Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan (Malayalam: മനോജ് നെല്ലിയട്ടു ശ്യാമളന്; Tamil: மனோஜ் நெல்லியட்டு ஷ்யாமளன்) (born August 6, 1970), known professionally as M. Night Shyamalan, is an Academy-award nominated Indian American writer-director of major studio films, known for making movies with contemporary supernatural plots that usually climax with a twist ending. He is also known for filming his movies (and staging his plots) in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Shyamalan released his first film, Praying with Anger, in 1992 while he was a New York University student. His second movie, the major feature film Wide Awake, made in 1995 but not released until 3 years later, failed to find financial success. Shyamalan gained international recognition when he wrote and directed 1999's The Sixth Sense, which was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. He followed The Sixth Sense by writing and directing Unbreakable, released in 2000, which received mixed reviews. His 2002 film Signs gained both critical and financial success, but The Village (2004) was a critical disappointment whose box office fell hard after a strong opening weekend, and Lady in the Water (2006) performed even worse. His next and latest film, The Happening (2008), did financially better than his previous effort but was also panned by critics; in its entire American run, it grossed only slightly more than what Signs made its opening weekend.
Shyamalan spent his first six weeks in Pondicherry and then was raised in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania, an affluent suburb of Philadelphia. He attended the private Catholic grammar school Waldron Mercy Academy, which his parents chose for its academic discipline, followed by The Episcopal Academy, a private Episcopalian high school also in Lower Merion. Shyamalan went on to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, in Manhattan, graduating in 1992. It was here that he made up his middle name.
Shyamalan had an early desire to be a filmmaker when he was given a Super-8 camera at a young age. Though his father wanted Shyamalan to follow in the family practice of medicine, his mother encouraged Shyamalan to follow his passion. By the time he was 17, Shyamalan, who had been a fan of Steven Spielberg, had made 45 home movies. Beginning with The Sixth Sense, he has included a scene from one of these childhood films on each DVD release of his films, which he feels represents his first attempt at the same kind of film (with the exception of Lady in the Water).
Shyamalan made his first film, the semiautobiographical drama Praying with Anger, while still an NYU student, using money borrowed from family and friends. It was screened at the Toronto Film Festival on September 12, 1992, and played commercially at one theater for one week. When the film debuted at the Toronto Film Festival, Shyamalan was introduced by David Overbey who predicted that the world would see more of Shyamalan in the years to come. Praying with Anger has also been shown on Canadian television. Filmed in Chennai, it is his only film to be shot outside of Pennsylvania.
Shyamalan wrote and directed his second movie, Wide Awake, in 1995, though it was not released until 1998. His parents were the film's associate producers. The drama dealt with a ten-year-old Catholic schoolboy (Joseph Cross) who, after the death of his grandfather (Robert Loggia), searches for God. The film's supporting cast included Dana Delany and Denis Leary as the boy's parents, as well as Rosie O'Donnell, Julia Stiles, and Camryn Manheim. Wide Awake was filmed in a school Shyamalan attended as a child and earned 1999 Young Artist Award nominations for Best Drama, and, for Cross, Best Performance. Only in limited release, the film grossed $305,704 in theaters.
That same year Shyamalan wrote the screenplay for Stuart Little.
In 1993, Shyamalan married Indian psychologist Bhavna Vaswani, a fellow student whom he had met at NYU and with whom he has had two daughters. As of early-2008, the family resides in Willistown, Pennsylvania, near Shyamalan's usual shooting site of Philadelphia.
The film is similar to later Shyamalan films with a theme of crises of belief, a supernatural sub-plot, and a twist ending that sums up the ideas presented in the film. Although Wide Awake was made in 1995, it was not released until 1998 where it grossed a total of only $288,000 against a production budget of $7 million.
The film had a $40-million budget, and grossed over $600 million at the box office worldwide.
The Sixth Sense was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Editing, Best Supporting Actor for Osment, Best Supporting Actress for Toni Collette, Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Original Screenplay. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America awarded it a Nebula Award for Best Script of 1999.
The film received a generally positive reception. Most notably of which was Roger Ebert's four-star review, stating, "M. Night Shyamalan's Signs is the work of a born filmmaker, able to summon apprehension out of thin air. When it is over, we think not how little has been decided, but how much has been experienced".
