m night shya malan

The Sixth Sense and Un­break­able film­maker tells Jor­dan Far­ley about the things that fuel his cre­ative flames

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - News - ©

The twisty direc­tor gives his He­roes & In­spi­ra­tions.

Few sto­ry­tellers

had a big­ger im­pact on noughties cinema than M Night Shya­malan. His zeit­geist- inspiring brand of low- key, mys­tery- driven, high con­cept, twist­tas­tic thrillers left an in­deli­ble mark on the filmic land­scape at a time when fran­chise film­mak­ing was in its in­fancy and orig­i­nal sto­ry­telling was king. In the years since Shya­malan has moved away from writ­ing his own sto­ries and be­gun adapt­ing oth­ers’, the lat­est of which, Way­ward Pines, also marks Shya­malan’s first foray onto the small screen. When SFX catches up with Shya­malan amid pro­mo­tional du­ties for Pines the sharp- suited, shaggy- haired film­maker’s eyes light up at the op­por­tu­nity to talk about the peo­ple that in­spired his ca­reer: “Th­ese are all he­roes of mine, there’s no way around it. Their names and what they achieved was huge…”

Star Wars

It made me want to pick up a cam­era. You know peo­ple see Je­sus in a pan­cake? Star

Wars was my Je­sus in a pan­cake mo­ment, it was reli­gion. I’ve met Mr Lu­cas and been able to share this with him. I re­mem­ber I was in the car on the way back from the cinema and I didn’t want any­one to talk to me, I was in some re­li­gious fer­vour. I was so trans­ported and taken away, so I started to play. When I was seven I was the char­ac­ters and then that trans­formed into, “Let me take a thing and pre­tend it’s mov­ing and record it.” It trans­lated from want­ing to have that feel­ing again to cre­at­ing that feel­ing.

She’s Gotta Have It

There were two sem­i­nal mo­ments or pe­ri­ods – the Spiel­berg/ Lu­cas era of watch­ing movies from seven to 14. And then right around 14 I was in the air­port drop­ping off my grand­par­ents and back in those days they used to have lit­tle book stores right by the gate and there was Spike Lee’s book about She’s Gotta

Have It, the mak­ing of that movie. I read it and was like, “What? He wasn’t in the in­dus­try and he made a movie? You can go to school for this?” It made it real. It was a big deal. So in­stan­ta­neously I was like, “I’m go­ing to NYU, the Tisch School of the Arts.” Which is where he went. And again I know Spike now, he’s such a hero.

Steven Spiel­berg

Him and Michael Jor­dan, they’re on an­other planet. Their level of tal­ent – ev­ery­one else is merely mor­tal in com­par­i­son. He has an imag­i­na­tion that seems un­end­ing. It’s al­most like he’s bored and he’s chal­leng­ing him­self. I didn’t see Jaws when it came out, I was too young, but Raiders was prob­a­bly the mo­ment where it went from an un­formed fan­tasy to “I have to do this.” Spiel­berg, the name, for me is al­most de­i­fied at this point. The first time I met him was at his house. It was dur­ing The Sixth Sense time and I don’t think I said any­thing re­motely lu­cid to him. I had a fever and I was like, “This is the worst, I can’t be­lieve I have a high fever and I’m meet­ing the guy that I got into movies for.” I had all his posters in my room. When I got nom­i­nated for the DGA award I gave a speech and Steven was in the room and it was about how I con­vinced my mom when I was 15 to call Steven Spiel­berg ’s of­fice to pre­tend she was my pro­ducer, and ask him to look at one of my short movies. Steven was in the bath­room the whole time but that’s how much he meant to me, I got my mom to em­bar­rass me.

The Twi­light Zone

It has two things that are re­ally in­ter­est­ing to it. Ob­vi­ously the par­a­digm shifts, that’s the ob­vi­ous con­nec­tion. The more sub­tle con­nec­tion and more mean­ing­ful to me was it had a min­i­mal­ist aes­thetic that I think greatly added to its im­pact. I vibed with that take on the su­per­nat­u­ral and B- genre sub­jects – treat it with in­cred­i­ble min­i­mal­ism and it’s hugely im­pact­ful and scary. They did it out of ne­ces­sity, and maybe Rod Ser­ling ’s in­stincts as well, but it’s hugely in­spi­ra­tional. Talk­ing about it now I feel like go­ing back and watch­ing it.


