Interview with Alexander Dinelaris, co-writer of BIRDMAN
“Birdman” co-writer Alexander Dinelaris talks to us about working on the critically acclaimed film and shares his advice for aspiring screenwriters!
“Birdman” was released on October 17th and stars Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Michael Keaton, Benjamin Kanes, Merritt Wever, Amy Ryan, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, and Zach Galifinakis. Here are some of Alexander’s thoughts regarding “Birdman” and how aspiring screenwriters can get a start in the industry:
BlueCat: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
AD: I studied theater directing and wrote a play called “Folding the Monster” sometime in the late 90s. I was fortunate enough to get Danny Aiello and Rosie O’Donnell to do a few readings of it. We had plans to go to a Broadway theater, but it all ended up falling through. However, it got me onto a track of writing. I wrote several plays that were produced here in New York, and I moved into film shortly after that.
BlueCat: What was the first film you wrote?
AD: The first film I wrote was called “Year of the Monarchs.” I also worked with Alejandro early on in those days and did some preliminary work with him on “Biutiful.” My partners Nico and Armando came in and also worked on the “Biutiful” script with him. He later mashed us all up for “Birdman.”
BlueCat: You’re a writer for the film “Birdman.” What was your role in the writing process?
AD: It was really Alejandro, myself, Nico, and Armando [who wrote it together]. We would all get on Skype to work because we were in three different locations. Nico and Armando were in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where they’re from, Alejandro was in California, and I was in New York, where I’m from. We would go through ideas of Alejandro’s vision for the movie in terms of visuals. Then, Nico and I would take a shot at turning his vision into dialogue. Once we had the ideas and structure down, we would take the script and try to hammer out a draft. The script was then given to Alejandro, and we would go back and forth like that to get pages written.
BlueCat: How long did the whole process of writing “Birdman” take?
AD: It took about a year and a half to the point where we got to the shooting screenplay. The script was always in a state of flux because of the way the movie was shot. It’s visually shot in what looks like a one-take, so even when we were on stage with the actors, we were still changing things as we shot.
BlueCat: You had to rewrite as you were shooting? How was that process for you?
AD: It was thrilling. The cast is so unbelievably talented. When you have Michael and Zach Galifinakis, Ed Norton, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, and Andrea Riseborough, you can’t go wrong. We had the camera and choreography going; it was very much a collaborative process which turned out to be a lot of fun. The way we did this film was very dangerous, and it could have failed miserably. When you’re doing everything with one shot, the camera always meets you everywhere, and you don’t get to do a lot of normal things like arriving to a scene late or leaving early. It was also very difficult to edit, because we knew we were going to end up with whatever we shot. We couldn’t go back and cut! Imagine writing a screenplay and thinking, “Well, this is it, for better or worse.” We couldn’t go back and cut scenes out or punch parts up; we couldn’t do any of it. It was a big challenge, and other people [who have seen the film] have been responding strongly to it.
BlueCat: What was the hardest scene you had to write, emotionally, in “Birdman?”
AD: There are a couple of scenes with Michael and his daughter [that were hard to write because] I have two daughters. The movie is about a man who is battling his idea of mediocrity of what he believes he is and that he may not be special after all. He has a daughter who tells him the truth, and that was a particularly hard scene to write. There’s also a scene at the very end where Michael and his daughter make up – that was what stirred my emotions the most.
BlueCat: What is your advice for aspiring screenwriters who are trying to enter the industry?
AD: The most important thing is to maintain your voice. I teach writing and see young writers trying to please a little too much. They lose a little of their own voice in the process. It’s funny, because I think everyone’s craving originality. Keep your own voice and see what comes next. If something in your script surprises you or is interesting, chances are the audience also thinks that. You just have to trust yourself and not let people tell you what you can and can’t do in a film or TV show. “Birdman” is a comedy, satire, tragedy and family drama. If someone were to break down the script before we shot the movie, they would have said we were crazy! Stay true to your own voice, surprise yourself, and write well. Someone will pay attention because originality is in high demand.
BlueCat: What’s next for you?
AD: The four of us are all writing and developing a new television series for the Starz Network called “The One Percent.” It will star Ed Helms, Hillary Swank, and Ed Harris. Nico and I will start writing in November, and we will hopefully start shooting next summer. My film, “Year of the Monarchs,” is in talks to be produced soon as well. All four of us are hoping to write another film together after Alejandro is done shooting “Revenant” in Canada with Leonardo DiCaprio.