Alejandro González Iñárritu, Director of “Birdman”
Final Draft was honored to catch up with Alejandro González Iñárritu at a recent press junket for Birdman, especially since we recently had the pleasure of interviewing Birdman co-writers Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo for The Insider View podcast.
Birdman is such a unique film that Iñárritu is always being asked how the idea for the story evolved. He explains that the idea came to him, in part, while meditating, something he practices to become more aware of his own internal voice.
He was also working with another collaborator on a script he describes as featuring “a character in a tiny film – inside the film – who is dealing with his own ego projected in the mirror.” While working on the idea for this script, the image of the man in the mirror led him to think more deeply about the concept of ego.
He explains, “I said, ‘Well, it would be great to do a film about the ego, but how do you? How do you convey something so internal, such an intellectual process through a narrative?” And that was the trigger for him as a writer: Exploring his own ego while making a story about the ego.
As he delved more deeply into challenge of how to express the internal ego, a solution “came together almost like a monolithic kind of thing.” He decided that the main character had to be an actor. What better way to externalize ego? And at that point he knew it was a project he would want to direct.
One of the most interesting elements of Birdman’s path to the screen is that four writers collaborated on the script. Iñárritu explains that when he works on story, “I need to be shaken, I need to be challenged, I need to be questioned.” Working with co-writers provided that give-and-take relationship that so clearly brought out the best in the screenplay.
The collaborative process behind Birdman truly worked for Iñárritu: “I need to spit stupid things [out] to be transformed into great things, or receive stupid [things] so that I can make [them] great. So, I have found that collaboration between me and another guy, or between me and three other guys … obviously if everything comes from the right place and there is affection and there is a point of view to share, there’s a joy of being together.”
And the critics agree that the collaborative process worked for Giacobone, Dinelaris, Bo and Iñárritu, with nominations and wins already coming in from the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, BAFTA, SAG, and more.
Iñárritu admits that he did bring his director’s POV to Birdman. He never thinks only of character and story in any particular scene but also how things are going to work visually on screen. “I know what I want to say. I think that as a director at the end, you will drive that car. You have to know what [kind of] car you need. So, you have to be very clear on what you are looking for because it’s easy to get lost.”
And navigating a script that explores an idea as internal as ego could certainly lead the screenwriters down long and winding paths – especially with so many writers involved. Iñárritu contends that having several writers enhanced the entire process and his original voice and vision for the film was never lost: “If you are clear in that, I don’t think you lose your voice. I think you enhance your possibilities of your voice.”
He was happy with the script only once he and his collaborators had been through layer after layer of revision. After their exhaustive rewrites, he remembers, “I knew the story was the best [it could be] and it had been squeezed to death, and I like that. I really like that.”
As a writer-director Iñárritu doesn’t stop with story or visuals. He’s even involved in the music, something he attributes to his former career as a DJ. The Birdman score is a huge part of the film’s overall impression on the viewer. Many have commented on how unique and interesting the music is and how it seems to be an integral part of the storytelling process in this film. “I had the concept early on so I approached Antonio Sanchez and talked to him about [my idea]. Then I met him with Pat Metheny – I’m a big fan and he’s an amazing drummer.”
Iñárritu’s score idea developed into the intense beats that echo throughout the film. “I really think that those beats,” he says, “those drums, are the heartbeat of each character. [The audience] just feels the anxiety, like a heartbeat. [The beat] conveys emotions even … [and with drums], which is a very rare instrument to be used in films. They’re strong. They have a voice. It’s great.”
So what advice does Iñárritu have for writers finding their own voice while trying to break into Hollywood?
“I think nowadays … writers [are being given the idea that] the studios and the money is [in] franchises and mainstream [projects] and [writers are] encouraged to be successful [in that way]. I would say that cinema firstly is or should be a medium of self-expression, [much like painting, or music]. It’s important. And I think that the only thing new generations should be aware of is that … film can be a self-expression media and not a product [written solely for] box-office success.”
Strong words in an industry literally driven by box-office success, but Iñárritu believes that everyone doesn’t have to be writing in that mold, that better cinema is created when writers are fearless. “These formulaic thoughts should be really challenged … there should be a much more alive way to do things.”
It seems that challenging those formulas certainly worked for Birdman, a fearless film that captured the hearts of audiences and critics alike. The question for screenwriters is, can more films break out of the formula and find success? There’s only one way to find out.