Hollywood’s Best Film Directors


M. Night Shyamalan

In "Hollywood's Best Film Directors," we go behind-the-scenes with some of Hollywood's biggest names. They talk about their lives and work, explaining what makes them so successful. The series includes heavy-hitters Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and M. Night Shyamalan, among others.

AIRED: May 11, 2020 | 0:25:59



And action! Got it!

Man: Done!

[ Clapboard clacks ]

Narrator: This great Hollywood director was born in India

and raised in Pennsylvania.

He was only 22 when he directed his first movie

"Praying with Anger"

which he followed with the family feature "Wide Awake"

and achieved great success as a writer on "Stuart Little."

After that he directed a string of international successes

with sci-fi thrillers like "Unbreakable"

starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson,

"Signs" with Mel Gibson,

"The Village" starring Joaquin Phoenix,

"Lady in the Water" with Paul Giamatti,

and "The Happening" with Mark Wahlberg.

He was also no stranger to the fantasy genre

directing huge blockbusters

like "The Last Airbender" and "After Earth"

but he may always be best remembered for introducing

that little boy who saw dead people in "The Sixth Sense."

Hi, I'm M. Night Shyamalan

and you're watching "Hollywood's Best Film Directors."

We're actually, you know, where we are at now

is my office here on a farm.

I live in Pennsylvania just outside Philadelphia

and I think it used to be a kind of

the hurdle to get over that I don't live in

in Hollywood.

But then pretty quickly it became an asset

in that it's informed my writing

and it made it different and I'm very quiet over here

and, you know, generally the door

is closed and I write every day.

I come in and I write for six months.

And then in the barn, where the cows used to be,

are -- is a theater and a post facility.

So that's where we edit all the movies and we screen them

and we have previews there and, you know, it's very much,

like, you know, I like to think of myself

as a craftsman, you know, like that Amish person

that crafts the perfect chair.

That's my goal and we both do our work in a barn.


In retrospect,

I guess I was maniacally driven as a kid.

I don't remember a single breathing moment

where I wasn't trying to become

the rubik's cube champion or the ping-pong champion

or the spelling bee champion or the number one in the class

just the drive to that or a tennis player,

you know, win at some tournament or this or that, you know.

And I guess there was this weird kind of desire

to be excellent at something and what was really interesting

was I was doing filmmaking on this side because I loved it

and didn't apply this kind of maniacal drive to that.

It was something that I just loved doing.

And then I looked up at like 15 and I go,

"Wow, I've been -- this is all I do is make movies.

Maybe I should think about doing this for a living."

And then I read Spike Lee's book.

It was actually really profound moment

I've actually told Spike this, but it was a profound moment.

We were at the airport at JFK and so I went in the bookstore

and on the carousel was like eight blocks,

but one of them was Spike Lee's "She's Gotta Have It"

The making of that movie.

And I just had that moment when I was thinking this,

"God, I spend a lot of time making little movies.

You know, this is something I'm interested in."

Then I read that book, which, for me, was a pivotal moment

it gave me permission to make movies

because up until that point I thought

that was something that a magic tribe of people

did out in some magic land called Los Angeles.

And, you know, it didn't seem like it was a feasible thing.

But Spike didn't know anybody either and Spike

just went to school for moviemaking

and became a filmmaker.

And I was like, "Wow, I can go to this place NYU

and learn filmmaking."

So literally as soon as I finished the book

I was like to my parents, I'm like,

"This is what I'm going to do."

-[ Laughs ] Cut. -And we cut.


"Wide Awake" was my second movie,

technically, but really was my first U.S. movie

and was really the first movie done with a studio.

And I got that by submitting a screenplay to all the studios

and two of them were interested in making it.

And Miramax at the time was kind of the, you know,

the archway that young filmmakers came

and the new filmmakers came in.

They saw my movie that I shot in India

and thought it was pretty good, decent.

And so I met with Harvey and this was like,

it was -- it was almost like a scene from "The Godfather"

when I met Harvey.

I'm not exaggerating when I tell you, by the way,

just to add to it,

it has no bearing on it, but I play basketball a lot

and I had, you know, torn my ACL at that time.

So I had a big brace on just to add to the theatrics.

So I drive in New York, go to this hotel,

and he's conducting all these meetings

and in like a bar area of a hotel.

