NYT June 2, 2008
Shyamalan¹s Hollywood Horror Story, With Twist
By ALLISON HOPE WEINER
M. Night Shyamalan says he knows exactly when his relationship with Hollywood started to sour.
In 2000, he was on a conference call with executives from Walt Disney Studios discussing ³Unbreakable,² the follow-up to his phenomenally successful movie ³The Sixth Sense.² He wanted to market ³Unbreakable² as a comic-book movie ‹ the tale of an unlikely superhero ‹ but Disney executives insisted on portraying it as a spooky thriller, like ³The Sixth Sense.²
³I remember the moment that it happened, exactly where I was sitting at the table, the speakerphone,² he recalled in an interview from his office in a converted farmhouse near Philadelphia. ³That moment may have been the biggest mistake that I have to undo over 10 years so the little old lady doesn¹t go, ŒOh, he¹s the guy who makes the scary movies with a twist.¹ ²
Eight years later, movie audiences still know Mr. Shyamalan as the guy who makes scary movies with a twist.
He also has not been able to undo his reputation in Hollywood as a talented filmmaker who will not play by studio rules. After the success of ³The Sixth Sense,² he criticized Disney executives, dared to compare his talent to Steven Spielberg¹s and Alfred Hitchcock¹s and has steadfastly asserted his reputation as an outsider by refusing to move from Philadelphia to Hollywood.
His outsider persona continued to work for him, so long as the films ³The Sixth Sense,² ³Unbreakable² and ³Signs² continued to make money. But when his films started to falter at the box office ‹ his last movie, ³Lady in the Water,² was drubbed by critics and ignored by moviegoers ‹ the Hollywood establishment¹s support began to wane. That failure has put considerable pressure on his new film, ³The Happening,² an R-rated horror movie for Fox that opens on June 13. Another failure would harm the Shyamalan name and make it difficult for him to keep full control over his films.
But Mr. Shyamalan, who says he has become press shy, offers no apologies and believes that some of the criticism about him was largely based on his refusal to accept Hollywood norms.
³I have two options: conform to the paths that have been laid out prior to me or deal with it,² he said emphatically. ³So which one do you suggest I do? I wouldn¹t be where I am now if I hadn¹t denied those conventions to begin with.²
His career illustrates one of the stubborn paradoxes of Hollywood: the film industry loves the myth of the auteur, the rugged individual filmmaker who plays by his own rules, until faced with the reality. Around the time that ³The Sixth Sense² was released, this was a particularly potent idea, as studios tried to build brands around star directors like Quentin Tarantino and the Wachowski brothers (who made ³The Matrix²), hoping their names would sell movies the way Hitchcock¹s once did.
But the studios also need to heed the brutal realities of the movie business. All of these directors have had high-profile stumbles that suggest moviegoers care more about what is on the screen than what is above the title. And unlike animated brands like Shrek, real-life characters like Mr. Shyamalan can prove difficult to work with. ³It never really worked,² argues David Weitzner, the former head of worldwide marketing for Universal and an adjunct professor at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. ³It¹s pomposity on the part of studios to think that the public is going to respond to an advertising message that says to see the film because it¹s from the director of another film. It¹s stupid and to some degree, it¹s fueled by ego.²
Even given their limited success with marketing brands, studio marketing departments continue to use the method to sell films. ³They¹re marketing anything they can find to market because we¹re living in a time where it¹s so competitive and difficult,² said Michael Taylor, chairman of the film and television production division at the School of Cinematic Arts. Mr. Shyamalan, who will get his name above the title for ³The Happening,² still believes that a director¹s name on the marquee ‹ one that is not Steven Spielberg¹s ‹ can sell a blockbuster as easily as a star¹s can.
³The problem is the assumption that if I am selling the movie ‹ because I¹m selling me ‹ that I¹m being egotistical. If Will Smith did the same thing, it would be perceived very differently,² he said. ³You¹re supposed to be hidden if you¹re a director. That¹s a rule that who said in the movie business?²
Born in India, Mr. Shyamalan was raised in suburban Philadelphia by his parents, both doctors who knew little about the film industry. He attended the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, then made two commercially unsuccessful films, ³Praying With Anger² (1992) and ³Wide Awake² (1998), before selling his screenplay for ³The Sixth Sense² to Disney for $3 million. The movie, made for about $40 million, grossed more than $600 million worldwide.
Since then, the numbers have been going in the wrong direction. After ³Signs² grossed more than $400 million worldwide, ³The Village² took in only $255 million. ³Lady in the Water,² which opened in 2006, had a budget of about $75 million and made less than $70 million. As the box office started to stumble, the elements that had made his movies different ‹ the Pennsylvania settings, the themes about faith, the unexpected endings ‹ became a basis for criticism. Mr. Shyamalan broke off his relationship with Disney when he made ³Lady in the Water² at Warner Brothers, part of Time Warner. But then he committed the greatest sin of all ‹ he criticized a meeting with Disney studio executives, Nina Jacobson, Cook and Oren Aviv, in a book by Michael Bamberger, ³The Man Who Heard Voices.²
In the book, which received a huge amount of press, Mr. Shyamalan accused Ms. Jacobson of not giving his ³Lady in the Water² script ³a truthful reading² and said that he thought that it had been rejected because Disney ³no longer valued individualism.²He also contended that despite Disney¹s misgivings about making ³Lady in the Water,² it had ultimately agreed to make the film, but he had refused the offer because he felt that it no longer had faith in him. The Hollywood establishment was outraged by the book and Mr. Shyamalan¹s public recitation of what are considered very private matters. (Disney executives, through a spokesman, declined to comment for this article.) The book was slaughtered by reviewers, who focused some of their harshest criticisms on the subject.

