University News

M. Night Shyamalan delivers IFF address

Award-nominated director, screenwriter, talks representation in Hollywood

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 12, 2017

In a plot twist to students’ typical Wednesday evenings, M. Night Shyamalan P’18 — Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, director and producer — appeared on campus to deliver the keynote speech at the 2017 Ivy Film Festival. Shyamalan spoke about his start in the film industry and representation in Hollywood.

Shyamalan introduced himself by acknowledging theories that he wrote the ending of the Oscars, joking with the audience and lending a playful tone to the evening.

When asked about his inspirations, Shyamalan spoke of the many renowned directors in his generation, such as Steven Spielberg, and the critically-acclaimed movies of his childhood.

“I definitely don’t think of (inspiration) as a fancy dance-move or anything like that,” Shyamalan told The Herald. “Plot comes out of character. You can have amazing things that come out of what the character wants.”

Shyamalan began creating movies at home in Pennsylvania and continued on to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he created his first film “Praying with Anger.” The film, the culmination of his first three years at college, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. “It was a complete failure. That’s the first thing you need to know,” Shyamalan joked.

However, the conference gave Shyamalan the opportunity to meet directors he admired, like Quentin Tarantino. “I remember feeling so out of place on stage and feeling like a complete fake. I felt like such a nerd.”

“An old lady pointed at me and said, ‘That young man is a good director because he has no sex, no drugs and no alcohol,’ and I could see Quentin Tarantino looking at me,” Shyamalan said.

It was at this festival that a young agent from Miramax films signed him. But Shyamalan felt a lack of agency working for Miramax and quickly realized he wanted to leave.

“It had to happen exactly that way — where nothing was working for me — to think about who I am,” Shyamalan said.

Because Miramax owned the rights to his directing, Shyamalan felt like he had to write.

“I had one chess move — to write something. So, I looked at posters on my wall and wrote ‘The Sixth Sense,’” Shyamalan said. The film received six Academy Award nominations.

In 1999, Shyamalan co-wrote the “Stuart Little” screenplay. Receiving his first check for the project was moving, Shyamalan said. “It was my first time thinking I could make a living. I remember holding the check and feeling relieved, thinking it will all be okay,” Shyamalan said.

Shyamalan also produced, wrote and directed “The Visit.”  He retold the emotional journey he went through when he thought no one would buy the film from him. After a disappointing first screening of the movie, Shyamalan continued pushing for his film.

“I went back to the editing room and finished telling the fricken story,” Shyamalan said.

“The Visit” went on to begin a trend of combination horror and comedy movies.

“When I stop trying to be someone else, good things happen,” Shyamalan said. “You should only want to be accepted for who you are — and when that happens it’s beautiful,” he added.

But that hasn’t come to Shyamalan without its own difficulties.

“I am very affected by what people say. I am hypersensitive. Just to show how hypersensitive I am, I had the idea for “The Sixth Sense” a year before, but I had heard they were making ‘Casper’ and I was just like ‘Ugh!’” Shyamalan said.

“When I’m writing, all my insecurities are on the table,” Shyamalan said. “I am writing a new script now and it’s exactly how it was when I was your age. It’s exactly the same fear.”

Shyamalan also spoke about his experience as a minority in the film industry and the issues with misrepresentation.

“The feeling of being marginalized informed my characters,” Shyamalan said.

“When I tell stories, I try to have a global approach. I feel like there is a bigger audience internationally. My family is from all around the world, so I picture them when I tell stories,” Shyamalan told the Herald.

When asked after the event about his current projects, Shyamalan told the Herald that information will be released in the next two weeks.

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