So I come into the hotel

and it's full of smoke it's like...cigar smoke.

And, like, I come in, I sit down,

and there's Harvey, like, you know.

Sitting there like this.

And he tells me about -- tell me about your thing.

He goes, "I liked your script."

And then I said, tell him a little bit about me.

And he's an intuitive guy and literally stopped me

and like, you know, mid-sentence,

and he said, "I'm making your movie.

Tell your agents not to fuck with me."

That's literally what he said.

And I was like, "I'll tell them, sir."

And then I got up and left.

And I was like so I remember driving home

how happy I was, you know, it was literally, you know,

it's like that clichéd scene, right?

Every song on the radio was perfect

and I was singing and on the way back

and I was making a movie for Miramax

and it was very exciting.

I was 23 at that time.


Man: Action.


-Cut. Got it. -Done!

[ Clapboard claps ]

I believe, you know, the utter failure

of the first two movies

gave me a sense of nothing to lose

the next time out.

Put the camera on Kyle. One last rehearsal.

Man: Okay, rehearsal's up.

I went away and I wrote this screenplay.

Now we skipped a step which is after "Wide Awake"

I wrote a screenplay called "Labor of Love"

which became like this phenomenon script

in Hollywood, everybody wanted to buy it.

And I -- they bought it and then they fired me off as director

as soon as they bought it.

And it was a real tragic moment for me in my life at that time.

So the next script I wrote I swore I was going to write it

and if they don't guarantee that I'm directing it

I'm not selling it to anybody.

I was not bluffing.

I was ready to not make this movie.

So I called my agents and I said,

"I wanted to -- I have a new screenplay.

"I'm gonna send it to you on Sunday.

"I want to auction it off on Monday

"and I want you to tell everybody

"it's $1 million minimum bid

and guarantee directing."

My agents were great, actually, they called up everybody

and said, "Knight's got his new screenplay.

"It's selling on Monday.

"You have to make yourself available.

"It's $1 million opening bid, minimum bid.

And he's guaranteed to direct."

And they said, "Well, what's it about?"

And he goes, "I don't know. I haven't read it."

And they were like, "That's bullshit."

They just didn't believe it.

They didn't believe it that you would be coy,

he goes, "No, I haven't read it yet."

And he goes and they go

and he made everybody get available.

So then we went out on Monday. Monday, I flew out,

and I got a suite at the Four Seasons,

which I could not afford.

I had my wife and we had a baby.

And the bids started coming in at like two hours

after the first screenplay was delivered and one studio

after another would bid against each other.

And at dinnertime at 6 p.m.

we sold it for $3 million.

And, you know, went from I was living in my, you know,

living in my parents' guest room

and it was an amazing experience amazing, amazing experience.

And again, I don't remember the thrill of the money

as much as the opportunity to make it properly

and that everyone was going to hopefully let me --

let me make this, you know, in a real way

and I was -- I felt, this time I felt ready.

Like, I was -- I was ready.

I sold it when I was 25, 26, 25.

And I just felt -- I felt like I was ready to direct.

Whereas before, 100% I was a writer

who was learning how to direct,

this time I felt like a writer/director.

I'm ready.


That point, my mentality,

what was strange about the success of that movie,

I didn't believe it so I just kept my head down

and I was immediately writing "Unbreakable" like I was on it.

I was -- and "Sixth Sense" in the theaters for so long

that we were in preproduction on "Unbreakable."

"Sixth Sense" was still in the theaters in the same year

that "Unbreakable" came out and that same year.

So it was in the same year I had two movies in the movie theaters

and so, I was in deep preproduction.

I remember having to leave preproduction

to go to some awards ceremony or something for the movie.

It was just all very on top of each other.

I felt like someone was gonna -- it had happened to me

so much as a kid that the movies failed

and that I was on the precipice of having nothing

and it was, you know, I didn't trust the field at all

which is a really healthy thing to have as a point of view.

So I just put my head down and I was like before they decide

that I shouldn't be in this club anymore

I'm gonna make another movie, for sure,

I was gonna make at least one more movie

before they kick me out.

And so I put my head down and made "Unbreakable."



What ended up happening, I think,

in over the last six, seven years

is I started to leave making movies for

young males, adult males,

and it started to move towards teen girls

because I was raising girls.

