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Saturday, Feb. 10, 2001

Suspense from fear of mundanity


Director M. Night Shyamalan couldn't make it to Tokyo since he and his wife have a newborn child to look after, but that didn't stop the enterprising PR people at Buena Vista from setting up a virtual press conference for "Unbreakable."

Director M. Night Shyamalan couldn't make it to Tokyo in person to prmote "Unbreakable."

Via videoconferencing technology, the director took questions through an uncannily clear video link, with no discernible lag time. While the press seemed a bit camera-shy -- seeing themselves on a subscreen -- Shyamalan seemed quite relaxed and ready to talk. As he put it, "I enjoy answering questions -- I live in Philadelphia, and my wife is sick of hearing me talk about movies."

On his style: "On both 'The Sixth Sense' and more so on 'Unbreakable,' the idea was to make an old-fashioned suspense movie, before there were 1,000 cuts, before special effects and computer graphics, when you had to sit in a room and think: 'How do you create tension? How do you keep that intensity going from the moment the movie opens all the way to the end?'

"For me, 'Unbreakable' was about learning the vocabulary of the old-school filmmakers, who knew how to move the camera in the right way to create tension, in that you don't have to cut to create the distraction. When I'm editing, if I feel a lull, I just take it out, so there's just one long line of tension. My big fear is to be mundane."

On comic books: "I've loved them since I was a kid, but I'm not an obsessed collector like Sam Jackson; he actually goes to the store every week with sunglasses on and buys all his comic books. I'm not like that, but I love the mythology of it, and the heroes, the idea that they are fantasized versions of what we wish we could be. I love characters like Daredevil [a blind super-hero], which take human frailty and turn it into a strength."

On his surprise endings: "You have to keep challenging yourself. I want to change the structure of movie-making so it's not as predictable for me and for all audiences. In 'Unbreakable,' in specific, the idea that got me excited was that you think you're watching the whole movie, but really all you saw was the first chapter of a book. Really it's just the beginning. In a normal movie on this subject, my movie would be condensed into 30 minutes. You don't get to see the fight, you just get to realize who the combatants are."

On his use of color in his films: "The visual pattern for this movie that we came up with was to make the movie monochromatic, that the world was kind of a mediocre place, muted in grays and browns. We went really far with that, [even] making the extras and background blend in, and pulling out anything that would distract. Only at the moments where David Dunn encountered the comic book world were there these pops of comic book colors. Every time he bumped into somebody, their colors kind of emerged.

"In actuality, they were wearing two different outfits before they bumped him, and after they bumped him, they would be wearing a really bright version of their colors.

"We used all these vibrant primary colors to signify the comic book's elements emerging in the real world. Elijah's color was purple, and David's was green, and for the Orange Man [the film's villain], we picked orange, because in America, it signifies danger, like an orange sign in the road means 'Don't go there.' So you automatically have a feeling that there's something wrong."

On his influences: "My favorite writers are Elmore Leonard and Richard Price, who has some beautiful dialogue. Thriller-wise, I'd have to go with Thomas Harris and 'The Silence of the Lambs'; that's one of my favorite books and movies. For directors, there's so many people, but I guess mostly my style is primarily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen Spielberg. In the train station scene [in 'Unbreakable'], where David bumps into the Orange Man, the camera moves in on a dolly and comes in on an angle right in front of the guy's face -- that's [a quote] from 'Rashomon'!"

On directing other screenplays: "I'm certainly open to receiving a screenplay and directing it, but normally when I get offered movies, I get offers to write and direct; it comes as a package. Every single offer has been that way. So I'm still waiting for one, but I'd consider it if it happens. I hate writing! It takes forever! I [also] get offered movies to rewrite, but its just the same formula over and over again, and I just get bored to tears with it."



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