M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village (INTERVIEW)

Just in his early thirties, writer/director M Night Shyamalan has taken the supernatural X-Files phenomenon mystique to the big screen, in the form of blockbuster chills, thrills, and screams. The Indian born Shyamalan, pronounced (shah-ma-lawn) made his debut theatrical effort with Wide Awake, a film he partially shot in the Catholic school he had attended, as well as Bryn Mawr College. It was the story of a young Catholic school student attempting to cope with the death of his grandfather, and the story admittedly left much to be desired. It quickly bombed.

Not one to give up, the young director forged on, and his career breakthrough came in 1999’s sleeper hit The Sixth Sense; another supernatural drama, this time involving a boy’s who is capable of communicating with the spirits of dead people. The second highest grossing film of the year, The Sixth Sense became a critical and lavishing favorite, earning a number of Oscar Nominations that included Best Picture and Best Director.

Shyamalan followed in his own sci-fi footsteps with 2002’s Signs, starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. The spooky and startling thriller focused on such extraterrestrial substance as aliens and crop circles invading our homes. While Signs set an example of hair raising and heart-pounding cinematography, it was more or less a segue to the next topic of supernatural fancy – our innermost apprehension of venturing into the dark, treed woods.

With The Village, Shyamalan explores that forested fear, encouraging us to face our frightened limitations and acknowledge their existence. The film is set in the late 1800s, and revolves around a close-knit community that lives with the frightening knowledge that a mythical race of creatures resides in the woods around them. Reuniting with Phoenix, and featuring Academy Award Winners, William Hurt and Adrien Brody, along with Sigourney Weaver, the cast is full of stellar talent. It’s another terror-filled ride from the new king of screams.

To shed a bit of light on such dark territory, Shyamalan recently discussed his latest film, his directorial process, being in-demand, and the elements that make a scary film, truly scary.

Was there something special that attracted you to that landscape for the film?

It’s very hard to find a plot of land in the middle of the woods, we had to fly in a helicopter to find it.

Did the woods scare you?

The woods are a place that we are genetically afraid of, we know not to go into them in order to survive, so I am taking advantage of that.

When people mention this film they refer to it as “oh, that horror movie,” but it seems to be so much more, how does that make you feel?

I think there is always a desire to put it into a box. It was not intended to be a horror movie, I wanted it to be a period romance and have heighten suspense to the point that it would become freighting. I would feel more comfortable with them saying, “that suspense movie.”

Within the film, there seemed to be political commentary. Being that you didn’t know what the world would be like once your film is released, did you find that events occurring were running parallel to the events in your film.

It came from the feeling that the world is a scary place right now and desire to go back to simplicity; emotional colors were accurate for what your saying. It’s ironic because we wrote this a while ago.

Are we reading into this too much? But does it carry the idea that our elders are keeping things from us or that there is danger in following leaders, in any community?

It’s all about how to protect your innocence from getting hurt by the “creatures” in your life; the desire to protect your children from going into the unknown. If these “creatures” have hurt you, you don’t want them to hurt your children and the younger generation may be willing to risk that.

As a filmmaker and writer, how tough is it to keep the element of surprise? Everyone knows how all your films have surprises to them.

I’m just going to be Zen about this. If I worried about the keeping the element of surprise I wouldn’t be able to make a Six Sense. So I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.

You say your going to be Zen about this…

Right, which is in reference to me making my movies.

But peoples expectations are going to get out there regardless, and that must be frustrating for you.

I can’t take it into account. Would you really want me to take that into account? Should that be the basis of my next movie. That’s why I stay in Philadelphia, so that I can draw my ideas from a small pool.

You put your actors for this film through a boot camp. Was it interesting to see who was really into it and who was crying for their cell phones?

They were all very intense about it in there own ways. It gave them the opportunity to do their craft at the highest level. They felt honored to give there all and we all felt there was something precious; the process brought great meaning. I had an opportunity to create a sanctuary.

Bryce [Howard] said that she was shocked you casted her for this role after just seeing her in one play.

Yes, its this stupid trust that I have in the internet, my wife gets on me for that. She says that I’m lazy, but it’s really instinct of mine. I didn’t even make her audition for it, I had a gut feeling.

You refer to your work process as magic, and during magic tricks there are times where one would hold their breath and wonder whether they will be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Do you ever have those moments?

There’s a reason why Signs opened at 60 million. I walked my walk my own way, and you knew that no matter what, you were going to see something different and original. It’s the choices we made: Bryce, the camp, the commitments is what shines though.

You talk about “Your world,” as being a writer and a director and a producer. Doesn’t that create a very insulated [space]? A small group of people to…

It’s absolutely problematic, that’s where Scott Rudin (producer) comes in. We never meet before. I told him, “come in here, I’m in danger of being too isolated.” He looks at what I have and he critiques and challenges me. That is why I hired these monster actors and theater actors, to challenge me. I’m not about being comfortable, I want to be challenged. You always want someone to go, “why that” and “why this.”

Could you live in this utopian society where there is no money, no greed?

Could I live in it? Yeah, the irony is that I don’t put a lot of stock into money and materials; they aren’t that important. If that stuff went away I wouldn’t give a shit. If those things are your motivators in life, I guarantee crash and burn.

Was it fun to write romance?

I wanted to write a romance, a period romance. I wanted to go back to the 1890s where people believed in love. It was hard to write because I had to remove all my sarcasm out of my writing. Today when we say things, sarcasm is always there. In that era, when someone said, “I like you” it meant they liked you.

Isn’t there a danger of idolizing the past too much? You may say that the past was so pleasant but they were dying of plague.

Which is true, but there is a give and take, all things come with sacrifice. Is it better that we have the microwave? There are all kinds of philosophical arguments to this.

When are you going to get your own TV show?

I have all these ideas that aren’t big enough to be movies, but it requires deviation of time and effort that I can not justify. These movies work at the level that their working on because I get to devote two years of my life to them creatively. I have family and all that stuff that requires…time. I can’t right now justify that move.

Has there been any interest?

I have been asked by every network to do that same thing. But to do it right, it’s a sense of putting your time and love in. But movies are really the format that I want to talk in.

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