I had three girls

and their interests were important to me.

And so, things like "The Last Airbender"

was it was a cartoon that they loved

and related to them, was very empowering, too.

It had a lead girl and you can see my movies

generally moving towards kind of young females

in the last six, seven years

because being a parent of the children.

So "Last Airbender" was absolutely for my kids

to make a family movie for them.


For me, preproduction is how you win --

how you win the game before the game starts.

And I need to first of all because I write my movies,

they have to -- I can feel it

when it's when there's still a problem

or when I'm trying to figure it out later

I don't have the answer.

So when I can get peace on a screenplay

that's phase number one which doesn't always happen.

You get close but you don't.

But if you're lucky enough to feel peace

then the second phase would be the crewing, casting,

and storyboarding, that group of three.

And I've really come to believe

that for me it's almost like being pregnant.

You want to be in the right mindset.

You're pretty quiet in school,

but you're very intelligent.

You've never really been in any bad trouble.

Shyamalan: I got Bruce Willis to star in "Sixth Sense"

because Kathy Kennedy and Frank Marshall asked him.

[ Laughs ]

And they flew out, met with him.

I forgot movie what movie he was shooting.

And they they asked him to read the screenplay

and they told him about me and he read the screenplay

and then he saw "Wide Awake."

And then he agreed to do the movie and then we met

and I was scared to death the first time I met him.

We're very close now.

And but, the first day I met him,

it was scary because I remember I was sitting with Kathy

and the assistant's like,

"Bruce Willis in the elevator."

And I was like, "Oh, my god."

And then she was like, she must be nervous, too,

because she was like,

"Tell me what you're gonna say to him, let's role play."

And I'm like...[ stutters ]

And then, I didn't know what to do, you know?

And then the elevator goes ding and then he gets off

and he comes in the room says hi to Kathy.

I think Frank was there as well, said hi to Frank.

And then he comes around the table to me

and, you know, whatever I was going to say or do

went out the window because he gave me a hug.

And when he gave me the hug it really --

he had already had a relationship with me

based on the screenplay and the movie he saw

and he was super gracious

to allow that to be his opinion of me.

And so we just immediately became friends

and he took an incredible stance of I believe in you,

whatever you say goes, and nobody mess with him.

And so he was like my protective umbrella

for the making of the movie.

-I did that on the last take. -No, you didn't.

-Yes, I did. -No, you did it real casual.

-[ Speaks indistinctly ] -Let's go to the videotape.

You know, it was very normal

casting process in "Sixth Sense."

We just checked out kids from both coasts

and they ended up being, like, three finalists.

And I went and met with the three finalists

and Haley Joel Osment was one of them

and when he came in and sat with me and he did the scenes

I just -- I didn't even want to make the movie.

And I called the casting director, I said,

"I don't wanna make the movie unless it's this kid."

And I was truthful. I mean, I knew it was lightning.

It was just lightning when it hit me.

And I remember it like to this day

I make fun of everybody that was on it, like, my producers

and things like that who were like,

"Ah, I'm not sure about this kid."

I'm like, "Good, good instincts there."

[ Laughs ]

So I would show the tape to everybody

and they were like, "Wow, this kid's amazing."

So I was very, very lucky the right kid

at the right time walked in.

[ Roaring ]

-Okay, cut it, cut it, cut it. -Love that. Love that.

Shyamalan: To do the type of filmmaking that I do

on that scale

would require five years to do that movie.

That's the truth.

And those filmmakers that do that

whether it's Peter Jackson

when he did it with "Lord of the Rings"

or even for example, Alfonso with "Gravity."

All that time that was taken on those movies

I can see that working four years, five years to do it.

But to do it in a compressed timeframe

of two and a half years to three years,

which is what these movies are, it's -- it's scary

and you're just keeping up

and just physically a lot of stuff.

And there are a lot of filmmakers

that love that kind of stimulation,

you know, Spielberg, and Michael Bay

and all those guys and Cameron of the king of the stimuli,

I don't have the intellect that they have for those things.

So it's a very scary time

and I'm always pulling it back to minimalism

which is probably ill-advised for those movies

because I'm always kind of making it as simple as can be.




And action! Got it!

Man: Done!

