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M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan

Indian-American screenwriter, film director, and producer
The basics
Occupation Film director Film producer Writer Actor Screenwriter
Country United States of America India
AKA Manoj Shyamalan, Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan
Date of birth Mahé, India
Education New York University, Tisch School of the Arts
Authority IMDB id Musicbrainz id Discogs id ISNI id VIAF id Library of congress id
The details

Manoj "M. Night" Shyamalan (/ˈʃæməlæn/; born 6 August 1970) is an Indian-American film director, screenwriter, producer, and occasional actor known for making movies with contemporary supernatural plots. His most praised films include the supernatural horror thriller The Sixth Sense (1999), the superhero drama thriller Unbreakable (2000), the science fiction thriller Signs (2002), the found-footage horror film The Visit (2015), and the psychological horror thriller film Split (2016). His other films include The Village (2004), Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010), and After Earth (2013). He is also known for producing Devil (2010), as well as being instrumental in the creation of the Fox science fiction series Wayward Pines.
Shyamalan is also known for filming and setting his films in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he was raised, and for including plot twists. Most of his commercially successful films were co-produced and released by the Walt Disney Studios' Touchstone and Hollywood film imprints. In 2008, Shyamalan was awarded the Padma Shri by the government of India.

Early life

Shyamalan was born in Mahe, the son of South Indian parents. His father, Nelliate C. Shyamalan, is a Malayali from Mahé and graduated with a medical degree from JIPMER. His mother, Jayalakshmi, is a Tamil obstetrician and gynecologist by profession. In the 1960s, after medical school (at the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education & Research in Pondicherry) and the birth of their first child, Veena, his parents moved to the United States. His mother returned to India to spend the last five months of her second pregnancy at her parents' home in Chennai.

Shyamalan spent his first six weeks in Puducherry, and then was raised in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania, an affluent suburb of Philadelphia. Shyamalan was raised Hindu. 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, Pennsylvania. Shyamalan earned the New York University Merit Scholarship in 1988. Shyamalan is an alumnus of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, in Manhattan, 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.


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. 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 and earned 1999 Young Artist Award nominations for Best Drama, and, for Cross, Best Performance. Only in limited release, the film grossed $305,704 in theaters, against a $6 million budget.

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. However, this statement has come into question as the credited screenwriter for the film, R. Lee Fleming Jr., denied Shyamalan's involvement in a now deleted tweet.

Shyamalan gained international recognition when he wrote and directed 1999's The Sixth Sense, which was a commercial success and later 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 Steven 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. After the film fell through, Shyamalan later said it was too "tricky" to arrange and "not the right thing" for him to do.

Shyamalan followed The Sixth Sense by writing and directing Unbreakable, released in 2000, which received positive reviews and commercial success.

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".

His 2002 film Signs, where he also played Ray Reddy, gained both critical and financial success. His next movie The Village (2004) received mixed reviews from the critics, but turned out to be a financial success.

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".

Released in 2006, Lady in the Water performed worse critically and financially. The film The Happening (2008) was a financial success but also received negative reviews. In 2010, he directed The Last Airbender, based on the Nickelodeon TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender. It received extremely negative reviews in the United States and won five Razzie Awards, but it made nearly $320 million internationally at the box office.

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. 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. The movie was about a group of people stuck in an elevator with the devil, and starred Chris Messina. The film was not previewed by critics before its release, eventually receiving mixed reviews. Devil was not a blockbuster hit, but has become a commercial success relative to its budget. The next film in the Night Chronicles series will be called Reincarnate. It will be scripted by Chris Sparling and directed by Daniel Stamm.

In 2013, 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 currently has three television projects in production and varied stages of development. The first, titled Proof, has been sold to Syfy, the second is being developed with NBC reportedly titled Lost Horizon and the third is an off-beat thriller titled Wayward Pines, adapted from the novel of the same name and broadcast by FOX.

Shyamalan announced in January 2014 that he would be working again with Bruce Willis on a film titled Labor of Love. By November of that year, Universal had picked up rights to a low-budget movie called The Visit that Shyamalan had shot in secret. Universal released the movie on 11 September 2015. In 2016 TNT first announced that he would be responsible for a reboot series for Tales from the Crypt. The 10-episode new season is set to air in 2017 and will continue with the original anthology format.

Sci-Fi Channel hoax

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, Zap2It, and the New York Post, 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."

Personal life

Shyamalan married Bhavna Vaswani, a fellow student whom he met at New York University. The couple have three daughters. His production company, Blinding Edge Pictures, is located in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. Blinding Edge has produced The Happening, Lady in the Water, The Village, Signs, Unbreakable, The Last Airbender, After Earth and The Visit. It is run by Night and Ashwin Rajan.



