You were also attached to "The Jungle Book" for a little while, right?
Exactly. I felt there was certainly an attraction because the script was really good and very interesting, and I thought there was something there for me to explore. But again it didn't work for the same reasons: I challenge myself and I tried to shake the tree, but when the leaves are suddenly gone, I have to make a decision.
You were originally going to direct "True Detective." Did you drop out of that to do "Birdman?"
Yes. But I thought the same thing: it was a superb script. I had a meeting with the writer, he gave me the second script and I knew that it would be great. There was a part of me that wanted to do it, but another part of me wanted to develop my own thing. I am glad, because I wrote a pilot this year [for a] series that is called "1%." I'm going to do my own type of thing that I can get really invested in.
You were going to direct the first couple of episodes. Is that still the case?
Yes. It's new, exciting territory for me, and we'll see what will happen.
Ed Helms is going to be the lead in "1%." What did you see in him that made you think he was right for it?
You will have to see the series, but he will do the character nicely and perfectly. There is something about this character that he understands well. It's not an obvious thing, but there's a discovery factor that will make it much more interesting.
You had a project called "The Flim-Flam Man." Is that going to be next?
No. It was a lovely project and a beautiful subject but it was impossible to raise the money. Nobody wanted to risk it at the time.
Does it get any easier?
It's crazy. I think the film industry is just a reflection of the brutal capitalism that we live in now. The 99% and 1% pendulum of society is reflected in art. You buy the painting by whoever for $50 million, or you buy the shitty thing in the market for $1,000. There's no middle ground. Or in films, you do the $4 million, $5 million movie or the $150 million movie. Suddenly, the middle class is disappearing and all of those middle things are gone. It's a very difficult time for those films that I used to do.
You're obviously still very close to Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron. Do you guys still show each other scripts and early cuts of your movies?
Absolutely. I just had dinner with Guillermo two days ago. I think his next film is going to be fantastic.
Do you think you'll ever work together on a "New York Stories" type of anthology?
Well, we are very complicated people in the sense that we are very far away from each other: Guillermo is living in Toronto, Alfonso is in London and I'm here. When we tried to make "Cha-Cha-Cha," it didn't work because geographically speaking, it was impossible to have something that really had a discipline. We have to think about our personal lives and our families and all of that besides our personal projects.
Was there any competitiveness with Alfonso as to who could make the longest-looking shot?
[laughs] Not at all! Alfonso is a master and I am just exploring and learning. The friendship works so well because we are never competitive. Between the three of us, our approach to cinema is so different that we have just supported each other and been very, very honest with each other. It'd be stupid.
What comments did they have for "Birdman"?
In the script stage, they gave some notes that make you think about it. That's it. When you have a fresh point of view that comes from the right side of the heart, it's just so valuable. You can take it or not take it, but just that perspective can give you a lot of strength or make you reflect on a lot of things. So our participation comes from the script or even from cuts. In this case, they saw "Birdman" as it was, because there was really no cut, but when I showed it to them a long time ago, they were really fucking blown away. Guillermo never drinks but after he saw it he said, "I need a fucking drink." And he got so drunk because he was so shocked and so moved by the film. I had never seen him like that. They were the first that I showed the film to, and it was very early and green and were very supportive. Sometimes I would show them a cut and they'd say "this doesn't work because of that," or "this is a piece of shit because of that." Sometimes they are right. Sometimes not.
What was the writing process like for the final scene? Did it have a different ending?
No, it had a different ending but in the middle of shooting, I knew it was a piece of shit. I felt it and the film began to breathe by itself, and the characters began to grow. I went in and wrote it with Alexander [Dinelaris] and Nico [Giacobone], and I am so happy that I changed it. Now I feel very good about the ending. It feels very fair.
Can you say what the original ending was?
I will never tell you. It would be so embarrassing. It was bad.