Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
I still feel bad that we misled you so painfully last week, so I was delighted when a very reliable new friend of the site dropped the following report into my mailbox this evening. We’ll call this new spy “Harvey’s Third Chin”:
Had the opportunity to screen Signs and hear M. Night Shyamalan speak afterward at the WGA this evening. Got there two hours early to make sure I got a good seat and ended up sitting in the theater alone for 90 minutes. Oh well, good thing I brought a script to read (too bad it wasn't any good).
Anyhow, was the 3rd time I'd seen the film - Night came in afterwards and graciously answered questions from the audience. He started out a bit nervous but ended up quite charming and funny. I think everyone really dug him. I wouldn't be writing except that there were several things he had to say that would be interesting to a film fan.
First of all, he said - as is relevant to AICN - that he is working on an idea which he believes is the greatest idea ever (while acknowledging that this fact might be strictly in his imagination) but that he would never discuss such a thing until it was done. Then, regarding Signs, (he confirmed that the aliens had come to eat humans) he explained that the four members of the family represented the four pillars of human growth - the girl existing totally in the reality of childhood, Rory existing on the threshold and torn between that reality and the reality of adults, Joaquin existing as an adult who relies on the instincts of childhood and Mel who relies strictly on the intellectualization of facts and faith. I found that interesting and it helped clarify the film for me.
I was surprised however at the preponderance of antagonistic questions. One fellow asked why the response of the US Military was not addressed in the film to which Night replied that "... it is a slippery slope that ends up in Independence Day." (laughter) and that he had to draw the line in terms of addressing cliches. At this point someone else stood up and said that if he was concerned with sidestepping cliches, why then did he have a man in a 'green suit' at the end of his film. At this juncture, Night's voice noticeably rose in pitch and he explained that it was not a man in a green suit at all, but in fact, CGI and that he hadn't really wanted an alien that looked like that but, rather, an alien that was more like an octopus and, for all intents and purposes, invisible. Unfortunately, he went on, team after team of ILM 3D artists had failed to successfully deliver this vision so he'd had to fire them all and, ultimately, go with a humanoid alien.
Then someone else asked if he thought it was a cheat that the alien couldn't break out of the pantry. Night explained that a kangaroo would not be able to break out of a pantry either but could kill you with a single kick. Then yet another person asked if any of the studio notes had noted any discrepancy in the idea that an alien race that could cross light years of space, could not 'remove a nail from a board". I thought this was a gross over-simplification myself but Night patiently explained that since he has a 'no rewrite' clause in his contracts, he doesn't get notes (though he does ask the studio what they think after the deal's closed). He also noted that he did not see this as a discrepancy as different intelligences will undoubtedly be suited unequally for different tasks. Then yet another person challenged the idea that the characters in the film took no steps to defend themselves when the aliens were sieging the house. Night explained, quite plausibly I thought, that this was because Mel's character was incapable of action and capable only of reaction and this was at the very basis of his character struggle. When somone else then mentioned that they thought it was silly that at the very least the pickaxe was not recognized as a weapon, Night very honestly acknowledged that that was a bit of 'sleight of hand' and that he had even had the sound removed from the pickaxe when it was taken away from the door so the audience would never ask that question and said that if he could have thought of something else to block the cellar door, he certainly would have used it.
He then went on to discuss the accretion process that a really good idea spawns and how, while he only had 3 or so pages of ideas that came to him in the imagining of 6th Sense, he has upwards of 35 pages for his latest idea. He remarked that he does not converse with others about what he is writing while he writes since he considers writing a process of battling his demons, chief among them, he said, being a fear of mediocrity - which, he offered, he is 95 percent of the time (mediocre) and it's that 5 percent of the time when he is great that he lives and strives for. He said he fully expects to experience failure someday and that, while he's not necessarily looking forward to it, he thinks it will be a wonderful growth process (his words).
He also shared that while Unbreakable was made for a very specific audience, Signs was made for more "the Denny's crowd'. He related an amusing story in which he and his family were in Denny's and he saw a family of obese people who were completely nonconversant and totally preoccupied with their food and told how, in that moment, he realized that these people would not 'give a fuck' about what he had to say in Unbreakable and that then and there he determined that he would make a film that would be accessible to them (in a general sense) as well. He described himself on 6th Sense as a writer who'd gotten the opportunity to direct, on Unbreakable as a Writer/Director and on Signs as a Director who wrote scripts for himself to direct. He said a great many other things that were quite illuminating and I wish I could remember them all. All in all, it was a fascinating evening with the reigning king of the box office. He came off as extremely accessible, self-deprecating and likable and he even said 'fuck' quite a bit.
I’m glad to hear that Night comes across as a normal and decent guy, and that he can stand up to the direct grilling of a crowd without getting sarcastic or short-tempered. That’s a trick I’ll have to learn. Despite the fact that I didn’t like the resolution of SIGNS, I still strongly believe that he’s building a distinct and particular filmography, and I remain interested in whatever he’s cooking up next. Can’t wait to find out what it is...
Thanks again, “Harvey’s Third Chin,” for a dynamite report!!