Shyamalan said in an interview with Science Fiction Weekly that his choice of Gibson was influenced in part by the actor's emotional role in the film Lethal Weapon: "I was on my parents' sofa watching the video of Lethal Weapon, and then this guy did stuff emotionally that had no business being in an action movie. ... I completely believed the humanity of a man who was so torn by the loss of his wife that he wasn't afraid of dying, which made him a lethal weapon. ... [W]hen I wrote the movie about a guy who loses faith because his wife has passed away, I felt like that was the guy. And I also like taking an action guy and not letting him be The Guy."
Shyamalan also said that originally, there was going to be very little music in the film, but that composer James Newton Howard's intense and emotional compositions reminded him of a Bernard Herrmann (Alfred Hitchcock's frequent composer) score and prompted him to change his mind.
With total production costs of $71.6 million, the film grossed $114.2 million domestically ($50 million in its opening weekend) and a further $142 million in non-USA receipts. Its successful opening weekend in America was followed by a severe dropoff of 67%, and the film is generally considered to be a commercial disappointment. Critical response was mostly negative: Desson Thomson of The Washington Post called it "a bewildering disappointment"; Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times said, "It's tedious instead of provocative and so unconvincing as to be preposterous." Roger Ebert, who had previously praised Shyamalan, called the film "a colossal miscalculation, a movie based on a premise that cannot support it, a premise so transparent it would be laughable were the movie not so deadly solemn. . . . He is a director of considerable skill who evokes stories out of moods, but this time, alas, he took the day off".
Shyamalan expressed a great deal of regret in the way the film was marketed, telling producing partner Sam Mercer, while overseeing the editing of the teaser trailer for Lady in the Water, that he had wished for the The Village to have been sold as a period romance with a scare only at the end of the trailer. Shyamalan is also said to have thought that the shift in the main theme of faith from his previous films to that of deception resulted in the mixed-negative response. Citing that his other movies set out to make an audience believe in the supernatural, The Village set out to do the opposite.
The Village earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score.
The proposal for this film was underscored by a rift between Shyamalan and Disney, the studio for which he had made his biggest previous films. In the book The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale by Michael Bamberger, Shyamalan said that he felt Disney "no longer valued individualism...no longer valued fighters. Shyamalan left the studio after production president Nina Jacobson and others became highly critical of his script, which Warner Bros. eventually produced. Critical response was again negative — Frank Lovece of Film Journal International saying simply, "this Lady is the Showgirls of fantasy film — disparaging both the inclusion of a film-critic character (one of many elements of Shyamalan's screenplay that Disney found troublesome) and Shyamalan's decision to take such a large and personal role in the film as a writer whose work would change the world. The New York Post wrote that the film was "dead in the water", criticizing Shyamalan as a "crackpot with messianic delusions."
Lady in the Water received four Golden Raspberry Award nominations, three of which were for Shyamalan himself (Worst Supporting Actor, Worst Director and Worst Screenplay), as well as Worst Picture.
As of September 14, 2006, the film made $42.3 million domestically and $30.5 million in the foreign box office, totaling $72.8 million. Combined production and marketing costs amounted to approximately twice this figure. DVD rentals of the film have earned it another $19.96 million as of February 18, 2007.
On January 28, 2007, Variety reported that Shyamalan showed a new script titled The Green Effect to studio executives but no major studios were interested in greenlighting the film. A little over a month later, the same magazine reported that Shyamalan's spec script (now titled The Happening) had been sold to 20th Century Fox after an extensive rewrite.
The plot involves a mysterious substance in the form of a neurotoxin released by plants. When a human comes into contact with this substance it results in a horrific death caused by the person killing themselves. The protagonist, a science teacher named Elliot Moore, attempts to escape from the substance with his wife and friends as hysteria grips the East Coast of the United States.
Despite the hype of being M. Night Shyamalan's first R-Rated film, it failed to impress most notable critics. The film is produced by Shyamalan, Sam Mercer, and Barry Mendel, and was released in the U.S. on Friday the 13th of June, 2008.
