M. Night Shyamalan

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M. Night Shyamalan
M. Night Shyamalan by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Shyamalan at the 2016 WonderCon
Born
Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan

(1970-08-06) August 6, 1970 (age 50)
CitizenshipAmerican[1]
Alma materNew York University
OccupationFilmmaker, actor
Years active1992–present
Spouse(s)
Bhavna Vaswani
(m. 1992)
Children3

Manoj Nelliyattu "M. Night" Shyamalan[1] (/ˈʃɑːməlɑːn/ SHAH-mə-lahn;[2] born August 6, 1970)[3] is an American filmmaker, philanthropist, and actor. He is known for making films with contemporary supernatural plots and twist endings. He was born in Mahé, Pondicherry, India, and raised in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania. The cumulative gross of his films exceeds $3 billion globally.[4]

He made his directorial debut in 1992 with his first movie Praying with Anger. His second movie was the comedy-drama film Wide Awake (1998). His most well-received films include the supernatural thriller The Sixth Sense (1999), the superhero thriller Unbreakable (2000), the science fiction thriller Signs (2002) and the period-piece thriller The Village (2004). For The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Director and the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Afterward, Shyamalan released a series of poorly received but sometimes financially successful movies, including the dark fantasy Lady in the Water (2006), the eco-thriller The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010) (an adaptation based on the first season of the Nickelodeon animated television series Avatar: The Last Airbender), and the science fiction film After Earth (2013). Following the financial failure of After Earth, Shyamalan's career was revived with the release of the found footage horror film The Visit (2015), the psychological thriller Split (2016), and the superhero thriller Glass (2019). With a total budget of $34 million between them, these three films earned a combined box office of $625 million. Glass is the third and final chapter of his Unbreakable film series which commenced in 2000.

In addition to his directorial work, Shyamalan was a producer for the horror film Devil (2010). Shyamalan was also called in for an uncredited rewrite for the teen film She's All That (1999) and also served as a writer for the film Stuart Little (1999).

Shyamalan is also known for filming and setting his films in and outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Most of his commercially successful films were co-produced and released by Walt Disney Studios' Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures film imprints. In 2008, Shyamalan was awarded the Padma Shri by the government of India.[5]

Shyamalan's next two motion pictures are slated to be released under Universal in 2021 (Old) and 2023.[6]

Early life[edit]

Shyamalan was born in Mahé, India,[7] a town in the Union Territory of Pondicherry. The son of Indian parents,[8] his father, Dr. Nelliyattu C. Shyamalan, is a Malayali neurologist from Mahé and a JIPMER graduate,[9] his mother, Dr. Jayalakshmi, an ethnic Tamil, is an OB-GYN.[10]

Shyamalan's parents emigrated to the United States when he was six weeks old. Shyamalan was raised in his hometown of Penn Valley, Pennsylvania. Shyamalan was raised Hindu.[11] He attended the private Roman Catholic grammar school Waldron Mercy Academy, followed by the Episcopal Academy, a private Episcopal high school located at the time in Merion Station, Pennsylvania. Shyamalan earned the New York University Merit Scholarship in 1988.[12] Shyamalan is an alumnus of New York University Tisch School of the Arts in Manhattan,[13] graduating in 1992. It was while studying there that he adopted "Night" as his second 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 him to follow in the family practice of medicine, his mother encouraged him to follow his passion. By the time he was seventeen, the Steven Spielberg fan had made forty-five home movies. On each DVD release of his films, beginning with The Sixth Sense and with the exception of Lady in the Water, he has included a scene from one of these childhood movies, which, he feels, represents his first attempt at the same kind of film.[citation needed]

Career[edit]

Film[edit]

Shyamalan at a press conference
for The Happening in 2008.

