August 1, 2002 
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MN Shyamalan
'I try not to do the wink, wink'
The M Night Shyamalan brand of films go beyond the ken of suspense movies and are packed with emotion

Arthur J Pais

One of the youngest directors in Hollywood, M Night Shyamalan can be described as an old-fashioned filmmaker. In discussing his latest sci-fi suspense drama, Signs, 32-year-old Shyamalan calls himself a traditional craftsman who doesn't use computers in storyboarding. He loves his pencils, paper and erasers.

Shyamalan says he does not believe things can really be fixed in the editing room. He dislikes computer editing. He does not like the idea of 'figure it later, why spend the time to do it now?' Instead, he will have long storyboard sessions and rehearsals with his artists.

Shyamalan is indeed a "very scary guy," says Bruce Willis, who acted in Shyamalan's two hit films, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Willis was referring to Shyamalan's steadfast passion and lengthy rehearsals.

Shyamalan loves classic suspense movies that had hardly any special effects in them. He enjoys the films of Steven Spielberg and he was indeed responsible, as a scriptwriter, for the special effects-filled Stuart Little: a story of a talking mouse. Remember, he got tired of that idea and refused to work on the sequel.

Should we then be surprised to know that one of the filmmakers Shyamalan has the highest regard for is Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, who died over two decades ago?

Mel Gibson For most part of his long career in Britain and Hollywood, Hitchcock made films that brought in tidy profits. But none of his films achieved the sensational success of The Sixth Sense, which not only grossed $650 million worldwide, but is also among the top 15 all-time hits. [About 130 million people saw that film worldwide. Hitchcock's most suspenseful hit, Psycho, was seen perhaps by about 75 million people in the 1960s when far more people saw the movies.]

And the reason for Shyamalan's success, many believe, is his expert exploitation of emotions. He maintains tight Hitchcockian suspense, but he infuses more sentiments in his films than the master of suspense ever did.
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With a Hitchcock or any other suspenseful film, once the suspense is over, so is your experience with that film. You don't want to see it again.

But invest the same film with real emotions - as Bruce Willis' longing for his wife or the young boy's efforts to have his mother's understanding and affection in The Sixth Sense - and then you may consider watching the film again because something deep has been stirred in you.

Thousands of people who saw The Sixth Sense repeatedly not only tried to understand its complex plot, but also enjoyed its emotional dynamics.

Shyamalan succinctly explains his movie philosophy in the production notes of Signs: 'An idea has to have meaning, suspense, emotion and humanity. It has to have a universal message that everyone can relate to, whether they are in India, Japan or Philadelphia'. Mel Gibson with Rory Culkin in Signs

He doesn't see it merely as a sci-fi or supernatural thriller. 'Supernatural movies kind of have a disclaimer in the beginning to say none of this real, wink wink,' he says in the press notes. 'But I try not to do the wink, wink…' he explains.

Like in the good old times, he aims to probe into what the actual journey would be for someone facing the bizarre. He wants the audiences to think: what if this really happened? What would I feel?

Signs is also a spiritual journey, he reminds us, like every other film he has made in his ten-year movie career.

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