While at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan on the heels of his panel for The Visit, his latest feature film which was co-produced by Blumhouse and will be arriving in theaters on September 11, 2015 courtesy of Universal Studios.

Here’s what Shyamalan had to say on making a movie completely off of Hollywood’s radar, confronting society’s fear of aging, working on his recent Fox TV series Wayward Pines, his approach to creating visual metaphors in all of his work and much more.

So what's it like making a movie in secret?

M. Night Shyamalan: It's been a little bit freeing, like when I write a screenplay too. I'm always very quiet about it. I don't tell anybody it, even family, and I just want to learn about the characters in the purest way that I can. When I can hit the colors, and find the story, then I'll show it to somebody. The same goes for the filming process too- when I make the colors correctly for the movie, then I'll show it to somebody, but never before. It can be tough because people are always asking me and I don’t say anything (laughs).

What I thought was really interesting about The Visit is that you explored the idea of the aging process. That can be scary thing to people who aren't old themselves- especially children. Was that something you had floating around in the back of your mind when you were fleshing out the idea for the film?

M. Night Shyamalan: Definitely. I think when I first started, I was analyzing why is it I can put simply an old lady in a doorway and do nothing else and then it's scary to you? Why do we have that in our psyche and whether it’s right or wrong, my philosophical feelings was, "It has to be our fear of getting old." And that is very much related to our fear of dying and the deterioration of our minds, the deterioration of our bodies, seeing what's going to happen to us, our fears of that, and playing on that and it has a duality to it, which is we're titillated and grossed out, we almost find it funny and it's frightening at the same time and so it's like the fear of getting old.

But The Visit is definitely what I would call a dark horror comedy and it took forever to edit to get to this tone because it was so deliberate. First, I did the ‘artsy’ pass and that didn’t feel like what I was trying to do at all- it just felt confused. Then I leaned on the comedy and it felt seamless so I was like, "Okay. We're embracing that." So we got closer there.

Then, when I had the spine of a thriller there, I knew we were closer and as we continued to play, we were able to get that weirdess that I love.  Like, I love David Lynch. He's just a God to me and the way he uses that weirdness, where I'm not sure whether this is funny or dark or awful. I like when I don't even know how to react sort of like, "Oh my God. What the fuck is going on?" (laughs).

So that's the tone of The Visit- what the fuck am I looking at? With this film, you're seeing a more truthful version of me. It’s not the polite version everyone’s used to.

What was it like working with a smaller budget or on a smaller budget, especially when you didn't have to answer to a big studios?

M. Night Shyamalan: The truth is if you can learn to develop your own inner voice, usually things work out. They do. This desire to want to please everybody, whether it's your bosses or your neighbor or whatever, can sometimes be detrimental to what you want to do. A perfect scenario is that I'm trying to make you see this picture that I’m creating. Do you see it yet? No? Okay, what do you see? And even though it’s not connecting, I'm not changing my picture either. So what do I do? I know as a storyteller I have to find a way to create something so that everyone can see my vision. So it may be easier but there are still challenges

And shooting something like Wayward Pines was a really edifying experience for me because you have less money to shoot there but in return, you have to give an enormous amount of material. I shot the pilot in something like 14 days and it moved so fast.

I'll give you an example. When you shoot TV, you don't have a monitor to watch the playback. They don't have someone recording the tapes, which in film is a standard thing. I'll direct everyone and then we stop, watch it on playback, make adjustments, and then we do that 4,000 more times during the making of the film (laughs). But on Wayward Pines, there's no playback and I always wanted to do no playback, but I was too fucking chicken shit to do it. But now, I didn’t have a choice and it’s intense because we have so little time and all that stuff. It's a really different atmosphere; every crew member is in 100%. Every actor's in 100%. It's super intense and I think it translates to an intensity you end up seeing on the screen.

It seems like there is always this layer to the stories that you create, like there’s a subversive message always bubbling below the surface. Do you feel like that is a more engaging way to tell stories?

M. Night Shyamalan: Yeah, absolutely. For me, when I feel it properly, everything is talking about everything at the same time and has much more meaning than it might seem at first. For me, everything about The Sixth Sense is all about the concept of communication and even an awakening of some kind. And for The Visit, to continue working on multiple levels was critical to me.

For example, you see that the kids here are all dressed in primary, pungent colors because their life force is very strong and the place where they are visiting is very monotone in color, with a lot of greys and browns everywhere. They're the life force that's coming in to it, and so everything we do visually in the film are kind of like the keys to The Visit- whether it's through a costumer, our production designer, the work of DP, or whatever. All of their work helps create this visual metaphorical language.

And most audience members won't get it, as a lot of it is a subconscious thing, but I do think they feel it. It's why the movies stay and they grow with audiences over time- there's something sticky about it.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.