Friday 7 March 2014

Film School Friday Lesson #24 - Directing Masterclass: M. Night Shyamalan

Last time, Film School Friday taught loyal readers how to win an Academy Award. Congratulations! Receiving an Oscar is the most prestigious prize one can receive working in the film industry, even if it is just for making a Robin Thicke biopic set in Nazi occupied Poland. If you don't get the reference, shame on you for not being a regular reader!
Still with me? Reaching the top of your game is certainly impressive but it also raises the all-important question; Where do you go from here? After winning an Oscar, Nicolas Cage went bat shit crazy, Charlize Theron starred in some crappy sci-fi and Halle Berry started using cat nip. Think that’s bad? Some film makers even seem content to let their career slide after only receiving an Academy Award nomination, somehow becoming less and less talented until their entire awards cabinet fills with Razzies instead of Oscars. See where I’m going with this? Let’s all get our smug face on then and practice our wooden acting skills as we read on for today’s lesson.
FSF Lesson #24 – M. Night Shyamalan Masterclass
Welcome to the depressing career arc of M. Night Shyamalan, a man whose face famously appears in the dictionary beside the phrase ‘giant let-down’. Apparently, ‘talentless hack’ was already taken by Brett Ratner.
Despite this, Shyamalan is still allowed to make films in Hollywood, but what’s really shocking is that his budget seems to increase with every picture! If you compare the money behind Shyamalan’s early films such as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable with more recent fare like The Last Airbender and After Earth, the difference is astonishing. It’s like producers are actually throwing money at Shyamalan to make crap movies. He’s like Benjamin Button but instead of regressing in age, he regresses in talent. Despite this, he’s richer than ever.
What I want to know is this; how the hell do we replicate his success?
Write Like You Just Don’t Care
Shyamalan has clearly been influenced by legendary directors like Spielberg and Hitchcock and this shines through in his earlier work, but films like The Happening and Lady in the Water suggest a different influence entirely. Want to make movies like Shyamalan? Watch as many awful direct to DVD releases as possible. May I suggest anything directed by Uwe Boll? Once you’ve soaked up all the crap, direct like the greats but write like a hack. It doesn't matter how the final product plays out, as long as it has some interesting shots. Case in point; the films Shyamalan wrote and didn't direct like Stuart Little and Devil are even worse than his own worst movies… Yes, that does include The Happening.
Ham It Up
Saying most Shyamalan films are poorly written is like saying Jaden Smith is a little bit crap at acting, but what makes them particularly cringe-worthy is the weirdly spiritual moments that he crams in. I blame Signs. The scene where Mel Gibson’s dying wife gave him batting advice, inspiring him to hit the aliens is just tackiness gone mad. Hit the aliens. It's not rocket science Mel!
lady in the water wolf
These scenes have become more and more common in Shyamalan’s work as his career's progressed, to the point where they take up almost the entire film. Watch Lady in the Water if you don’t believe me and then go away and write a scene where the residents of an apartment complex band together to protect a fairy nymph thing from an angry grass wolf with the help of a giant magical eagle… Oh wait. He did that already. Urgh!
Everybody Do the Twist!
Twist endings are a funny thing. Use them sparingly and they can jolt an audience into re-evaluating everything they believed was true about a film. These WTF moments are extremely powerful and can create generation defining moments in cinema. The twist ending in The Sixth Sense was one of these incredible moments.
However, if you use twist endings too often, audiences can become jaded and even disappointed when the inevitable twist does occur and it’s not up to scratch. The twist ending in The Village was one of these horrendous moments. Goddamn you Shyamalan, you one trick pony bastard!
Take the Wheel
Shyamalan certainly has talent though. You have to give him that. To inspire Mark Wahlberg to give a career-worst performance in The Happening is seriously impressive and by no means an easy feat. Sometimes, your lead stars natural talent may still shine through though, despite the poor acting directions (“be wooden, be wooden”), so as the director, it’s time for you to take center stage and give the intrusive cameo of a lifetime.
shyamalan cameo
If Shyamalan just appeared in small background roles like his role model Hitchcock, then I wouldn’t have an issue, but the way he writes himself into each movie as a key plot defining character is just grotesque. Cameo roles may seem like a cool trademark, but pompous, self-righteous cameos which are woodenly acted aren’t quite as impressive. Maybe it’s just me…
So there you have it guys. Want to make pretentious big budget movies that everyone hates? Ham it up, twist it up, cameo it up and write like you just don’t care. Let's see if Shyamalan keeps up the 'good' work with his next film Labour of Love, where he reunites with Bruce Willis, the star of his breakthrough, The Sixth Sense. See you in two weeks!

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