Shyamalan made his first film, the semi-autobiographical drama Praying with Anger, while still a student at NYU, using money borrowed from family and friends.[14] He wrote and directed his second movie, Wide Awake. 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[15] and earned 1999 Young Artist Award nominations for Best Drama, and, for Cross, Best Performance.[16] Only in limited release, the film grossed $305,704 in theaters, against a $6 million budget.[17]

That same year Shyamalan co-wrote the screenplay for Stuart Little with Greg Brooker. In 2013, he revealed he was the ghostwriter for the 1999 film She's All That, a teen comedy starring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Rachel Leigh Cook.[18] On June 17, 2013, Jack Lechner (who served as Miramax's head of development in the late 1990s) confirmed that both Shyamalan and Fleming contributed to the script: Fleming wrote the initial script that Miramax bought while Shyamalan did an uncredited rewrite (doing more than "a polish") that got the film green-lit. Lechner reiterated that content from both writers was included in the final cut of the film.[19]

Shyamalan gained international recognition when he wrote and directed 1999's The Sixth Sense, which become the second-highest grossing horror movie of all time.[20] He became a director whose name could, like Spielberg, market a film.[21] The Sixth Sense was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.

In July 2000, on The Howard Stern Show, Shyamalan said he had met with Spielberg and was in early talks to write the script for the fourth Indiana Jones film. This would have given Shyamalan a chance to work with his longtime idol.[22] After the film fell through, Shyamalan later said it was too "tricky" to arrange and "not the right thing" for him to do.[23]

Shyamalan followed The Sixth Sense by writing and directing Unbreakable, released in 2000.

Shyamalan's name was linked with the 2001 film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, but it conflicted 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".[24]

His 2002 film was Signs, where he also played Ray Reddy. His next movie was The Village (2004).

M. Night Shyamalan and Bryce Dallas Howard at the Spanish premiere of The Village (in the San Sebastián International Film Festival, 2006).

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".[25]

Released in 2006, Lady in the Water performed worse critically and financially than his previous films. Next was the film The Happening (2008). In 2010, he directed The Last Airbender, based on the first season of the Nickelodeon TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender. It won five Razzie Awards.

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.[26] The first of the three films was Devil, a supernatural thriller directed by siblings John and Drew Dowdle. The script was written by Brian Nelson, based on an original idea from Shyamalan.[27] The movie was about a group of people stuck in an elevator with the devil, and starred Chris Messina.[28] The film was not previewed by critics before its release. The next film in the Night Chronicles series is planned to be called Reincarnate. It is to be scripted by Chris Sparling and directed by Daniel Stamm.

Shyamalan later described his thinking circa 2013 as "I find myself questioning myself, and every thought that comes out of my head. The world of my industry decides I have no worth. I am a cautionary tale. A person who got lucky for a time but revealed himself to be a sham ... I do not believe in myself".[21] That year Shyamalan directed the film After Earth, based on a script by Gary Whitta and starring Will Smith and Jaden Smith. It was received poorly by critics, with Rotten Tomatoes giving the film a score of 11% based on 180 reviews.

Shyamalan announced in January 2014 that he would be working again with Bruce Willis on a film titled Labor of Love.[29] Shyamalan's reputation was so poor, however, that every Hollywood studio passed on his self-funded, low-budget The Visit. After revising the film,[21] which Shyamalan had shot in secret, Universal picked up rights to The Visit. The movie went on gross $98 million worldwide on a budget of $5 million[30] - the fifth-highest grossing thriller film of the year.[31][32] Universal released the movie on September 11, 2015.[32] In 2017, Shyamalan released the movie Split, which gross $278 million worldwide on a budget of $9 million.[citation needed]

In 2019, he released Glass as a sequel to his 19-year trilogy inclusive of previous films Unbreakable and Split. The movie grossed over $245 million worldwide.[33]

His next film, Old, is set to be released on July 23, 2021. The film is slated to star Gael Garcia Bernal, Eliza Scanlen, Thomasin McKenzie, Aaron Pierre, Alex Wolff, Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ken Leung, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Embeth Davidtz and Emun Elliott.[34][35][36]

Television[edit]

Shyamalan is the executive producer on the Apple TV series Servant. Shyamalan directed several episodes, including the pilot. Servant was renewed for a second series in advance of the season one premiere.[37] The second season of Servant completed filming in fall 2020 under COVID protocols.[38]

Shyamalan was also instrumental in the creation of the Fox science fiction series Wayward Pines (2015–2016), for which he executive produced and directed the pilot episode. The series became the most-watched show of that summer.[39]

In 2016, TNT first announced that Shyamalan would be responsible for a reboot series for Tales from the Crypt. As of June 2017 the series had been cancelled due to a number of legal reasons.[40]

He also appeared in an episode of the series Entourage.

