INT: M. Night Shyamalan
THE HAPPENING wasn't supposed to be, well, happening, quite like this.
The R-rated thriller was supposed to be M. Night's return to nail biting thrills he cooked up with uber-hits THE SIXTH SENSE and SIGNS. Critics and audiences were disappointed with THE VILLAGE and LADY AND THE WATER so before embarking on his ambitious, big-budget adaptation of Nickelodeon cartoon "Avatar: The Last Airbender," Shyamalan wanted one more chance to turn your knuckles white.
But along the way came the backlash. One test screening review said it was "a terrible, terrible movie." Asked to elaborate he said, "It's so bad that I can't possibly tell you how bad it is without understating the point." Other fans were turned off when they felt Shyamalan was unfairly evoking THE EXORCIST and THE GODFATHER in describing his new film.
As I self-admitted Shyamalan apologist, I never got the hate for a guy whose worst films are still better than most films out there. Needless to say I was excited to talk to Night about THE HAPPENING, his first R-rated film, his love/hate relationship with the internet and more.
The call came quickly. "Would you have time to talk to M. Night Shyamalan?" Sure, let's set up a screening and a date next week some time and... "No, I mean right now. In about 15 minutes." Uhhh... sure? It's extremely odd to interview a director about their current movie when you haven't even SEEN their current movie (normally that's a requirement) but I agree because I've got plenty to talk to the guy about.
Sure enough, a few minutes later Shyamalan calls from his offices in Philadelphia. He's disappointed I haven't seen the movie (as am I) but he's eager to talk and that doesn't hold us back.
I asked what his mind-set was now that the film he's been working on for the past two years is about to be released. Is he nervous? Excited? Bummed out? Just looking ahead to the next film?
Shyamalan agreed it's probably a little bit of all the above. He's nervous because he really wants people to like the film. He's excited because he honestly believes they will. He's a little bummed out about the haters online and he's already started pre-production on AIRBENDER, his adaptation of "Avatar." Primarily though he's really excited. He's had a few chances to see the movie play to an impartial audience of "strangers," as he calls them, and he was enthused by their responses.
I asked how the R-rating came about in a time when a lot of films are being watered down to PG-13. He explained that he didn't set out to write an R-rated movie it just so happened that he DID write an R-rated movie. When he was talking to Fox executives they told him it'd probably be the only time they'd ever say it, but they wanted him to go all the way with it and gave him the R-rated blessing. He said some of his favorite movies are the gory ones that don't shy away from the violence so it was nice to finally explore that in this movie.
I asked Shyamalan about the differences between the original script (titled THE GREEN EFFECT) and the HAPPENING shooting script. Before he got into an explanation, Shyamalan talked about his bizarre it was that he'd legitimately be discussing something that was literally stolen material. But then he explained that the original film was more straight-forward about what the "happening" was while this film is a little more ambiguous. He said that he doesn't like films that tend to overexplain and feels that when you leave things ambiguous, the movie can continue on in your brain even after you've left the theater. (I asked if he's seen CLOVERFIELD yet and he quickly SHHHs me so as not to give away any spoilers. He hasn't seen it yet, but he's dying to.)
While we're talking spoilers, I ask him if he's disappointed that the scripts for some of his movies leaked and how he likes to keep his sets pretty tight. He explained that he likes to keep his movies fresh and that it helps keep the creative process on his sets free and easy. He explained that on THE SIXTH SENSE, there was on person who told him the script was terrible and would never work. He said if that one person happened to be a reviewer on the internet, he probably never would have made the film. He likes to keep his sets secure so that actors can have completely free reign to try anything. When I asked if he'd ever embrace the internet throughout a film's production, he said that if it wasn't an original work, he definitely would. He even said that with AIRBENDER, that's his plan - to continue to post artwork, blogs, etc. throughout the filming.
That's just part of our long conversation that unfortunately was diluted because of tape malfunction (damn you tape recorders!). But I got the sense that the film THE HAPPENING will most be like (as Shyamalan himself name dropped it more than once) is THE BIRDS. Same style, same feel. I still wish I'd have been able to see the movie but he was a fantastic guy to talk about, even when we were just bullshitting about movies.
THE HAPPENING opens this Friday and you can check out M. Night Shyamalan's new official website here!
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