Goth Chick News: M. Night Shyamalan Gets Small
Okay, don’t immediately blow past this post because your eye caught the name M. Night Shyamalan – this is actually encouraging news.
The last time I wrote something about M. Night (as they call him in the biz that once thought he was the next Spielberg, but then mercilessly crucified him), he had left his tomato-covered director’s chair and returned to writing. M. Night completed the script for Devil back in 2009 and relative newcomer John Dowdle brought it to the big screen with a modest $10M budget. It grossed nearly $340M worldwide, definitively proving that M. Night is a masterful storyteller, but an inconsistent front man.
Case in point: in a rush of optimism following Devil, the Hollywood moneymen turned around and gave M. Night $130M and Will Smith (plus child) to write, direct and executive produce After Earth, which was an apocalyptic film in more ways than one.
So it is either by choice or necessity that M. Night’s latest project is very small and hasn’t been getting a ton of press beyond what M. Night himself has been dolling out; oh, and it’s being called a micro-budgeted horror film.
“Micro budget” is the latest, sexy term for independent films, or films not financially supported or promoted by a large studio or big-budget investors. If you want some examples of micro-budget films that went platinum, IMDB has compiled a handy list (ironically a good percentage of them are horror movies), and in the number 1 slot is The Blair Witch Project.
M. Night revealed via Twitter that he’s deep into production on his top secret project, which he revealed yesterday is called Sundowning, or at least that is what it is called on the clapboard – our M. Night can be sneaky that way.
The encouraging bit is the M. Night is going back to his beginnings, before Hollywood started delivering production budgets with a forklift. The film that first got him noticed was made for a paltry $750K.
Filming for Sundowning is currently underway in Philadelphia and based on another M. Night tweet is running on a cast and crew of 10.
Any guesses? Sounds like a vampire movie to me. Teeth, contact lenses, and pale makeup don’t cost all that much…
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I agree. Sounds like a vampire bit to me, too.
As for horror dominating the list of micro-budgeted films, that shouldn’t be a surprise. A decade or so back when I was courting screenwriting, horror was considered one of the cheapest genres to make for film.
To expand on Ty’s point, horror is a genre that, ironically, is often spoiled by big budgets. Because when you have several million dollars to spend on fx, you’ve got to show off the monster — hey, look at this nifty CGI! — and that fear of the unknown (cue famous Lovecraft quote about the oldest and strongest fear of mankind) is demolished. Far scarier to get just a glimpse of what might be behind the door or down in the basement. Throw the door open wide and show us a generated effect, and the fear is dispelled. It may look cool, but hey, it’s what we see all the time on our computer screens — nothing to be afraid of!
Blair Witch is, of course, the ultimate case in point: not a single special effect; one of the scariest films of all time. Or compare the small-budget original The Haunting to the bloated, scary as a Nintendo 64 video game 1999 crud-crapper “remake.” I could go on and on. Maybe this is where M. Night’s niche is. Keep him away from big franchise properties like The Last Airbender!
(David Lynch, for a parallel example, can produce some of the most haunting little bits of celluloid you’ve ever seen with little more than pocket change and a camcorder, but who thought it was a good idea to give him Dune?)
True, horror is the cheapest genre to make (and make well) as Ty elegantly explained.
Blair Witch was the number one money maker on IMDBs list followed by #2 Paranormal Activity both of which scare the snot out of me every time I watch them. They are both genius in their simplicity and ability to let us, the audience, mentally anticipate all the horrors that aren’t thrown in our faces by CGI.
On that note, stay tuned – Blair Witch’s Mike Williams will be showing up at GCN soon to give us some inside scoop on how they gave us the major creeps for $60K.
To be fair to fair to the folks in Hollywood, crucifixion is the standard and well-understood fate of people who spend millions of dollars to make flop after flop. No one escapes the sentence…except, for some reason I can never fathom, Tim Burton…
EMC – I was already in the process of typing Tim Burton when I finished reading your post; then I nearly snorted my fifth morning coffee out of my nose.
How right you are. I love Burton most of the time – all the way up until he did what he did to my beloved Dark Shadows.
I hate being scared at movies, but even worse, hate it at work, so stop jumping out from behind my office door screaming ‘I see dead people!’ 🙂 I swear, the next time I meet M. Night for lunch in Burbank I’m going to punch him in the face for giving you such dark inspiration.
I love Lynch’s Dune; or rather, the heavily cut version of Lynch’s Dune.
Come now Art – you must admit I have a point about the dead people. I mean, have you taken a hard look at your batch of interns this semester…?
And Oz – but did you understand it…?
Big budgets do not equate to good movies and Hollywood is finding that out time and time again. Hulu, Netflix, etc. are making new roads with the new generation. Multimillion dollar flops are becoming the norm for Hollywood. Please scare me. Give me another Blair Witch Project type original.
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