Birdman, the 2015 Best Picture Academy Award winner was shot in New York City, telling the story of a washed up superhero actor played by Michael Keaton, looking to make his comeback in a play he has written, directed and starred in based on Raymond Carver’s short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Throughout the film, he is haunted by the voice of Birdman, the superhero that made him famous. Though the film appears to be one single long, tracking shot, director Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki cleverly and skillfully wove together long filming segments, the longest at 15 minutes, most around 10 minutes. Here are the locations used in the film, all around New York City’s Theater District and Times Square:
The principal part of the action takes place at the St. James Theater, located on 44th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue. The theater opened in 1927 as Erlanger’s Theatre, built atop land owned by the Astor family who took over the theater in 1930 and renamed the St. James Theatre. The theater was designed by the firm Warren & Wetmore, who also did Grand Central Terminal. The theater has hosted the Broadway premieres of Oklahama!, The King and I, and Hello! Dolly.
The scenes in Birdman featured at the St. James Theatre encompass the action on the stage, lobby area and exterior, and was shot over the course of 30 days.
The Kaufman Astoria Studios were used for the backstage scenes, which was where, according to the LA Times, “the production crew built an intricate set of cramped hallways and dressing rooms.” To prep for the filming, a set was built in Los Angeles before the filming in New York.
Perhaps the most memorable of the scenes, Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) heads out for a smoke before the last scene of the play. He gets his robe caught in the alley door and finds himself locked out. To get back to the theater on time for the final scene, he has to run through Times Square.
As it wasn’t affordable to completely shut down Times Square for the shoot, the scene was shot live with actual pedestrians and onlookers. It was shot in four takes, with four crew members accompanying Keaton. According to Variety, “To divert attention from the camera, Inarritu hired a group of street drummers who danced and performed nearby. “All the tourists wanted to look at these drummers. A half-naked man in Times Square? They’ve seen that before.”
Read about the Top 10 Secrets of Times Square.
The Rum House in the Hotel Edison on 47th Street is where the interior shots of Riggan and New York Times theater critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan) spar over the play. In the film, the bar appears to be just steps from the theater but in real life it’s three blocks away. Read about the December 2014 closing of the Cafe’ Edison inside the hotel.
The action sequence in the film takes place on 43rd Street between 8th and 9th Avenue. He begins waking up on a stoop after a night of drinking, is followed by his Birdman alter ego and leaps off the rooftop above the red brick De La Salle Academy (formerly the Holy Cross School). In the scenes where Riggan is flying around, he goes past the Helen Hayes Theater on 44th Street:
In the hospital scene, you can clearly make out the New York Public Library at Bryant Park and the distinctive American Radiator Building from the window. This scene was probably filmed from a building on 42nd Street along Bryant Park, but the shot from the exterior as Emma Stone looks out the window may have been filmed elsewhere, as there isn’t a building with red brick facade on this bock.
If you look closely, parts of the set of Birdman changes as Riggan gets more anxious. As set designer Kevin Thompson tells Deadline, “The corridors get narrower, the ceilings lower. The liquor store he visits even changes location while we’re inside—very subtle things, which you might not pick up on. Because there were no obvious editing cuts, people believe in the reality of the camera in a way they wouldn’t normally.”