It must have seemed completely bizarre to the tourists who happened to be milling about Times Square that night. There, amid the stories-high billboards and glittering screens, the sprawling stores and Broadway theaters, the barrage of costumed characters hustling for tips, there--was a movie star striding through purposefully in a pair of tighty-whitie underwear.
This was the extraordinary circumstance that began to be posted on Youtube in June of 2013. Michael Keaton, best known for his lead roles in Batman and Batman Returns, was dashing through Times Square with a small camera crew following his every move. It wasn't a publicity stunt or part of some bizarre reality show. This nearly naked jaunt was part of the shooting requirements of Birdman, the new Alejandro González Iñárritu that is winning rave reviews.
Yahoo spoke to Birdman's production designer Kevin Thompson about how the New York theater-set tale accomplished this tricky scene that plays a prominent part in the film's trailers. Shunning a green-screened soundstage, the crew took advantage of the incredible production value and guaranteed hub bub of Times Square by shooting on location, though well after midnight when a movie star tearing through in his undies wouldn't cause total mayhem. Thompson explains:
"Even though it does look like chaos, we did have to control the crowd and extras. 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… but we could use the lights of Times Square, which helped."
Another help was the marching band hired to take part in this sequence, as they essentially served as a wall to protect Keaton as he dashed through a mix of extras and bystanders.
You can see one bystander video below, which shows exactly how the marching band functioned not just as jaw-dropping backdrop, but also as barrier.
Making this location shoot in one of the world's busiest tourist attractions even more complicated was Alejandro González Iñárritu's vision that Birdman be shot as if all one long take. This means that the camera man and Keaton had to weave through the crowd perfectly, or this whole shoot was for not.
You can get a taste of the final product in the NSFW trailer below:
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) opens in limited release today. It's reach expands in the weeks to come.