The movie was largely shot inside Broadway's St. James Theatre. Michael Keaton and the rest of the cast had to adapt to Alejandro G. Iñárritu's rigorous shooting style, which required them to perform up to fifteen pages of dialogue at a time while hitting precisely choreographed marks.
Given the unusual style of filming long takes, Edward Norton and Michael Keaton kept a running tally of flubs made by the actors and actresses. Emma Stone made the most mistakes. Zach Galifianakis made the fewest. He actually did mess up a few lines during the filming, but played his mistakes off well enough, that the shots were included in the film.
During the press conference in Riggan's dressing room, he says that he hasn't played Birdman since 1992. That's the same year Batman Returns (1992), the last Batman movie starring Michael Keaton, was released.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu said of the scene where Riggan and Mike are rehearsing the script for the first time, that Edward Norton was looking over the script and commenting about it. Alejandro then reminded him that he was doing the same thing his character is doing in the film. Norton's character is a satirical version of the actor's behavior on-set in real-life.
The scene of Riggan running through Times Square in his underwear was filmed after midnight, so that the amount of real bystanders caught on camera in the shot would be limited, and that the majority of people in frame are hired extras or crew members.
According to Alejandro G. Iñárritu, he had dinner with director Mike Nichols in New York two weeks before he began shooting the movie. Iñárritu told Nichols of his plan for how he was going to shoot the movie as one long take. Nichols predicted it would be a disaster, because not having the ability to use cuts in editing would inhibit the opportunities for comedy. Iñárritu said the meeting didn't deter him, but was instead helpful in raising his awareness level of the difficulty of what he was about to do.
Antonio Sanchez's celebrated musical score, performed almost entirely by drums, was disqualified by the music branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) because it didn't fit their criteria.
Because the film is designed to look like one long uninterrupted shot, no scene could be cut or discarded in post-production. This led to the script taking an unusually long time to finish, as the writers had to make sure that they were happy with every single scene.
The meticulous timing for the scenes meant that takes were cancelled because of the slightest mishaps. Emma Stone, in an interview with Jimmy Fallon, recalled how a six-minute take of the scene, where Riggan first meets Mike was ruined after she walked around a corner too quickly. Because of this, the number of takes for a given scene was high, usually twenty for the shorter scenes, the takes running smoothly, around the fifteenth. Camera operator Chris Haarhoff described it as "a type of dance where everyone would hopefully try to peak all at the same moment."
The words seen in the opening credits are the words written on Raymond Carver's tombstone in real-life: "And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the Earth."
The exact lines spoken from the crazy man outside the liquor store when Riggan is drunk are from the William Shakespeare play "Macbeth," after Lady Macbeth dies. The lines are "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing."
The constant references to the St. James Theatre being "crummy" are an inside joke. In fact, it is one of the most prestigious venues on Broadway, among the many legendary shows that opened there are "Oklahoma!", "The King and I", "The Pajama Game", "Becket", "Hello, Dolly!", and "The Producers".
During the presentation of the Academy Award for Best Picture, presenter Sean Penn said, "And the Oscar goes to... Who gave this son of a bitch his green card? Birdman!" He was making a reference to Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who is from Mexico. Several media outlets found Penn's comment offensive, but Iñárritu said he took it as a joke, as he and Penn have been good friends since working together on 21 Grams (2003).
This film was originally going to be the next project for Alejandro G. Iñárritu and his production team after The Revenant (2015). However, production for that film was delayed by one year, due to Leonardo DiCaprio's participation in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). During that time, Iñárritu and his team wanted to be working, rather than waiting for DiCaprio to be available, they decided to work on this film, which was put aside for some time.
The titles of the movie are an homage to Jean-Luc Godard. They appear in similar manner and use the same font for several of Godard's 1960s films, such as Made in U.S.A (1966) and Pierrot le Fou (1965). Godard is also known for his uses of jump cuts in his movies, whereas this movie has virtually none.
The first movie in thirty-four years to win a Best Picture Oscar without a coinciding Best Editing nomination. The last film to do this was Ordinary People (1980). Both films also received the same number of wins, with four, including Best Director and Best Screenplay.
In the original script, during their confrontation in The Rum House, Tabitha brings home her point, that Riggan is "a celebrity, not an actor", by casually requesting some William Shakespeare from a waiter named Eddie, who then performs a brilliant rendition of the monologue from act V of Macbeth on the spot. In the finished film, a madman in the street bellows out the monologue, then asks Riggan if it was over the top.
