Courtesy of Antonio Sánchez

When people think of the process of creating a movie, rehearsal is likely one of the first things that comes to mind. Going over lines, shooting multiple scenes to create something that is fiction to feel like reality. Soundtracks are meticulously practiced to make sure each note is perfect; however, “Birdman” aims for the opposite — with a score that is completely improvised. 

Composed by jazz drummer Antonio Sánchez, the 2014 academy award-winning “Birdman” score matches the chaos that unfolds in the plot of the film. For the 10th anniversary of its release, Sánchez embarked on a North American and European tour, playing his music live alongside the movie. On April 19, Sánchez performed at Arlington Theatre in downtown Santa Barbara.

When he arrived, he gave a small talk about his journey becoming a jazz drummer and ultimately the composer of the movie. As a young boy surrounded by rock and roll music, Sánchez describes listening to a lot of radio. It wasn’t until one late night, where a jazz station played “Last Train Home” by the Pat Metheny Group, that he recognized his love for the genre. 

What seems like fate, Sánchez would later play for the Pat Metheny Group after he graduated from the Berklee College of Music in 1997.This opportunity would later result in him meeting Alejandro González Iñárritu, the future director of “Birdman,” at an after party for his group’s concert. 

In 2012, Iñárritu reached out to Sánchez, asking him to produce the music for the movie. Without skipping a beat, Sánchez agreed. Once he hung up the phone, he panicked — he had never composed for a film before. 

Sánchez started building the score the only way he knew how — by creating themes for the characters. He recorded a few samples and sent them to Iñárritu, who wanted something less “clean.” The two collaborated on an unorthodox approach to the composition. Iñárritu sat next to Sánchez as he improvised with his drums. When Iñárritu envisioned a scene change in the movie, he would signal to Sánchez, who would create a new beat. This technique would ultimately create the mile-a-minute soundtrack. 

After his introduction, Sánchez sat down at his drum set on the end of the stage facing a small TV and began performing alongside the movie. He played all throughout the two-hour runtime, from the title to even after the movie credits. It was hard to know what to pay attention to: the movie playing on the stage or Sánchez passionately playing the drums. 

Each concert Sánchez performs of the “Birdman” score is unique, as he keeps true to his classic jazz training by improvising in every performance. He explains as each venue and audience are different, he bases each rendition of the soundtrack off the crowd. “Birdman’s” score is not entirely Sánchez drumming (there are a handful of classical musical pieces), but when he performs, his drumming is heard in the film as he packs a punch every time his drumsticks hit the drums. 

As the credits came to an end, Sánchez continued his performance for an extra 10 minutes, allowing concertgoers to take a moment to bask in his skills as a professional drummer. Energetic and magnetic, the closing performance did not disappoint. Sánchez performed a masterclass of experimental jazz techniques, as he mixed the tempo and intensity of sound and messed with his cymbals by rubbing his drumsticks against them. 

Even in its moments of being brash, the soundtrack perfectly emulates the struggle of the film’s main character, Riggan Thomson (played by Michael Keaton), as he attempts to revive his acting career through a play he directs, writes and acts in, despite having little to no money left. The stakes are high as Thomson tries to prove himself worthy as an actor rather than just a washed-out celebrity, all while dealing with his own personal turmoil and the doubts of others. 

At the end of his set, Sánchez received a standing ovation, and rightfully so. It is rare to have events like “Birdman Live” 10th Anniversary that allow audiences to relish a film from a new perspective. “Birdman” is a phenomenal film that darkly comments on the life of the entertainment industry, but the event focused on the heart of the movie — the music. Sánchez’s performance reminds its audience of the wonderful thing about movies — that each element is a piece of art.