[ Clapboard clacks ]


Mel Gibson is a -- is a -- is a jokester.

He'll tell -- He does weird imitations,

but the -- I guess the funniest thing that happened

was one of the funniest things, there was a lot of funny things,

but one was my wife and her girlfriends

came to the set of "Signs" and he said let's play gag.

You know, there's a dog in the movie

and there's a dog bowl there.

He said, "While we're talking,

let's just pick up the dog bowl and start eating the dog food."

And the dog food was actually just regular food

that we had chopped up, but they didn't know that.

So he's talking with the girls and he picks up the bowl

and Joaquin and I and Mel

are talking with the girls that came, her girlfriends,

and they're giggling and all that stuff

and then he picked up the bowl

and doesn't mention he's just talking

and he starts eating out of the bowl and they're like...

And then Joaquin starts eating out of the bowl

and they're like, "Oh, my..."

They're so, like, offended to what they like --

"What are they doing?" And I'm like, "What!"

I'm crazy, too, I'm crazy like Mel.

I might eat dog food!

I don't make a particular protein very well

and it makes my bones very low in density, very easy to break.

Shyamalan: So Sam Jackson is as you probably know

is a very funny guy

and he's very kind of, he'll make fun of you a lot.

And we were doing the last scene in "Unbreakable,"

and he's in a wheelchair

and he did he did the scene and I came over.

And I forget what I said to him.

It was harsh.

I said something like, "You didn't -- you weren't --

"you didn't -- You didn't bring it.

"So that was -- I'm not sure what that was.

"But you're gonna need to --

"you're gonna need to bring it right now

"because this is the end of the movie

"and you had the end of the movie in you're -- it's --

"this is about everything why you did all this,

this character, why the character did all this."

And he stared at me and was like ice in his eyes

and he said, "You think I'm gonna bring it for you?"

And it was like the standoff and we just stared at each other

and nobody said anything after that for a second.

And I was like it's probably better just to roll camera

and see what happens because I definitely provoked him.

And we roll cameras

and he gave this incredibly poignant performance.

That's at the end of "Unbreakable"

this kind of, you know,

thing about wanting to be a villain

and how at least he's somebody important

and he's that guy, he's that guy.

He's so funny and witty.

But inside him is all this cauldron of emotion

and you just have to provoke it.

I saw him on the street the other day in Los Angeles.

We were driving and he pulled up next to me.

He was like,

"When are you going to put me in another movie, motherfucker?"

And I was like, "Sam!"

That's how he talks, by the way. [ Laughs ]

Don't tell my mom I said that.


Going to Los Angeles at any time

was going to, like, Oz for me.

It was a big deal.

This is where they lived.

You know, Steven Spielberg lived somewhere there.

You know, it's like a big deal.

And so, that when I went out to to go take some meetings,

you know, I got an agent

and the agent said, "Come out and take some meetings."

And I stayed with a family friend.

And, you know, you're staying in a guest room

and I was terrified and I rented a car

was, you know, the classic you rented a big white car.

And I was so nervous every -- that I locked my keys in my car

three times, on that same trip to Los Angeles.

I mean, I was terrified. I was absolutely terrified.

Luckily one was at a McDonald's. So that was good.

So I didn't have to deal with too much of the embarrassment,

but the worst one was I went to visit an executive

at Universal, you know,

and I drive on, I mean, again everything meant lot.

You know, I drive into the guard -- the booth

that the -- that the guard and says,

"Who are you coming to see?"

And you say, "Hi, I'm Night Shyamalan."

You know, I'm like, whatever, 21, 22 years old.

This is awesome, you know, being able to say,

you know, an executive's waiting for me.

But I'm so nervous and the guy says,

"You know where to go? You turn rather stage B and you do this."

So I do all that, I find this,

and he's like, "She's in Bungalow blah, blah, blah."

So did this and I park in front of the bungalow.

Like, I'm not sure I know where I am.

And of course I've passed Amblin at the time.

I mean, this was -- I was out of my mind

a little bit feeling like a fraud.

And I get the car and I stand and I'm like,

"I'm not sure I know where I am."

And then the lady's like, "Hi, how are you?

Are you -- Are you Night?"

And I'm like, "Yes."

Close the door and I come in. I'm like, "Great. Great."

