While he was recently in Australia, I spoke with director M. Night Shyamalan about his new thriller, The Visit. Here’s how it went down…
Matt: A lot of your works fit into the thriller genre. With audiences becoming more and more savvy, is it harder to create material that can actually surprise and shock an audience?
Night: For me, the best plots come from great characters. I like to let the characters dictate what’s going to happen in the plot. When I write like that, good things happen. When people try to write plot first and character second, there can be a hollowness to the project. If you think about big CGI movies, the ones that actually work are the ones that have great characters. They’re the films that we love and stay with us. I think it’ll always be that way.
Matt: There are directors like Woody Allen who seemingly have an endless number of stories they wish to bring to the screen. Do you have a bunch of great ideas that you’re swishing around trying to make work? Or is coming up with an idea much tougher than that?
Night: It’s funny you say that because Woody Allen is a big hero of mine as are the Coen brothers. I really admire what Clint Eastwood has done. They keep telling great stories. If I do a big Hollywood CGI movie, that takes 3 years or more. That’s too long for me. I want to tell more stories. A movie like this only takes a year and half to do and I feel like that’s the right beat for me. I have another story to tell and I’m excited to tell it.
Matt: A big part of The Sixth Sense was having people keep its big twist a secret so as not to ruin it for other audiences. Given today’s use of the internet and social media, do you worry about spoilers being released on a movie like The Visit?
Night: No, you just have to trust audiences. Movies are for them. In today’s day and age, if you don’t want to know, you can definitely avoid spoilers. I think there’s an unwritten code on the internet.
Matt: A lot of work must go into post production to get the music, the sound and the editing just right to help build that suspense. Do you have a clear view of how it should all look and sound? Or do you find yourself playing around with different cuts to see what works best?
Night: A little bit of both. The key is to have a strong vision when you start to make the piece. That’s how the director can best succeed. In post-production, you have to be honest with yourself about what is and isn’t working. You have to be analytical and figure out how to improve those things you’ve fallen short on. The Visit was a very complex movie. It’s a puzzle with many tones to it. It’s funny, it’s scary, and it’s emotional. To get that balance right, took a long time. I kept working on it until it went click.
Matt: Perhaps I’m a little biased but I think Aussie Ed Oxebould gives the best performance of the film. He comes across so funny and natural. How did he come across your radar and get through the audition process?
Night: Both Olivia and Ed are from Australia and they just earned. Thousands of people auditioned and I just picked these two kids to play the leads. It doesn’t surprise me because I think Australia has an enormous talent base here. Where they’re coming from artistically works for me. I’ve had a lot of Australians in my movies like Toni Collette and Mel Gibson.
Matt: It is more challenging working with younger actors? Does it take a few more takes or a little more rehearsal time?
Night: Yeah, it does take more time but there’s such beauty when they nail their performance. I try to teach them as much craft as they can. I don’t want to try to capitalise on their charm or cuteness. I want them to bring discipline and craft to the art form of acting and that’s something they can take with them for the rest of their career. I have great respect for the form of filmmaking and I try to convey that to the kids.
Matt: You’ve popped up with small cameos in many of your films but not here in The Visit? Just couldn’t quite find a part for yourself?
Night: (laughs) No. I was originally going to play the boyfriend of the mum but in the original screenplay, the boyfriend came back at the end of the movie and I didn’t want audiences to freak out and go “there he is!” I didn’t want that to be the last reaction.
Matt: Ever thought about doing something completely different like a romantic comedy or a period piece drama or something?
Night: It’s funny you say that because I think my movies are mixtures of genres. I did do a comedy with The Visit. I also think I did a period piece with The Village. I try to mix genres and come up with something new.
Matt: What are you working on at the moment? Anything you can share with us?
Night: Yeah, I’ve just finished writing the next thriller. I’m going to do it small like The Visit and shoot it over the fall.