Mike Nichols warned Alejandro Iñárritu against doing “Birdman” as a one take

“I appreciate that he was so honest with me and it was great, but it was terrifying,” recalled Oscar winner Iñárritu.

Alejandro González Iñárritu had hopes that one long continuous take would skyrocket Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). But famed director Mike Nichols advised Iñárritu not to fly too high with his lofty ambitions.

Before filming the 2014 dark comedy, which went on to win Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography, writer-director Iñárritu sought advice from The Graduate’s Helmer Nichols. The film follows an aging actor (Michael Keaton) as he tries to rebuild his career on Broadway. Other leading roles are played by Emma Stone, Naomi Watts and Edward Norton.

“Two weeks before we start filming, I want to get the advice of Mike Nichols, the king of comedy,” Iñárritu told The Hollywood Reporter. “It was my first comedy. I went to lunch with Mike Nichols between rehearsals. I start saying, ‘Mike, I’m doing this film in one go with these actors in the cinema.’ When I finished he said, “Alejandro, you should stop now. You’re walking into disaster.’”

The ‘Gravity’ director continued, ‘My legs were shaking. ‘What do you mean?’ He begins to say, “A comedy is being made about editing. You cut from one place to another. These actors are not comedy actors. You know nothing about theatre.’ He starts giving me all the points of a genre that he knows very well. And he was absolutely right.”

Iñárritu admitted: “I was scared. We hug, I said, ‘Thank you for your advice.’ I came to the rehearsal and Edward Norton, he was so excited, ‘How was Mike Nichols?!’ ‘It was great.’ I appreciated what he said because it put me on alert. I had to try a lot harder. I appreciate that he was so honest with me and it was great, but it was terrifying.”

Nichols died in November 2014, almost a month exactly after the release of Birdman.

Fellow guest at the THR roundtable, “TÁR” writer-director Todd Field noted that he even heard about Nichol’s warning to Iñárritu.

“I read somewhere that you met Mike Nichols at Birdman and he said, ‘Don’t do an A [a long, continuous shot],'” Field interjected.

As it turns out, the longest shot in “Birdman” lasts around 15 minutes, while most sequences last around 10 minutes. However, the film still feels like one continuous, suspenseful take in which Keaton’s character goes insane. Iñárritu worked with cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki to reflect the feel of a single take, with Lubezki previously telling THR the actors even rehearsed taking into account the camera motion transitions.

“We had to time all the lighting changes and make sure you didn’t see any shadows,” Lubezki said. “We moved lights; we moved diffusions. My handles moved. Every time you see a shot, eight people have moved with me. It was like a ballet – that made it really exciting.”

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https://www.indiewire.com/2023/01/mike-nichols-warned-alejandro-inarritu-birdman-one-take-1234796496/ Mike Nichols warned Alejandro Iñárritu against doing “Birdman” as a one take

Lindsay Lowe

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