And she's like, "Well, come on in."

And I'm like, "Okay."

And I go to open it, now the door is locked.

The car is running.

And so, just remember the meta of this

which is I'm meeting this lady to let me direct a movie

she's supposed to give me millions of dollars

to put in my responsibility, you know, this kid.

And she sees me look the door and she's like,

"Did you -- did you lock your keys in the car?"

And I'm like, "Yes." She goes, "But it's running."

I'm like, "Yes, it's running and it's locked."

And she's like, "Oh, my goodness."

And I'm like, "I'm so sorry."

And then she said, "Well, let me call maintenance."

So they had to call. She's on the phone.

Her assistant's on the phone. "Yes, yes."

And they're doing all the same conversations four times.

"Yes, he locked his keys in the car.

"The car is running.

"No, the keys are inside.

The car was running when he locked the door."

And they're just constantly retelling

my ridiculousness over and over.

And then, so I'm in the meeting

and I'm not even thinking about what I'm saying.

I'm so -- this is -- this is a disaster.

And then, finally the janitor breaks into our meeting

and he's like, "Are you're the one

that locked his keys in the car while it's running?"

Yep, that's me.

I go out and they jimmy it, pop it, and I take it.

And she's like, "Well, it was really nice meeting you."

Everything else is great. That was great.


You know, I have on my wall here in my office

a bunch of my favorite movies.

You know, the three movies

I have up here at my desk where I write

is "The Exorcist," "The Godfather," and "Jaws."

You know, those three movies are really kind of a bell for me

to remind myself of what can be achieved

in terms of making entertainment.

But without compromising

at all the integrity of your voice

and your integrity of how you see art.

You can kind of try to listen in this area

from this tree to, like, past the tent.

You know, it's funny,

there is something about

the box office of my movies have no correlation at all to

how I feel about my movies.

They confuse me a little bit, actually,

and because that's related to sellability,

which is a separate factor

whatsoever from the actual movie.

What the movie is, you know,

how sellable is "Five Easy Pieces" today?

I don't know if it's sellable at all, right?

But it doesn't mean that the movie itself isn't fantastic

or meaningful.

To me, there's something about "Lady in the Water"

that I felt like I was really close

to something super pure.

There was a fan that was dying and watched "Lady in the Water"

every single day in his last days.

And I sent him --

I heard about him and I sent him a script

and I signed it and he died holding the script

to "Lady in the Water."

And when I meet people on planes and stuff like that it just --

there's something religion about that movie.

And to me, as well, I because I was really trying to be pure

when making it without regard of protection,

without regard of selling, without regard of genre.

I wasn't thinking about any in that effect.

I let it all go.

I wish I could stay here with you.

We can hide together.


You know, I'll tell you story about fans

and people that have seen my movies

and things like that that enjoy the filmmaking.

I was once at a Super Bowl

and I was I was talking with an actor

and people started coming up to us

and this particular actor,

the fans of this actor kept coming up

and they were -- they were being silly

and they didn't really know him very well.

And the people that were coming up to me they come up

and they'd say something really specific

about this movie or that movie and what it meant to their life

and what they thought about what I was saying or a metaphor

for this or the colors of this and what that meant.

And it was all about keep,

you know, like every single one over and over and over

kept coming up to me

and saying, you know, we hear you,

we love what you're doing keep going, keep doing this,

keep going, don't give up kind of vibe.

And he looked over at me and goes like, you know,

your fans are, you know, there's so --

you mean a lot to them.

Mine just want to take a picture with me.

And you mean a lot to them and it really was touching

because for me when I went home that day,

by the way, my team lost that year in the Super Bowl,

when I went home that day, I was thinking how lucky

I was to have made a career where I can look at it

and almost every single idea, every single movie,

was an idea of mine and represents

either my fragility, my ego, my questions.

And so there's an honest relationship with the audience.

That's who I am, you know, the collective thing of

"Lady in the Water" and "Unbreakable" and "Signs"

and "Sixth Sense" you get you get a good sense of who I am

and what I think about

and what I believe about family and life

and what's out there and fears.

And so it's been an, you know, an incredibly uncompromised

and precious thing to have this relationship with you guys

and hope to just honor it and honor

and honor it with purity. So thank you very much.





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