Janet Maslin of The New York Times called it sycophantic and embarrassing. ³Who is M. Night Shyamalan? The point is that you¹re supposed to know already,² Ms. Maslin wrote. The good news for Mr. Shyamalan is that many in Hollywood still believe his name can sell tickets. It helps that he has a reputation as an economical filmmaker, someone who comes to the set prepared and who comes in on time and on budget ‹ all rare commodities in Hollywood. ³I respect Night as a filmmaker and loved working with him,² said Alan F.

Horn, president of Warner Brothers Entertainment, which produced ³Lady in the Water. ³I supported the premise of the movie and what he was trying to accomplish, but sometimes movies work and sometimes they don¹t. I wouldn¹t blame the book because I don¹t think enough people read the book.²
Twentieth Century Fox, part of News Corporation, hired him to write and direct ³The Happening² in part because it is a return to the kind of scary movie brand that made him famous.
³Night in conjunction with this material is a fantastic pairing,² said Hutch Parker, now chairman of New Regency, who worked on ³The Happening² while at Fox. ³ ŒThe Happening¹ does draw back in its intentions to what Night first did in ŒThe Sixth Sense.¹ It speaks more directly and clearly to that genre than some of his previous films.² Mr. Shyamalan is also directing ³Avatar: The Last Airbender,² a big tent-pole movie based on a Nickelodeon cartoon, scheduled to be released in 2010 for Paramount.
³I obviously did my homework and checked him out before deciding to make the movie. It¹s a very important movie for us,² said John Lesher, president of the Paramount Film Group. ³He¹s collaborative, open to suggestions and wants to make a hit movie. He¹s open in the right way. You want a filmmaker who has passion and want him to defend why he believes something is correct.²
Mr. Shyamalan admits to being slightly more open now. In an effort to dispel perceptions in Hollywood that he is arrogant, he has spent more time in Los Angeles recently. But while saying that he is sorry for any hurt feelings at Disney, he still does not understand why many in Hollywood are so critical of him for turning down Disney¹s offer. ³You¹d want me to take the money? You¹d want me to *** out. That¹s what they wanted me to do,² he said. ³You know how hard it is not to do the conservative thing out there?²

"I read the script and I get it. If I don't get it, I can't do it." - Morgan Freeman
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NYT June 2, 2008 Shyamalan¹s Hollywood Horror Story, With Twist By ALLISON HOPE WEINER M. Night Shyamalan says he knows ... years so the little old lady doesn¹t go, ŒOh, he¹s the guy who makes the scary movies with a twist.¹

As much as I disliked his later works, I truly enjoyed "Unbreakable." I recognized it as a comic book movie, and Disney definitely dropped the ball in marketing it.
-ADS.
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As much as I disliked his later works, I truly enjoyed "Unbreakable." I recognized it as a comic book movie, and Disney definitely dropped the ball in marketing it.

The worst thing was having Unbreakable come right after The Sixth Sense. If the order of the movies were switched, MKS would be seen as a more versatile filmmaker rather than a one trick pony. People I know who watched Unbreakable without seeing The Sixth Sense liked it, while others who I asked to think if it happened the other way could see my point. Expecting the twist is not nearly as satisfying as having it happen behind your awareness.
NYT June 2, 2008 Shyamalan¹s Hollywood Horror Story, With Twist ... the guy who makes the scary movies with a twist.¹

As much as I disliked his later works, I truly enjoyed "Unbreakable." I recognized it as a comic book movie, and Disney definitely dropped the ball in marketing it. -ADS.- Hide quoted text - - Show quoted text -

Disney dropped the ball? They milked hundreds of millions of dollars out of it. They might not have sold it the way MKS wanted them to, but it worked.
As much as I disliked his later works, I truly ... movie, and Disney definitely dropped the ball in marketing it.

The worst thing was having Unbreakable come right after The Sixth Sense. If the order of the movies were switched, ... way could see my point. Expecting the twist is not nearly as satisfying as having it happen behind your awareness.

When I saw "Unbreakable" I wasn't expecting a twist like in "The Sixth Sense", but I was expecting something I could enjoy. I found it very boring and hard to grasp as to what was going on.

The Peripatetic Samurai Robot
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Shyamalan¹s Hollywood Horror Story, With Twist

Yeah - let's get this straight. He's got a greenlight to do whatever project he wants, whenever he wants it, with any budget despite the fact that his last film was a bomb and the last couple have been creatively disappointing.
Where's the "horror" in that?
-Ron
Disney dropped the ball? They milked hundreds of millions of dollars out of it. They might not have sold it the way MKS wanted them to, but it worked.

Well, unlike some folks here, I liked "Sixth Sense," but thought "Unbreakable" was like walking through molasses. I kept wanting to kick Willis in the butt to get him to move.

RonB
"There's a story there...somewhere"
When I saw "Unbreakable" I wasn't expecting a twist like in "The Sixth Sense", but I was expecting something I could enjoy. I found it very boring and hard to grasp as to what was going on.

Agreed. I thought the whole thing was unnaturally slow like they were trying to make it "deeper" by having the hero not move. I didn't care about the twist (whether it had one or not), I just wanted natural reactions.

RonB
"There's a story there...somewhere"
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