Philanthropy[edit]

Shyamalan cofounded the M. Night Shyamalan Foundation with his wife, Dr. Bhavna Shyamalan, in 2001. The M. Night Shyamalan Foundation supports grassroots work by identifying and empowering emerging leaders in their communities removing the barriers created by poverty and inequality in their communities.[41]

Controversy[edit]

Sci-Fi Channel hoax[edit]

In 2004, Shyamalan was involved in a media hoax with Sci-Fi Channel, which was eventually uncovered by the press. Sci-Fi claimed in its "documentary" special The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan, shot on the set of The Village, that as a child, Shyamalan had been dead for nearly a half hour while drowned in a frozen pond in an accident, and that upon being rescued he had experiences of communicating with spirits, fueling an obsession with the supernatural.

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 a supposed rift with the filmmakers ever occurred. The hoax included a nonexistent 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,[42] Zap2It,[43] and the New York Post,[44][45][46] among others.

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."[47]

Plagiarism accusations[edit]

In 2003, a Pennsylvanian screenwriter named Robert McElhenney (no relation to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia creator and producer, Rob McElhenney) sued Shyamalan, alleging similarities between Signs and McIlhinney's unpublished script Lord of the Barrens: The Jersey Devil.[48][49] In 2004, Margaret Peterson Haddix claimed that The Village has numerous similarities to her young adult novel Running Out of Time (1996), prompting discussions with publisher Simon & Schuster about filing a lawsuit.[48][49][50] In response to both allegations, Disney and Shyamalan's production company Blinding Edge issued statements calling the claims "meritless".

Orson Scott Card has claimed that many elements of The Sixth Sense were plagiarized from his novel Lost Boys, although he has said that enough had been changed that there was no point in suing.[51]

Personal life[edit]

Shyamalan married Dr. Bhavna Vaswani, a fellow student whom he met at New York University.[52] The couple has three daughters.[53] His production company, Blinding Edge Pictures,[54] is located in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.[55] Blinding Edge has produced Servant, Wayward Pines, Devil, The Happening, Lady in the Water, The Village, Signs, Unbreakable, The Last Airbender, After Earth, The Visit, Split and Glass. It is run by Shyamalan and Ashwin Rajan.[56] His cousin is actor Ritesh Rajan.

Shyamalan is a season ticket holder of the Philadelphia 76ers.[57]

Shyamalan and his family live near Philadelphia at Ravenwood, a 125-acre estate, built around a 27000-square-foot 1937 Georgian Revival house.[58][59]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Title Director Writer Producer Notes
1992 Praying with Anger Yes Yes Yes Student film
1998 Wide Awake Yes Yes No
1999 She's All That No Uncredited No Rewrites[19]
The Sixth Sense Yes Yes No
Stuart Little No Yes No
2000 Unbreakable Yes Yes Yes
2002 Signs Yes Yes Yes
2004 The Village Yes Yes Yes
2006 Lady in the Water Yes Yes Yes
2008 The Happening Yes Yes Yes
2010 The Last Airbender Yes Yes Yes
Devil No Story Yes
2013 After Earth Yes Yes Yes Co-written with Gary Whitta and Will Smith
2015 The Visit Yes Yes Yes
2017 Split Yes Yes Yes
2019 Glass Yes Yes Yes
2021 Old Yes Yes Yes Filming[60]

Acting credits

Year Title Role Notes
1992 Praying with Anger Dev Raman
1999 The Sixth Sense Dr. Hill
2000 Unbreakable Stadium Drug Dealer
2002 Signs Ray Reddy
2004 The Village Jay - Guard at Desk
2006 Lady in the Water Vick Ran
2008 The Happening Joey Voice role
2010 The Last Airbender Firebender Uncredited
2017 Split Jai
2019 Glass

Television[edit]

Year Title Director Executive
producer
Notes
2015–2016 Wayward Pines Yes Yes Episode: "Where Paradise Is Home"
2019–present Servant Yes Yes Episodes "Reborn" and "Jericho"

