Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Emmanuel Lubezki talk ‘Birdman’ collaboration and Oscars

Just hours before winning the Directors Guild Award on Saturday, “Birdman” helmer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu joined his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who won the BAFTA on Sunday) for a a screening of their Oscar-nominated film followed by a Q&A at the Landmark Theater in Los Angeles. Gold Derby was there and shares some of the best answers from these two Oscar hopefuls.

On what led Inarritu to go for a continuous shot in “Birdman
“It has to be a subjective experience. Not observing the character but living through his mind. To really not only understand it or observe it but to feel them we have to be inside, so I knew that was the only way.”

Lubezki on Inarritu’s one-shot vision
“Honestly, no. I was very worried because the tone of the movie is a comedy and the rhythm of the movie. I wasn’t sure if you could tell that story that way. I understood the importance of doing it this way in terms of how to express the emotion of the character and get the audience immersed in the movie, so I thought I was important but I didn’t want to go through it. I thought it would be incredibly hard. He’s completely insane.”

On the comet and jellyfish in the movie
Inarritu: “I saw some comets in some videos and images and I began to understand something that I was feeling but not able to articulate in words in the script. When I thought of that comet it was basically a way to say without saying the state of mind of this guy. He was on fire, he was inspired, he was flying as a superhero as a star. But the most interesting thing for me was when I discovered the jellyfish part, the dead jellyfish. That’s exactly who this guy is. He is a guy who one hour feels like a comet on fire and 30 minutes later he feels like a dead jellyfish. And that’s his life.”

Lubezki: “I love in Alejandro’s work the ambiguity of all these images. And it’s so funny because in America a lot of people get almost upset: ‘What is it? What is that? How come it’s not explained? What does the ending mean?’ I cannot tell you how many people approach me to ask ‘Can you explain? Is he dead? Is he not dead?’ And I just love these images that are almost a poetic approach to the story that don’t really explain but make you feel something. They create emotions and I think that’s almost more important than explaining and being clear on certain things.”

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On their first time working together on a commercial that Inarritu wanted to look like “The Godfather”
Inarritu: “I did this commercial for this corporate channel and I write it, produce it, and direct it. There was no product involved it was just to sell an emotion and it was a discussion at a table, family reunion and the father at the end says some truths. It was about selling the family, so anyway we start like that.” 

Lubezki: “What I remember the most is the first day of shooting was 36 hours. This guy trying to do something that was like “The Godfather” and experimenting and stuff and at the end of this journey I called [Alfonso] Cuarón, this friend of ours this film director, and said: “I think I met somebody that’s going to be a great director this guy Iñárritu” and he said “Oh my God no, he’s a DJ! Forget it.”

Inarritu on his influences and the current state of cinema
“We have forgotten, generally, that cinema has been relying comfortably in a very artificial way that we accommodate events to make everybody standardly connected or entertained. We have stopped exploring possibilities. There was a novel that when I was young I read from an Argentina writer Ernesto Sabato who wrote a little short novel that is called “El Tunel” (“The Tunnel”) and it was amazing because it that, it was basically written with no commas no dots it was like a string of conscious. And all of the Latin American writers, most of them, we play a lot with that. So I think in a way it comes from that culture of us to be playful with the form which at the end it becomes content, and I think that that’s something that has been lost in a way because nobody pays attention. It’s become about the story or the good editing, the commodity of it. To make a film is easy. To make a good film there’s all this war. To make a great film takes a miracle. Everybody can understand how to make a film, it’s very easy technically. That you can learn. The thing that nobody can teach you is the point of view or if you put the camera here or here and that thing just changed the whole film and nobody can teach you that.”

Inarritu’s advice to young filmmakers
“What I say to the students of film is when they are directing their first short film or minute, you are already a filmmaker. You don’t become a filmmaker. You are because this is the only thing that will exist always this present; you don’t “become” nothing.”

Lubezki on his collaborations with Inarritu
“You know what happens when you work with a director like I work with him throughout the years is that you create this conceptual frame of reference that allows you to when you’re experimenting and doing things like that you don’t have to explain too much. It’s very hard to explain but it’s something that doesn’t happen always. It’s very hard as a collaborator to enter into a movie with a director that you don’t know very well and be able to collaborate the way you can with a friend.”

See Oscar rankings when Experts’ predictions are combined

On the first day of “Birdman”
Inarritu: “The first first shot of the film was the one of Emma Stone with the flowers that appeared in the computer. We shot that with a telephone actually and Emma was operating the phone. Then we wound up shooting the floating scene. The most scary thing was a beat before that. He was floating and there was a knock-knock at the door and then the camera pans and there’s the floor manager coming to say “Hey we are waiting for you!” and then she makes a joke. A bad joke. A fart joke. Kind of a very cheesy one. One that you’d find in classic bad comedies and I said: “Oh my God this is very bad.” It was cheap so I said ‘Let me figure this out’ because everything was planned like a clock every meticulous thing. So it was a completely different camera mvoe instead of the way it is now. It was terrifying for me because I stopped and said “This doesn’t work. It’s horrible.” So I had to change that. To change just one little camera angle it was a huge deal because if it’s not rehearsed nobody’s really in time.”

Lubezki: “It’s like a ballet. It’s like you’ve been rehearsing a ballet and you go “oh no no! I want these 300 ballerinas to go like that with flats” and you go like “What!?!”

Inarritu: “It’s almost like a miracle.”

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