We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Tighty Whiteys

Here's how Birdman shot that crazy scene of Michael Keaton in Times Square in his underwear

Nothing to see here….

LAST SUNDAY, BIRDMAN star Michael Keaton lost the best actor Oscar to The Theory of Everything’s leading man Eddie Redmayne.

But Birdman won the big award of the night — best picture — and also took home best director, best original screenplay and best achievement in cinematography.

During the awards show, Oscars host Neil Patrick Harris spoofed one of the most memorable scenes in the movie, in which Micheal Keaton is forced to jog through Times Square in his underwear.

87th Academy Awards - Show AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

The scene occurs after Keaton’s character is locked out of his dressing room mid-performance at a nearby Broadway theatre.


It’s one of the most memorable points in the film.

But what many don’t realise about the key scene is that Keaton really had to dodge unsuspecting, gawking fans in New York’s busiest area — all in one continuous shot with no cuts.

Here’s what the scene ended up looking like in the film.


But the shoot wasn’t easy.

The film’s director, Alejandro G Iñárritu, explained the logistical nightmare to Variety:

There were four takes, starting at 8.30pm. If the shot was too early, the lighting wouldn’t work; too late, the crowd would thin. Crew was kept to a minimum, to draw as little attention as possible. Keaton’s movements were accompanied by only four people: Lubezki [cinematographer]; the focus puller; the boom operator; and the digital imaging technician. Eight production assistants worked on crowd control. Inarritu was close by; for two of the four takes, he shot Keaton with his smartphone for footage used in a subsequent scene in which Emma Stone watches the incident on YouTube…

Because production couldn’t afford to shut down Times Square or fill it with paid extras, real fans and onlookers became part of the shot.

“We worried about security,” Inarritu told Variety, adding that there was a fear someone would stare at the camera or walk into the scene. “There was no possibility to cut away if that happened” since it was one long take, the director notes. “If any scene in the film failed, I could not remove it or manipulate it. It had to be perfect.”

Here’s what the shoot looked like in reality as a passerby in Times Square.

AmdW47 / YouTube

In order to divert people’s attention from the camera, Variety reports Inarritu hired a group of street drummers who danced and performed nearby. “All the tourists wanted to look at these drummers. A half-naked man in Times Square? They’ve seen that before,” said the director.

“Birdman” production designer, Kevin Thompson, explained further to Yahoo Movies:

Having the drummers there really assisted in gathering and holding the crowd, and then also holding space along one side of them. It created an energy that helped, I think.

Now watch the shoot from the drummers’ point of view.

Robert Ford / YouTube

“Even though it does look like chaos, we did have to control the crowd and extras,” added Thompson.

For the most part we just had a ton of film crew dressed as pedestrians that we’d guide, and then all these extras taking pictures. It was very complicated.

Another challenge that production faced was all of the prominent brand advertising in the background of the Times Square shoot.

The “Birdman” legal team had to get permission from each brand to be used onscreen, reports Variety.

But it wasn’t just the Times Square scene that was tough to shoot. The entire film was made to look like one continuous, two-hour shot.

In order to achieve the look, the cast underwent shots that took anywhere from seven to 10 minutes to film, according to Entertainment Weekly.

“Everybody showed up every morning frightened,” Keaton told EW. “The crew too. I think we were all thinking, I don’t want to be the guy who lets everybody down.”

The cast, crew and camera team had to be in sync at all times on the very fast 30-day shoot.

Here’s how EW describes what one mistake would cost them on set:

Anything — a misremembered line, an extra step taken, a camera operator stumbling on a stair or veering off course or out of focus — could blow a take, rendering the first several minutes unusable even if they had been perfect.

“You had to be word-perfect, you had to be off script, and you literally had to count your paces down to the number of steps you needed to take before turning a corner,” Keaton told EW.

But with four Oscar wins, the challenging shoot was clearly worth it.

The small film has been profitable, too. On a production budget of just $18 million, “Birdman” has raked in over $76 million worldwide since its late October release.

-Aly Weisman Mashup of every breath taken at the Oscars is massively uncomfortable

More: Michael Keaton putting his speech away is the saddest Oscars moment

Watch: The brilliant ‘Glory’ performance that RTÉ is sorry it cut from the Oscars

Published with permission from
Business Insider
Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.