Year Title Director (Executive) Producer Writer Actor Role Film studio Budget Box office Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic
1992 Praying with Anger Yes Yes Yes Yes Dev Raman Cinevistaas $800,000 $1.4 million N/A
1998 Wide Awake Yes No Yes No Miramax Films $6 million $282 thousand 40% N/A
1999 The Sixth Sense Yes No Yes Yes Dr. Hill Hollywood Pictures $40 million $673 million 85% 64/100
Stuart Little No No Yes No Columbia Pictures $133 million $300 million 66% 61/100
2000 Unbreakable Yes Yes Yes Yes Stadium Drug Dealer Touchstone Pictures $75 million $248 million 68% 62/100
2002 Signs Yes Yes Yes Yes Ray Reddy $72 million $408 million 74% 59/100
2004 The Village Yes Yes Yes Yes Jay - Guard at Desk $60 million $257 million 43% 44/100
2006 Lady in the Water Yes Yes Yes Yes Vick Ran Warner Bros. Pictures $70 million $73 million 24% 36/100
2008 The Happening Yes Yes Yes Yes Joey (Voice) 20th Century Fox $48 million $163 million 17% 34/100
2010 The Last Airbender Yes Yes Yes Yes Firebender at Earth Prison Camp (Uncredited) Paramount Pictures $150 million $320 million 6% 20/100
Devil No Yes Yes No Universal Pictures $10 million $63 million 52% 44/100
2013 After Earth Yes Yes Yes No Columbia Pictures $130 million $244 million 11% 33/100
2015 The Visit Yes Yes Yes No Universal Pictures $5 million $98.5 million 64% 55/100
2016 Split Yes Yes Yes Yes Jai, Hooters Lover, Maintenance Man $10 million $46 million 76% 64/100


Year Title Director Producer Actor Role Film studio
2007 Entourage No No Yes M. Night Shyamalan Leverage Management
2015–2016 Wayward Pines Yes Yes No FX Productions
2017 Tales from the Crypt TNT

Critical analysis

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." Shyamalan has also won the Golden Raspberry Awards on numerous occasions for worst director, screenplay and film in 2006 and 2010, whilst being nominated in 2008 for The Happening and 2013 for After Earth.

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."

Plagiarism accusations

Robert McIlhinney, a Pennsylvania screenwriter, sued Shyamalan in 2003, alleging similarities between Signs and his unpublished script Lord of the Barrens: The Jersey Devil.

In 2004, Margaret Peterson Haddix claimed that The Village has numerous similarities to her young adult novel Running Out of Time, prompting discussions with publisher Simon & Schuster about filing a lawsuit.

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.

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Film Result
1998 Young Artist Award Best Family Feature - Drama Wide Awake Nominated
1999 Academy Award Best Director The Sixth Sense Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Bram Stoker Award Best Screenplay Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Award Best Screenplay Nominated
Empire Award Best Director Won
Nebula Award Best Script Won
Online Film Critics Society Award Best Screenplay Nominated
Saturn Award Best Writing Nominated
Annie Award Writing in a Feature Production Stuart Little Nominated
2000 Bram Stoker Award Best Screenplay Unbreakable Nominated
Nebula Award Best Script Nominated
2002 Bram Stoker Award Best Screenplay Signs Nominated
Empire Award Best Director Nominated
Online Film Critics Society Award Best Screenplay Nominated
2004 Empire Award Best Director The Village Nominated
2005 Teen Choice Award Choice Movie: Thriller Nominated
2006 Teen Choice Award Choice Summer Movie: Drama/Action-Adventure Lady in the Water Nominated
Golden Raspberry Award Worst Director Won
Worst Picture Nominated
Worst Screenplay Nominated
Worst Supporting Actor Won
Stinkers Bad Movie Award Worst Director Nominated
Worst Ensemble
Shared with the entire cast
Least Scary Horror Movie Won
Worst Picture Nominated
Worst Screenplay Nominated
2008 Golden Raspberry Award Worst Director The Happening Nominated
Worst Picture Nominated
Worst Screenplay Nominated
2009 Fangoria Chainsaw Award Worst Film Won
2010 Golden Raspberry Award Worst Director The Last Airbender Won
Worst Picture Won
Worst Screen Couple
Shared with the entire cast
Worst Screenplay Won
Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off or Sequel Nominated
Worst Eye-Gouging Mis-Use of 3D Won
Teen Choice Award Choice Summer: Movie Nominated
2013 Golden Raspberry Award Worst Director After Earth Nominated
Worst Screenplay Nominated
2016 The Razzie Redeemer Award The Visit Nominated
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