He was supposed to be the new Spielberg. But after iconic successes like The Sixth Sense,Unbreakable,Signs, and The Village, it all started to fall apart. M Night Shyamalan has been a critical punching bag, with some of the worst reviewed movies of the last decade. But the twist is that his brand new film The Visit, which he shot entirely in secret and paid for himself, might just be the first step towards the redemption of M Night Shamylan.
How comfortable are you being known as The Twist Guy?
It's not how I think of myself at all, it's like, he does the moonwalk, he does the moonwalk, he does the moonwalk; do the moonwalk, do the moonwalk. You're like, oh jeez. But I don't think of it that way. It doesn't burden me when I write. So I don't really think of it as that. I get that that's what people say, but breaking that expectation is just as exciting as fulfilling it.
Whether there is something dramatic or not dramatic that happens, a paradigm shift that happens; it’s unimportant to me. It's really about the characters and their journey, and if I'm listening to them. Have I fully listened to them, or have I put my agenda on it? That’s always the struggle that goes on. That’s my job.
Before you made this film you were saying you were trapped inside your head; what does that mean?
I'm a super self-reflective guy about dealing with the repercussions of fame and expectations; all of those things are really suffocating but I always strive to try to understand them, not beat them, you know what I mean? Your survival gut tells you to try to win, win, win; but really when you're at peace. You're just understand it, you know, and then you're fine. Cut, and scene. Reset.
I’d like to believe that I'm the guy that can go, I just now came up with an idea that I know is going to be subversive and polarising, and I have to make it. But the cowardly side of me would say, no, you probably would tack away from that and try to be a little more accepting. Making smaller movies has allowed me to break free of that kind of thinking.
So you made a film kind of in secret, and you paid for it yourself.
I would like to believe if I was a professional basketball player I would have in my contract that I'm allowed to go and stop at any playground and tie on my sneakers and go play basketball. In fact the opposite is true in the NBA contracts, you're not allowed to go play, anywhere, because they're scared you're going to get hurt. But to keep in the game, is what I'm talking about. To keep the love of what you do,
I always said to myself, like, I would love it to be like, let's take everyone in Hollywood, and say, you have only X amount of money, and your imagination. Go do whatever you can. And for me that's all you ever need. Here is minimum amount of money and your imagination and go tell this incredible story.
So it's kind of an exercise in, ‘can I make this from my raw skill’?
Yeah. For me, the other stuff, you know, the trailers, the cranes, all those things that come... that's all fun and wonderful, but it isn't storytelling. And it doesn't end up on screen, most of the time. A lot of the money doesn't end up onscreen. And in The Visit, obviously, every single dollar ended up onscreen and that's so satisfying.
For whatever reason, you're sitting there and you're going, huh. I wonder if I did this shot, and I wonder if did that shot, or you come up with the exact thing you want to work on, or something that was nagging you from the morning: that's the version of the filmmaker that you want to be. All in.
know every film you do is a quite personal, it's a piece of you that you put onscreen at a certain time of your life - what is this film saying about you right now in 2015?
That's a good question. The first thing that came to mind is what happens as a writer, I do, that is I write a scene, or I write an outline, or I write a character moment, and I ask, why is that working so well for me? And then I analyse it. Why does that feel like a sweet spot? Why does that feel so comfortable? Why does that feel so right?
I have a board in my library and I'll write down gut things, not from your analytics, but your intuitive mind; you don't even know why you're writing it. And I'll write down forgiveness. And then I'll say, wow, you know that scene's also about forgiveness. This whole thing is about forgiveness. You know what, this whole thing that's going on is about forgiveness. And then I realise, that's the movie I'm making.
Where in the world do you feel most creative?
When I'm not thinking of it as a business. When I'm thinking about how I felt when I saw Raiders Of The Lost Ark in the theatre; that kind of awe. Coming back and pretending, oh, the pillow is falling on me, it's a boulder, ah! When you're a kid; the need to say the pillow is the boulder, I have to run for the boulder.
That need to tell the excitement of the story, becoming another character, wanting to be that character... it's the greatest feeling in the world. When you come up with a great idea, or a great moment, a great scene - that high you get? You can't beat it.