According to an interview with the co-creators in SFX Magazine, Shyamalan came across Avatar when his daughter wanted to be Katara for Halloween. Intrigued, Shyamalan researched and watched the series with his family. "Watching Avatar has become a family event in my house ... so we are looking forward to how the story develops in season three," said Shyamalan. "Once I saw the amazing world that Mike and Bryan created, I knew it would make a great feature film.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Shyamalan will begin filming Avatar: The Last Airbender in May 2009; he will need four or five huge soundstages in the Philadelphia area to produce this film. On April 15, 2008, Paramount and Nickelodeon announced the official title for the film will be The Last Airbender. Also announced was the release date, July 2, 2010. The Last Airbender is currently the only movie announced for the July 4th holiday weekend of that year.
Shyamalan's name was linked with the 2001 film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, but the project seemed to conflict with the production of Unbreakable. In July 2006, while doing press tours for Lady in the Water, Shyamalan had said he was still interested in directing one of the last two Harry Potter films. "The themes that run through it...the empowering of children, a positive outlook...you name it, it falls in line with my beliefs", Shyamalan said. "I enjoy the humor in it. When I read the first Harry Potter and was thinking about making it, I had a whole different vibe in my head of it".
After the release of The Village in 2004, Shyamalan had been planning a film adaptation of Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi with 20th Century Fox, but later backed out so that he could make Lady in the Water. "I love that book. I mean, it's basically [the story of] a kid born in the same city as me [Pondicherry, India] — it almost felt predestined", Shyamalan said. "But I was hesitant because the book has kind of a twist ending. And I was concerned that as soon as you put my name on it, everybody would have a different experience. Whereas if someone else did it, it would be much more satisfying, I think. Expectations, you've got to be aware of them. I'm wishing them all great luck. I hope they make a beautiful movie".
In July 2008 it was announced that Shyamalan had partnered with Media Rights Capital to form a production company called Night Chronicles. Shyamalan would produce but not direct one film a year for three years.
In truth, Shyamalan developed the hoax with Sci Fi, going so far as having Sci Fi staffers sign non disclosure agreements with a $5-million fine attached and requiring Shyamalan's office to formally approve each step. Neither the childhood accident nor the supposed rift with the filmmakers ever occurred. The hoax included a non-existent Sci Fi publicist, "David Westover", whose name appeared on press releases regarding the special. Sci Fi also fed false news stories to the Associated Press and Zap2It.com, among others. A New York Post news item, based on a Sci Fi press release, referred to Shyamalan's attorneys threatening to sue the filmmakers; the attorneys named were non-existent.
After an AP reporter confronted Sci Fi Channel president Bonnie Hammer at a press conference, Hammer admitted the hoax, saying it was part of a guerrilla marketing campaign to generate pre-release publicity for The Village. This prompted Sci Fi's parent company, NBC-Universal, to state that the undertaking was "not consistent with our policy at NBC. We would never intend to offend the public or the press and we value our relationship with both." Despite his office's disclosure-agreement requirement and approvals of each marketing step, Shyamalan told the AP, "I was, of course, involved in the production of the special but had nothing to do with the marketing of it. If the Sci Fi Channel erred in their marketing strategy, it was totally out of enthusiasm." Other critics have since deemed viewers to be victim of a somewhat 'cheap' promotional trick which went too far..
In a May 31, 2008, interview with the London Independent, Shyamalan offered this answer to the question about his "one-trick" movies: "Q: A common misperception of me is ... A:That all my movies have twist endings, or that they're all scary. All my movies are spiritual and all have an emotional perspective.
In recent years, M. Night Shyamalan has been accused of plagiarism. It has been noted that The Sixth Sense resembles an episode from the American teenage horror TV show called Are You Afraid of the Dark?, The Tale Of The Dream Girl, in which a boy notes that he is ignored by everyone except for his sister. In the end of the episode, it is revealed that he is actually dead resulting from a car/train crash in which his girlfriend died as well. She comes for him later on, and the scene in which the boy realises he is actually dead closely resembles the same revelation to the character of Bruce Willis in the sixth sense. Robert McIlhinney, a Pennsylvania screenwriter, sued Shyamalan over the similarity of Signs to his unpublished script Lord of the Barrens. The case fell apart when it was realised that he could hardly have plagiarised it if it wasn't even published. Margaret Peterson Haddix considered a lawsuit after it was noted that The Village had numerous elements found in her children's novel Running Out of Time.
|1992||Praying with Anger|
|1999||The Sixth Sense|| || || |
|2004||The Village|| |
|2006||Lady in the Water|
|2010||The Last Airbender|
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