Season ten, episode four, "Charlie Work", of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005), and season two, episode eight, "Let's Find Out", of BoJack Horseman (2014), were thought to have parodied the long take style of shooting, and the drum score, for which this film is famously known. However, the episodes were written and made several months before this film's release.
Fittingly, given this movie's setting and subject matter, many of the secondary roles or bit parts are played by people who, in their real lives, have accomplished Broadway careers. Jeremy Shamos (Ralph, who Riggan thinks is a terrible actor) was in seven Broadway shows between 2004 and 2016, and was nominated for a Tony in 2012. William Youmans (Bartender Tommy) was in the Broadway casts of Wicked, Big River, Finian's Rainbow, and Bright Star, among many other shows (and he is also a relative of the great Broadway Composer Vincent Youmans, who was name-checked in Cole Porter's classic song "You're the Top"). Lindsay Duncan (Tabitha, the jaded critic) has been in four Broadway plays, including the production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses that first introduced Alan Rickman to American audiences. Donna Lynne Champlin (Broadway Lady) has performed in such Broadway musicals as Sweeney Todd, Billy Elliot, and By Jeeves. Roberta Colindrez (Broadway Woman on Street) played Joan in the original Broadway cast of Fun Home. Jackie Hoffman (Lady on Balcony (Mary)) has appeared in such Broadway musicals as On the Town, The Addams Family, Xanadu, and Hairspray. Bill Camp (Crazy Man) has been in seven Broadway plays between 1993 and 2016. Michael Siberry (Larry) has appeared in eight Broadway plays and musicals from 1986 on, including leads in productions of The Sound of Music, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, and Spamalot. Stephen Adly Guirgis (Good Neighbor) is an accomplished playwright whose plays include Jesus Hopped the A Train, Our Lady of 121st Street, The Motherfucker with the Hat, and Between Riverside and Crazy (winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama).
The last word formed by the red letters at the beginning of the film is "amor", Spanish for "love", and the play within the movie (and the renowned short story on which it is based) is "What We Talk about When We Talk about Love" by Raymond Carver. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu is Mexican, and a native Spanish speaker.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu received the 2015 Oscar for Best Feature from Sean Penn, who worked for Iñárritu in 21 Grams (2003), alongside Naomi Watts, another "Birdman" actress. Iñárritu revealed during a promotional interview in 2003, that he received a phone call from Penn (before filming 21 Grams (2003)) asking for the project, and was strongly interested about working for Iñárritu.
In a scene where Riggan is in his dressing room talking to his ex-wife, he mentions being on an airplane with George Clooney, who happened to be two rows in front of him. Clooney was the second actor to play Batman after Keaton. The first was Val Kilmer in Batman Forever (1995), then Clooney in Batman & Robin (1997).
Michael Keaton appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Adrien Toomes (The Vulture) in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). Emma Stone portrayed the character of Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man (2014), and Edward Norton previously portrayed Bruce Banner (Hulk) in The Incredible Hulk (2008), which also took place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In the scenes where Sam (Emma Stone) and Mike (Edward Norton) are on the roof of the St. James Theatre, there's a poster on the side of the Broadhurst Theatre across the street that shows what looks like a silhouette of a man attempting to catch a U.F.O., and the caption "the must see show of the season", but no title. This was a visual effect used to cover the real poster for Tom Hanks starring in the play "Lucky Guy", which ran at the Broadhurst from April 1 to July 3, 2013.
When Riggan first walks out into Times Square, a billboard for American Eagle Outfitters appears over his shoulder. The company's headquarters are located in Michael Keaton's hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
At one point, Mike wonders aloud if he'll be replaced by Ryan Gosling. Mike later becomes romantically involved with Sam (Emma Stone). In Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011), Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling's characters become involved.
A television news report talks about Robert Downey, Jr.'s Marvel Comics movies. Downey and Zach Galifianakis appeared in Due Date (2010). In 2017, Downey and Keaton starred in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017).