Comics haven’t in­flu­enced me as much as you would think. I wasn’t the kid that had a mil­lion comic books, but the an­cil­lary off­shoots of comic books: the Bat­man TV se­ries, was huge for me. Spi­der- Man as a comic book was a big deal. Richard Don­ner’s Su­per­man was a huge movie. The idea of comics re­ally caught me, but I’m more into

them now than I was back then.

Ag atha Christi e

Steven Spiel­berg was some­body that got me into film, but I’m not nec­es­sar­ily like Steven Spiel­berg in the way I make films and tell sto­ries. Agatha Christie is re­ally the more ap­pro­pri­ate model, the teacher. I have her whole col­lec­tion in my li­brary; they’re all leather- bound and I’ve read a lot about her. She’d be at din­ner with her fam­ily and say, “I’ve fin­ished a new novel.” And they’d be like, “What?” She just did them. She be­came an in­ter­na­tional phe­nom­e­non, but re­ally all she wanted to do was tell an­other story. It’s so in­ti­mate and un­re­lent­ing, that’s what I want my life to be. I wish it could be as sim­ple as that – I just write the next one, and the next one, and the next one. And also the sim­plic­ity of what she did. She was much more dis­ci­plined as an au­thor. She used a sim­i­lar for­mat for many books but she got to talk about char­ac­ters and hu­man­ity in such a dif­fer­ent way all within the con­text of what would seem a sti­fling for­mat. She’s an ex­am­ple of how you still have an un­lim­ited amount of op­por­tu­ni­ties to tell char­ac­ter sto­ries.


If I lived in LA I would be­come a syco­phan­tic, ob­se­quious per­son that’s just want­ing ev­ery­one to love me, and just so de­riv­a­tive. I think my first in­stincts are de­riv­a­tive, and they burn off real quickly and then I be­come the op­po­site. I can’t stand it if it smells like any­thing else. I can’t stand it. And I think that tol­er­ance of not hav­ing it feel like any­thing else may not have been nur­tured if I had stayed in LA. In Philadel­phia it’s so not about movies, no one makes movies, it’s noth­ing to do with movies, it’s just regular life. Put aside the two CGI movies, I didn’t come up with those con­cepts any­way, but all the ones that were my ideas they’re all Philly based – they’re all con­nected to Penn­syl­va­nia.

Orig­i­nal film­mak­ers

I still feel shocked that we’re in this time where 90% of the movies made are based on some­thing else that has come be­fore. There used to be a rule of thumb that the se­quel would make only two thirds of what the orig­i­nal made be­cause it was seen as ex­ploita­tion, it was seen for what it was. There were ex­cep­tions like The God­fa­ther

2, but gen­er­ally if you made Home Alone 2 it was go­ing to lose money. The ’ 70s for me was the best era of film­mak­ing – a re­ally unique, au­teur- driven era. If you think of 1999 we had The Sixth Sense, The Ma­trix, Be­ing John Malkovich, Mag­no­lia, Amer­i­can Beauty, Blair Witch, and I’m sure there’s 10 oth­ers I’m not men­tion­ing, from one year – all gi­ant au­teur­driven movies that were hugely suc­cess­ful for their stu­dios. That’s un­heard of now.

The So­pra­nos

The re­oc­cur­rence of grounded, beau­ti­ful, res­o­nant, tonal ex­pe­ri­ences which I had only pre­vi­ously at­trib­uted to movies has now re­peated it­self. For me, it started with The

So­pra­nos. I went, “Oh shit, that’s cinema.” Then it hap­pened again for me with Mad Men and Break­ing Bad and it’s hap­pened so many times that it’s inspiring. I ad­mire that and I want to be a part of that. It used to be we could only do that in film, but I think now you can do that on TV, so those were su­per- inspiring.

Way­ward Pines pre­mieres on Thurs­day 14 May glob­ally on Fox.

Spike Lee pre­par­ing a quiet movie revo­lu­tion. Attack Of The Gi­ant Steven Spiel­berg!

Greedo: even he’s not sure who shot first in the Cantina.

Christo­pher Reeve gives Net­work Rail a help­ing hand. The So­pra­nos: when TV is cinema. Kinda.

If noth­ing else, in Rod Ser­ling The Twi­light Zone had one dap­per host.

Agatha Christie, that fa­mous Doc­tor Who char­ac­ter!

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