenborough’s multiple-Oscar winner “Gandhi” (1982). In 2005, filmmaker Ashvin Kumar’s “Little Terrorist” got nominated for the Academy Award in the Best Short Film category. And then in 2006, “Born into Brothels”, a documentary filmed in part by children of sex workers of Kolkata took home the golden statue.

With Indian studios churning out 1,000 films a year, it has the potential to be a film superpower. An Oscar will help in consolidating its power. But most experts say that India is simply not sending its best to the Academy. We still believe in films that make money in box office and we deprive that handful of quality motion pictures celebrating the bogus and senseless Indian films produced all round the year. Leaving a few alternate film makers who are recently making the headlines, the trend of Indian cinema never took the right decision of making and promoting better stories along with quality screenplay and splendid direction. Believe me, the jury members of the Oscar look for strong scripts with tight direction and not stories of ghosts, disabled people or a historic literature that fails to go up to the standards of Gladiator or Lord of the Rings! So, why don’t we send the right ones?

India's recent entry to the Oscars...
India’s recent entry to the Oscars…

I believe the financiers are skeptical  lest they lose this so-called commercial market and the chance of looting the audiences by showing senseless trash for a tedious 180 minutes! The answers are still resonating down your throat, come on and speak it up! India cannot be a country producing films with rain dances! We have a better appetite for movies and we will claim our rights very soon! Investigate!

Signing off from the desk of mymotionpicture, expecting disarray in the system of film-making in India…

Voice your opinion about Anurag Basu’s “Barfi!”

Anurag's Barfi nominated for the Oscars..
Voice your opinion…