Acting credits

Year Title Role Notes
2007 Entourage Himself Episode "Sorry, Harvey"
2019–2020 This Is Us Himself Episodes "The Pool: Part Two" and "A Hell of a Week: Part Two"
2019–present Servant Delivery Man Episode "Reborn"

Music video[edit]

He has also directed the official music video for Grammy nominated singer/songwriter Andra Day's Rise Up [Inspiration Version] which has over 74 million views as of October 2020.[61][62]

Critical analysis and box office performance[edit]

The Sixth Sense gave Shyamalan the reputation of, Rolling Stone wrote, "the guy who makes the scary movies with a twist".[21] In 2008, Shyamalan said it was a common misperception that "all my movies have twist endings, or that they're all scary. All my movies are spiritual and all have an emotional perspective".[63] He nonetheless avoided plot twists for years, until again using them starting with The Visit in 2015. Rolling Stone wrote in 2018,[21]

In his twenties, [Shyamalan] says, "I don't think you could have told me that making thrillers for your whole life wasn't a bad thing. At first it was a sense of, 'Hey, I can make anything.' But that’s hypocritical, because when I pick up an Agatha Christie novel in my library, I have a strong expectation. So, I get it. . . . When I became happy with the idea of making thrillers for the rest of my life, everything went right."

After the release of The Village, Slate's Michael Agger noted that Shyamalan was following "an uncomfortable pattern" of "making fragile, sealed-off movies that fell apart when exposed to outside logic".[64]

After the release of The Happening, The Guardian's Kim Newman noted Shyamalan's earnestness and questioned whether "Can it be a kind of racism that the Indian-born, Philadelphia-raised auteur is hammered for his apparent character (or funny name) rather more than, say, Quentin Tarantino or Spike Lee?"[65]

Shyamalan has also won numerous Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Film in 2006 and 2010, while being nominated in 2008 for The Happening and 2013 for After Earth.[citation needed] In 2016 he was also nominated for The Razzie Redeemer Award.[66]

Three of his movies, namely The Village, Lady in the Water and Split, have been chosen in the Annual Top 10 Lists of Cahiers du Cinéma.

Critical reception[edit]

Year Film Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic
1992 Praying with Anger N/A N/A
1998 Wide Awake 42% (31 reviews)[67] N/A
1999 The Sixth Sense 86% (152 reviews)[68] 64 (35 reviews)[69]
2000 Unbreakable 70% (168 reviews)[70] 62 (31 reviews)[71]
2002 Signs 74% (234 reviews)[72] 59 (36 reviews)[73]
2004 The Village 43% (218 reviews)[74] 44 (40 reviews)[75]
2006 Lady in the Water 25% (212 reviews)[76] 36 (36 reviews)[77]
2008 The Happening 18% (177 reviews)[78] 34 (38 reviews)[79]
2010 The Last Airbender 5% (188 reviews)[80] 20 (33 reviews)[81]
2013 After Earth 11% (202 reviews)[82] 33 (41 reviews)[83]
2015 The Visit 68% (224 reviews)[84] 55 (34 reviews)[85]
2016 Split 77% (282 reviews)[86] 62 (47 reviews)[87]
2019 Glass 37% (373 reviews)[88] 43 (53 reviews)[89]

Box-office performance[edit]

Year Title Distributor Budget Box-office[90]
1998 Wide Awake Miramax $6 million $305,704
1999 The Sixth Sense Buena Vista Pictures $40 million $673 million
2000 Unbreakable $75 million $248 million
2002 Signs $72 million $408 million
2004 The Village $60 million $257 million
2006 Lady in the Water Warner Bros. $70 million $73 million
2008 The Happening 20th Century Fox $48 million $163 million
2010 The Last Airbender Paramount Pictures $150 million $319 million
2013 After Earth Sony Pictures Releasing $130 million $251 million
2015 The Visit Universal Pictures $5 million $98 million
2016 Split $9 million $279 million
2019 Glass $20 million $247 million

Awards and nominations[edit]

Collaborations[edit]

