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The Village - M Night Shyamalan Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. What was the inspiration for the film – I read one of these off-hand quotes that you gave, in which you said you just sat in your room and wrote the story. What was the genesis of it – how did it all start?
A:
It was actually from being offered another movie – I was offered Wuthering Heights, so I re-read that book, which was an amazing experience. I fell in love with the knotty romance – and there’s something scary about the story which is why, I think, they offered it to me. I also had this King Kong idea about a bunch of people who have rituals for dealing with a creature.

Q. It’s interesting that you were offered Wuthering Heights... would you direct someone else’s script?
A:
No, they never offered me the script, they just offered me the book – they had the rights to the book. They wanted me to do a version of Wuthering Heights. There were actually actors attached to it – some wonderful, wonderful actors.

Q. So would you direct someone else’s script?
A:
It’s really tempting because of the lack of vulnerability that I would find very wonderful. A little bit of that would be nice. I’ve been offered a lot of really wonderful screenplays, actually – just fantastic – and I’ve wondered.
Writing a script is eight months of torture. Just to go straight to the ‘wow, this is how I can see it, and you can have her come in over there...’ all that stuff.
Maybe, though, I’d find it not courageous for me, you know, because, as a writer/director, it’s easier to let that side go and become just a director. Even when I hear you say about what a great opening weekend the film’s had and all, what I really want you to say is something about originality or something like that.
BRYCE: Come on, it’s a compliment.
NIGHT: That it made money?
BRYCE: I understand – that’s a good dialogue to have. People associate success with financial status.

Q. You discuss making money as though it was some kind of bad thing.
A:
The idea is always to go for the thing that’s kind of risky. I want to be courageous and original and original means you don’t know what colour movie you just saw.
You just saw it and it’s all up here [in the head]. Movie-making is not like other straight art forms, like painting, writing a novel or anything like that, because that can be digested and interpreted and then it’s all good.
But this is all so much about Starbuck’s coffee – give me it, I’ll drink it, I’m gone. It takes two years to make this sort of movie so the money side of it... It’s all just on money – money, money, money. I remember when Unbreakable came out, people were going ‘oh, it didn’t do so well’ – it’s my job to make money for the studio and I do that.
But now, every day, somebody comes up to me and says Unbreakable is their favourite film. Where were you? You were just counting out dollars that day. Even now, it’s balancing art and commerce – the Starbuck’s and the painting of my job.

Q. The surprise twist – how conscious are you in the writing process? And will the surprise one day be that there is no surprise?
A:
The surprise for me was I didn’t have one last movie, and people think I did.

Q. Well, it was about something that you didn’t necessarily think you were watching the film for...
A:
Well, I didn’t think of it that way at all. It was interesting coming out of Signs, which I thought was a straight movie, and the format that I chose for this movie... what’s weird is that that’s how stories come me naturally, you know.
If it was a story about me and him [points towards the press conference conductor] I’d be withholding something about him, immediately. I’d give you another part of his character. The negative side of that is that’s all people are occupied with – all the gentleness of the movie is overshadowed by the secrets.
In that way, I don’t know what to do because I approach it as a novelist, in terms of saying I’m writing my next murder mystery. Now, Agatha Christie can write 30 of them, but this is a different art form. I don’t even know if art form is even what I’m getting judged on – it’s more like a game or something.

Q. But it’s satisfying as an audience to feel like you’re being manipulated into a twist...
A:
Yeah, I love telling stories like that. I love it being multi-layered and coming at it from different angles. If you don’t know it’s true emotional motivation until the very end. The story the picture is about is perhaps not clear until you’re in the car...

Q. Night, where did the need to scare people come from?
A:
I’m intensely boring and I need to be exciting in other ways.
BRYCE: Not true.
NIGHT: To me, I admire movies for their tone. My favourite movie from last year was Lost in Translation because of it’s handle on tone. She held onto it from beginning to end – that was perfect direction.
My particular accent that I speak in is suspense, so if I’m writing a conversation, my mind will immediately go to how to create a ticking clock within you, whether it’s a romantic scene, or emotional scene, or a scary scene – it’s about defying expectations.
That’s why the great delivery of a line in a way you did not expect, or the camera moves in a way you did not expect... that heartbeat is the tension of the movie. That’s why I find it so hard to put humour in, to be honest – and I would like to do humour more – because I find it empties that tank of tension and I have to fill it up all over again.

Q. Are audiences expecting that level of suspense from you?
A:
Yeah. They see the name and they have an expectation, but it’s not about a specific thing, it’s more a combination of suspense and tone because those things are going to be there every time.

Q. It’s a fascinating cast, but in a largely American star-list, what made you cast Brendan Gleeson?
A:
Oh, man, he’s just so great. He was in a couple of movies recently – I cast him off of Gangs of New York and 28 Days Later. Both of which I just adored him in. You sympathise with him – he’s committed and meek and he’s got that teddy bear thing. He’s just a great addition to the group. I let him keep his accent because that added the right flavour to the film.

Q. Which directors influenced you and, like Hitchcock, will you have to come up with ever more inventive ways to get your cameos into your movies?
A:
The first one is, there are so many directors – Sofia Coppola, Woody Allen. Everyone, all my contemporaries like Quentin – they all totally inspire me. People with a larger body of work... Kubrick’s formalism – that eerie way, where everything is centred and feels very right. Other movies, like Rosemary’s Baby, or Being There – they’re just spot on to me. Peter Weir, for the humanity he brings to everything.
As for doing the Hitchcock thing, this particular one has its own constraints, as you know, and so there was only a certain way that it could be played out. With Signs, I just wanted to be part of the storytelling. When I write, it’s a very emotional process – I’m really evoking the characters.
When we sat down and did the read-through, I and everyone else was crying. This isn’t a job, it’s a very serious _expression of things that are important to me. It feels wonderful to have another outlet to do that if I can. I wouldn’t go past a supporting part, or bit player, because it really does affect the directing.

Q. Going back to what makes him want to scare people...Was it childhood stories told to you by your parents?
A:
They never told me any stories. They’re doctors. I think what it is, is the fear of the unknown. Fear is the unknown. That’s the definition of fear – what you don’t know. If I’ve got to go to Seattle for a meeting, I’m afraid because I don’t know what Seattle is like; or if I’m starting a new relationship, I’m scared because I don’t know of she’s a psycho or not.
It’s genetically in us – we feel scared of things if we’re not familiar with them. That keeps you safe. It comes from making things that are familiar to you, unfamiliar to you.
So if you’re in your bedroom, it’s a normal bedroom until you realise that the phone is off the hook and there’s glass on the floor - now the room is unknown to you.
It’s no longer a familiar place and then you find that kid naked in the corner, and you’ve got the beginning of The Sixth Sense.
I came home with my dad and my sister once, and the front door was open, and that house was frickin’ terrifying. I was like ‘let’s get the hell out of here!’ and my dad goes in with the dog – my dog wouldn’t hurt anyone, and my dad’s about four foot two. Get out of here – this is a silly situation. I was terrified. I much prefer that to putting blood on the walls and that kind of thing.

Q. Your films seem to contain a very strong sense of family. Is that deliberate?
A:
You try to write stuff that is important to you, so society is obviously about family. All my films are about family in some way. So, when I think about aliens taking over the world, it’s from the point of view of a family.

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