19th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival Coverage - M. Night Shyamalan

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Q&A with M. Night Shyamalan for 10 Anniversary of UNBREAKABLE during #PFF19

The Prince was packed last night for the 10th Anniversary screening of Unbreakable (starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L Jackson & Robin Wright Penn). Yes, it's a good movie, worth revisiting on the big screen, but the crowded theater of excited people were truly there to see and hear from the film's director and master of all things eerie - M. Night Shyamalan!

You could tell Shyamalan really wanted to be there to share his thoughts on Unbreakable and filmmaking in general. Too bad there was another film scheduled after his Q & A, otherwise I think he would have stayed to chat for hours. He's a good talker too. He gets his thoughts across eloquently, in great detail and with enthusiasm!

See more pictures of Shyamalan and many other albums of pictures by photographer Lorraine Daley on

Below are highlights and excerpts of Shyamalan's Q & A:Q Moderator: How do you feel about Unbreakable now?

A: … I show the movies to my daughters on their birthdays starting at age 10, they get to see Sixth Sense and then one movie in order of the way I shot them, until they are all caught up. So it’s my daughter’s 11th birthday and she got to see this tonight…

I was 29 when I made it … my memory of Unbreakable is disassociated from the movie. I remembering lying on my couch, it was Thanksgiving, and I was completely depressed from the reviews and the film’s reception. It had just opened and The Grinch had annihilated us… I remember opening up The Hollywood Report and the mediocre to bad reviews of Unbreakable was next to the rave for the Carrot Top movie… I didn’t understand the reaction to Unbreakable

If I could go back to the 29 year old me, I’d say two things 1) It ain’t gonna get better 2) It’s a context thing…. at the preview s
creening it was a odd reaction, they didn’t get it. At the time there were no comic book movies and it’s a drama about comic books and that tone was very odd for the audience. So I felt ashamed about the movie and started to believe everyone… Tonight, I was crying watching it and feeling so happy about the risks that we took…

Q Moderator: I think there’s an audience of people who feel you’ve made an enduring movie. (clapping) …not the roller coaster of Sixth Sense, this is a much deeper, subtler movie. Where did super heroes play a role in your life?
A: As a kid I did look at comic books, but I was more about the cheesy TV shows like The Incredible Hulk and Greatest American Hero, do you guys remember that?… Warner Brothers had talked to me about making Superman after The Sixth Sense, I was like wow, I do want to make a comic book movie, but I don’t want to make that one right now, and then thought up Unbreakable

Q audience: There’s a lot of scenes in the movie done in one take, what scenes were hardest to get?

A: … 50% of the movie were one shots, which is insane. It’s very difficult; most the time you have to build the sets to
match the shots… Like the train shot, in the first scene, we built that train so I could get the back and forth shot… It’s very designed filmmaking… You can run a ton of cameras and gather stuff and figure out the movie montage style … shoot them, shoot him, shoot her, shoot wide and then figure it out in editing. But I don’t do that, I figure out the shot before hand and commit, totally commit. 70% of the time I’m right, and the other 30% we have to figure out, it’s a high wire act. Like the shot with Bruce at the school with the old nurse, (we never see the nurses face, shot is from behind) I never shot her in reverse, which is just insanity to do. And I’m timing the dialogue on the zoom with her dialogue… At some point in every movie the camera operator walks out on me… It’s like a math test for the camera operator… I say, (to cameraman) when they nail their performance, you have to nail your performance you don’t get to do it later. It creates a high stakes dangerous feeling on the set, everyone gets electrified… (I’m asked) why don’t you just shoot it in individual shots, I do my performance, she does hers etc… it’s all safe… No, were going to do this like theater, we’re all gonna get it or we’re all gonna fail… It’s magic, it’s alchemy, everybody feeds off each other, everyone’s truly connected and it becomes a magical thing to watch…

Q a
udience: How do you decide which part you’ll play in your films?

A:Signs was the last time I could have almost freely picked a scene to be in, now it’s much more difficult, cause it will pull you out of the movie, now it’s a pop culture reference… everyone starts whispering there he is… On top of that, it’s not as if I can just play for instance, Dustin Hoffman’s son, you’ve got the whole Indian thing… It’s tricky… I try to just write the movies now… and whatever happens, happens and if there’s a good scene for me, that’s great.

Q nine year old girl: What inspires you to make these movies?

A: Around your age, I took my dad’s 8 mm camera from his closet without telling him, (directed to little girl) don
’t ever do that. And I made what I thought at that time was incredibly clever – Friday 13th Part 5 (laughter)… Ketchup, someone in the forest, someone stalking them and all that stuff, it was 3 min long and that was the beginning… They’re awful! Sometimes I put them on the DVD’s as extras for fun. They show zero talent, zero. My dad would watch them and say you’re going to be a doctor right?….

It was really Steven Spielberg that did it for me, I was 12 when ET came out and that was it, it was like religion, I was a cult member… and Star Wars before that at 7… if those are your two teachers from an early age, My God, what else could I have been… I just got to really spend some time with George Lucus and I was like (look of awe)… The cool thing about it, I’ve never tried to copy them… as much as I adore and admire them, I don’t speak at all like them, I don’t see pacing like that, I’m really not interested in technology… I think that’s when you know you’re doing the right thing, when you don’t try to copy what inspired you.. letting your own voice come out…
Shyamalan Misc Excerpts: I believe that Unbreakable today, the tone of it, would go through the roof… with movies like Inception and Dark Knight, everything is lean and edgy and dark now…

I talked at an inner city school writing class and I said to them I’m the highest paid writer in the world word for word, how did that happen? I did that to grab their attention. .. I wasn’t the best writer in my writing class, no one in my family is in the business, I live 3000 miles away from everything, I’m definitely not the smartest, so how did this happen?… I think I have a reason, I’m just more me than they are them, that’s just the bottom line…

It’s been a great ride because everything has felt so pure… It’s not a job, I always say I don’t have a job. I guess the only thing they pay me for is to sell the movies, but making movies is definitely not a job…

Side note: A couple of months ago I interviewed a local actor, Lloyd Booker who got his start being Samuel L. Jackson’s stand-in on Unbreakable click HERE to read post

Unbreakable was preceded by a true filmadelphia film – Cafe, writer/director Marc Erlbaum and some of the cast including Jamie Kennedy were in attendance after the screening. Check back to the blog later this week for commentary and Q &A on Cafe.

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is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?

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