Collaborator The Sixth Sense
(1999)
Unbreakable
(2000)
Signs
(2002)
The Village
(2004)
Lady in the Water
(2006)
The Happening
(2008)
The Last Airbender
(2010)
After Earth
(2013)
The Visit
(2015)
Split
(2016)
Glass
(2019)
Total
Jason Blum ☑Y ☑Y ☑Y 3
Betty Buckley ☑Y ☑Y 2
Spencer Treat Clark ☑Y ☑Y 2
Frank Collison ☑Y ☑Y 2
Tak Fujimoto ☑Y ☑Y ☑Y 3
Mike Gioulakis ☑Y ☑Y 2
Bryce Dallas Howard ☑Y ☑Y 2
James Newton Howard ☑Y ☑Y ☑Y ☑Y ☑Y ☑Y ☑Y ☑Y 8
Samuel L. Jackson ☑Y ☑Y 2
Cherry Jones ☑Y ☑Y 2
Anya Taylor-Joy ☑Y ☑Y 2
Barry Mendel ☑Y ☑Y ☑Y 3
James McAvoy ☑Y ☑Y 2
Sam Mercer ☑Y ☑Y ☑Y ☑Y ☑Y ☑Y ☑Y 7
Joaquin Phoenix ☑Y ☑Y 2
West Dylan Thordson ☑Y ☑Y 2
Bruce Willis ☑Y ☑Y ☑Y ☑Y 4
Charlayne Woodard ☑Y ☑Y 2

Pop culture and racism[edit]

In 2013, the British Film Institute (BFI) said that one of Shyamalan's challenges is presenting works that "(ask) for childlike wonder and rapt attention", seeking contemplation and childlike belief when popular culture has turned toward shorter attention spans with "snark and testosterone-fuelled arrested adolescence".[91]

BFI also discussed the impact of racism on Shyamalan's career, pointing to frequent "'humorously' mangled rendering(s) of his apparently hard-to-pronounce second name."[91] By 2017, Vice said that "Shamalamadingdong" had become the "agreed-upon mockery of his name". Vice also criticized mispronunciations of his name, pointing to a Robot Chicken sketch on Shyamalan that did so repeatedly. Vice also said there was no reason to have Shyamalan's character in the sketch speak with an accent when Shyamalan never has. They also criticized the sketch's repeated mispronunciations of his name, and its conclusion with a "three-word condemnation of his whole career": "What a twist." Vice said that "it's time we stop treating him like a (shitty, racist, entirely undeserved when compared to other directors who continue to bomb with no end in sight) joke, and examine the entirely coincidental fact that Hollywood's most notable brown director is also the one we seem unwilling to forgive."[92]

BFI asked if critical attacks are the result of egotistical statements on Shyamalan's part. They question whether his strong statements of self-assurance coupled with the remarkable success of The Sixth Sense set up a fall from grace which was soon realized when a run of very successful films (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and The Village) seemingly collapsed with a string of critical failures (Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth).[91]

BFI said that "in a cultural climate in which a particularly vulgar form of atheism has become common, his polymorphous, holistic sense of the spiritual has rendered his work deeply unfashionable." They also mentioned that "his supposedly overweening self-assurance seems to derive from an uncynical enthusiasm, even awe for the power of storytelling. He is hardly the first director reputed to have a healthy sense of self-worth. The emphasis on the teller rather than the tales obscures the commercially and artistically successful run of films he had with The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and The Village." [91]

In 2019, Tim Griveing of The Washington Post said that "his confidence was interpreted as arrogance by some, especially after he cast himself in 'Lady in the Water' as a brilliant writer whose book is prophesied as a world-saver." Bryce Dallas Howard, who has worked twice with Shyamalan, differs: "Night is not an arrogant person," she said. "Night is really creatively ambitious. Very ambitious. He will engage in a conversation — he will talk through it, he will work through it — but he might take a leap. The most important thing in the world is: You just don’t want to make something that’s ignorable." Griveing continued, "Howard, who expressed pride in him for forging ahead despite his turn among critics, noted how rare it was for such a young filmmaker to write, direct and produce original material. She wondered whether that placed a bigger target on his back, as his reputation for doggedness was perpetuated within the industry and reinforced by critics."[93]

Books[edit]

While working on his film The Happening, Shyamalan developed an interest in improving the delivery of education in American schools. He hired doctoral student James Richardson to do most of the background research and as a result published I Got Schooled: The Unlikely Story of How a Moonlighting Movie Maker Learned the Five Keys to Closing America's Education Gap.[94]

References[edit]

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