Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan was recently at the Fox portion of TCA Winter Press Tour for the upcoming series Wayward Pines, which he executive produced and directed the pilot for. It’s an intense, mind-bending, 10-episode event thriller, in which Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) drives to the town of Wayward Pines, Idaho, to search for two missing federal agents, and mysteries within the town pile up, making Burke wonder whether he’ll ever make it home again.
Collider got the opportunity to chat with M. Night Shyamalan about the highly addicting (I’ve seen the first two episodes and can attest to that!) new show, and while we’ll run that portion of the interview closer to its May 14th premiere, we did want to share what he had to say about what he’s doing on the film side. During the exclusive interview, he talked about stepping outside of the studio system to self-finance his next movie, The Visit, why he thought it was important to make it small and then take it to Universal once it was done, why he considers himself an independent filmmaker, and that he would definitely do it again. He also talked about his on-going desire to make Unbreakable 2, and how interesting it would be to see what that would look like in the comic book movie saturated world of today.
M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN: It was a huge risk. You’re saying, “I’m gonna do this thing,” and you have to be aware, as a rational human being, that you may not be allowed back in. That was a real situation. Because they didn’t make it, it doesn’t necessarily go back into the system. That was a risk that I was willing to take. I tried to stay on top of why The Visit was an amazing movie to make, and why someone would want it in the system. Its best shot at being the best version of itself was to make it small. If I was a basketball player, it would be like me going and playing street ball. I just wanted to go back to feeling a love for the sport. I love making movies and I wanted to get back there. I had the greatest year making it. I had the greatest time writing it. You can feel that, when you see the movie. I’m super lucky that my number one choice, Universal, was interested. When I wrote it, I said, “Universal is the right place to release this movie.” They said, “Show it to me when it’s done.” I showed them when it was done, and they bought it.
Had you been thinking about doing something like that for awhile?
SHYAMALAN: Yeah. I’d made a couple of big movies and there’s a certain line. I consider myself an independent filmmaker. It’s absolutely true that I’ve been in the studio system, but I write and direct my movies, they’re always in Philadelphia, and they’re pretty much left alone. But when you do bigger budget movies, that’s not the case. It’s a different thing, altogether. Let’s not say bad or good, but it’s a whole different world. When you’re taking that much to make the movie, there’s so many people involved and there’s so much at stake. It’s so complicated a process. You don’t have your film finished when you have your director’s cut finished. It’s just a bunch of green screen. You can’t tell the rhythm. The performances of the characters are not there because they’re not there yet. There’s nothing there. They’re still animating it. It’s a very different discipline.
I’m so from the Woody Allen/Spike Lee school. Literally, I am from their school, NYU. But, I’m from that world where I feel so comfortable making small independent movies. I aspire for the biggest audience to see them, but I would love to make the smallest movie as possible to maintain the integrity of process. I want it to be quirky. Whatever that odd little tilt is, I don’t want to correct it. I want it to be that way and celebrate its individuality, and then hope that it goes back into the system. It was the perfect thing for me. You don’t get to celebrate yourself unless you risk being mocked or rejected. As an artist, you cannot play it safe. You just can’t. You can’t grow that way.
That’s the thing about humanity and artistry. You’re never the same. You’re degrading, or you’re getting better. You don’t stay the same. You’re continually doing one or the other. There’s no staying where you were. If you’re not doing anything, your skills and point of view are atrophying. If your mind is not actively looking for the thing in this room that you want to tell a story about, you’re not learning your skill set. This was one of those things that relied solely on making myself have no safety net. It’s gonna hurt, but you’re going to find a way to figure out the answers.
Do you see yourself doing that again?
SHYAMALAN: I do. My philosophy, for now, is to make movies with the biggest possible budget that will allow it to be made in an independent fashion. It doesn’t have to be made out of the studio system.
You’ve said that you’ve always wanted to do a sequel for Unbreakable. Is that something you’re still holding out hope for?
SHYAMALAN: Yeah, I do sometimes. I love those characters and I love that world. Of course, the whole world makes comic book movies now. At the time, it was completely novel. I remember when I made it, Disney was literally like, “Comic books?! There’s no market for comic books!” That’s all they make now! It was a hilarious conversation. I remember it. I was like, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe nobody will come see comic book movies.” They were like, “Those are people in little conventions who like comic books.” And I was like, “But, I like comic books!”
It would be interesting to see what a sequel to that would be like in the world today?
SHYAMALAN: Yeah. But the beauty of the world of Unbreakable is that you’re playing it for reality. It should never feel like a comic book movie. It feels like a straight-up drama. It’s real. You’re confronting the possibility that comic book characters were based on people that were real. That’s the premise, so the tone has to be super grounded. It would be cool.