Alejandro G. Iñárritu: [[Mexico]] Iñárritu includes paraphernalia from his native land at several points. When Riggan enters the liquor store, the walls are covered in Christmas lights, which are in the form of Mexican chili peppers. When Riggan is walking in his underwear on Broadway, the sound of the famous tamales Oaxaqueños that are sold in Mexico can be heard. In the final sequence, the sound of the car that sells camotes is also clearly heard.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Riggan is falsely told that Martin Scorsese is in the audience. In fact, he is. Scorsese can be seen in the audience when Riggan is walking to the stage in his underwear after he walks through Times Square.
In the final scene, Sam brings her father a bunch of lilac blossoms. There is a tradition that considers lilac to be an unlucky flower which should not be carried into a house, and especially not into a hospital, as it's associated with death. The superstition may date from times when its powerful scent was used to mask the smell of dead people laid out in the house.
The film was written using a dramatic device similar to "Magical Realism", Magic realism, or magical realism, is a genre where magical or unreal elements play a natural part in an otherwise realistic (often mundane) environment. Although it is most commonly used as a literary genre (mostly during the Latin American "boom" generation, which includes Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes amongst many others), magic realism also applies to film and the visual arts.
Throughout the film, Phantom of the Opera bulletin boards are visible in the background. Similar to how The Phantom hides his fury and self-loathing behind his mask, Riggan struggles with accepting his true identity as Birdman. Once Riggan finally does come to terms with his true self and flies over the city, the Phantom of the Opera poster continues to appear, but only as a reflection in the theatre doors rather than a concrete, looming presence. In the last act of the film, when Riggin fires a real gun at his head, his face is bandaged in a way to reflect The Phantom's own mask.
Every major lead and supporting character in the film kisses another lead and supporting character, and with each kiss to the lips, it comes unexpectedly. Laura kisses Riggan (before slapping him for not being excited for her pregnancy), Sam kisses Mike (after turning her down sexually), Jake kisses Lesley (after she announces that Mike will be joining the play), Laura kisses Lesley (when Lesley is in tears out of embarrassment), Mike kisses Lesley (while performing in front of a live audience under the bed) and Sylvia kisses Riggan (when he admits to trying to kill himself when they were married).
There are many parallels to William Shakespeare's "Macbeth." Michael Keaton is similar to Macbeth and Birdman functions as Lady Macbeth, pushing him to do as he pleases (to be king, or in this case, to be popular and trending). Also, Macbeth famously pursues a course of action aimed at blocking a prophecy proclaimed by witches, while here Keaton uses all his money and time to stop his show from failing as predicted by a female critic. There is also a scene when Keaton's character leaves a bar, and lines from "Macbeth" are being spoken by an actor on the street. Finally, at one point in the play within the movie, dancing trees are seen on stage, just as in Macbeth.
At the start of the movie after the opening credits there is a brief image of a jellyfish on the beach, which figures in the story Riggan tells his ex-wife of how he once failed to kill himself. At the end of the movie, there is again a scene with jellyfish after Riggan survives the bullet to his head.
When Riggan is on top of the building before he's about to start flying, a woman hanging laundry on a balcony across the street asks if he's for real, or if it's for a movie. Riggan replies that it's for a movie, and the woman yells back that all the movies are full of shit. The woman was played by Jackie Hoffman.
Riggan jumps out a window at the end, believing he can fly like his character Birdman (and judging by Sam's reaction, perhaps he really can, the film leaves this ambiguous). This recalls an urban legend regarding the death of another superhero actor, George Reeves of Superman and the Mole-Men (1951) and Adventures of Superman (1952), who died in 1959 when his career seemed to be at its apex. It was once believed by many that George Reeves jumped from a window, believing he could fly like his character Superman. The truth that he died from a gunshot wound, probably self inflicted, has become more commonly known since the release of the biopic Hollywoodland (2006).
When Riggan buys a bottle of liquor, a man is heard (later seen) saying lines from William Shakespeare's Macbeth, "Poor... player... struts and frets his hour upon the stage... and then is heard no more!" This quote can be seen as talking about Riggan: he has a brief, fretful time on Broadway before he is "heard no more," he (apparently) kills himself.
The story Riggan relates to his ex-wife about attempting to drown himself in the ocean mirrors an incident from A Star Is Born (1937) and A Star Is Born (1954). In those movies, the character of Norman Maine (a washed up actor) succeeds in drowning himself, while Riggan's attempt was thwarted by a jellyfish encounter.
In the very beginning of the movie, Riggan is called on to the stage for rehearsal where he "does" his job and returns to his room and the audience see the TV switched on mysteriously which wasn't the case in the beginning.