The Man Who Heard Voices -with an excerpt

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The Man Who Heard Voices -with an excerpt

Post by thirdeyeh » Wed Jan 03, 2007 1:57 pm

I got this book for Christmas and it's a book about writer/director M. Night Shyamalan and the filming of Lady In The Water. If you're a fan of Night's work as I am you'll enjoy this book. I blazed through the nearly 300 page book and found it enlightening. Most surprisingly is how much Night is insecure of his work as we all are and how much he desires to inspire people just as so many of us creators are. As such a huge fan of his work I find this book a humbling portrait of a unique filmmaker who is a genius but still a human. So check it on Amazon. Here's an exceprt from EW:

In 2004, M. Night Shyamalan, a two-time Academy Award nominee for The Sixth Sense who went on to write and direct Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village, invited writer Michael Bamberger to follow the creation of his newest movie. Lady in the Water would be an unusual dark fantasy with elements of both children's stories and horror movies about an apartment superintendent who discovers a mermaid-like woman in the building's swimming pool. The result, Bamberger's book The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale, offers an unusually intimate look at the driven, ambitious filmmaker's combination of brash confidence and gnawing insecurity, as well as his moviemaking process, decision by decision, blow by blow. At the time Bamberger started his book, neither he nor Shyamalan knew that the first of those blows would come quickly and unexpectedly — when Shyamalan finished the sixth draft of his Lady in the Water in February 2005, and arranged to have it delivered to the top brass at Disney, which had made his last four movies.


Night, who thrived on tension, chose a date: The three key Disney executives would get the script on Sunday, February 13. Paula, Night's assistant, would fly from Philadelphia to Los Angeles that morning with copies of the script and hand-deliver them to the homes of Dick Cook, the chairman of the Walt Disney Motion Picture Group; Oren Aviv, the head of marketing (Disney did not make movies that it didn't know how to sell); and most significantly, Nina Jacobson, the Disney president. Nina's tastes largely dictated what kinds of movies Disney made. Later that evening, on an itinerary established weeks earlier, Paula would collect Cook's script, then Aviv's the next morning. Night wanted to know where they were at all times. Nobody kept Night's scripts for very long.

Except for Nina. Because she had worked with Night from what Disney saw as the start — The Sixth Sense — Night granted her one special dispensation. She could keep the script. Night trusted her.

Because of the twist ending to The Sixth Sense, and the surprises in his other three movies, Night had to keep his scripts under tight control. The script for Unbreakable had been leaked on the Internet months before the movie came out. Night was determined that would not happen again, and it didn't. Secretiveness had become part of how he marketed himself. When Paula used Night's copier that could handle only twenty pages at a time, each page was stamped with a name or a serial number superimposed in large light gray type over the text. If this established Night as untrusting, which it did, it also established him as mysterious and neurotic, and he was okay with that, because it was true and because it served him well.

There was another advantage to having Paula hand-deliver the new script on a Sunday. It promised his script immediate and undivided attention on a day of the week when phones rang less, when time slowed down, when people were closer to their emotions. He was comfortable getting in the middle of people's weekends. He felt that the reading of his script should not be considered work. It should add to the weekend's pleasure.

Nina read the sixth draft of Lady in the Water that night, after her kids had gone to sleep and the house was quiet. On four previous occasions she had sat down to read original M. Night Shyamalan scripts, and all four times the scripts had been well-crafted, unique, and interesting. The scripts didn't have any big plot holes. He always worked them over hard before sending them out. They typically contained little direction, or notes for the director — for himself — about how the scenes should be shot. There wasn't much exposition. The story was told through the dialogue, in what was said, and often in what was not said. Reading Night's scripts was like reading a play. She knew Lady in the Water, whatever it was, wouldn't be a mess.

There was an early, funny scene in Spanish, the fastest-growing language in America. Nina was fine with that. The protagonist, Cleveland Heep, had a stutter. She made a note of it — two hours of stuttering could make an audience insane. The beautiful wet pool creature, the role slated for Bryce Dallas Howard, showed up on page 15. Bryce was not a star, nobody would come to a movie because she was playing the female lead, but she was pretty, talented, inexpensive, and Night had loved working with her on The Village. There was a character named Reggie who worked out only the top half of his body, and Nina found him amusing.

And then she started to have problems. She wasn't yet on page 20 of a 136-page script.
There was a scary-looking creature, sort of a mutation between a dog and a hyena, with sharp wet teeth and spiky grass for fur.

And Night wants this to be a Disney-branded movie? Too scary.

There was a fivesome of smokers, and even though they smoked only cigarettes, it was clear they'd logged a lot of hours, if not years, with their mouths on bongs.

Not Disney.

The film critic in the movie, Mr. Farber, was attacked.

Not smart.

Then there was the role Night wanted to play himself, Vick Ran, a stymied writer with a cloudy future, living with his sister and carrying the movie's message. It was an enormous supporting role, the second-biggest male role in the movie, and Night had never had a role nearly this big.

Should the audience see that much of Night?

Then there was the enormous Korean party girl, Lin Lao Choi, who explained the mythic tale that was the backbone of the entire script. She did her explaining not through action, the holy grail of modern moviemaking, but with words.

Way too much exposition.

With Lin Lao and her invented language came Nina's biggest problem with the script. She didn't understand the myth.

Nina read it once and then read it again. She picked up a phone and called her boss.

''I don't get it,'' she said.

''Neither do I,'' Dick Cook said.

The next day — Valentine's Day — one of Shyamalan's agents, Jeremy Zimmer of United Talent Agency, drove to the writer-director's farmhouse outside of Philadelphia to give him Disney's uncertain reaction. The following evening, the three Disney executives flew East to have dinner with Shyamalan and Zimmer at the Rittenhouse Hotel's restaurant Lacroix.

A uniformed doorman opened the door for Night and said, ''Good evening, Mr. Shyamalan.'' He said it easily, too easily, as if they saw each other daily. The doorman's greeting confused Night. It made him feel paranoid.

What does he know that I don't know?

From the start, the dinner was a disaster. The tables were too close together; Night felt that other diners could hear their conversation. The service was slow. There were many courses with tiny portions. Night was not touching his food. The waiters hovered excessively.

Nina and Night did most of the talking. They were sitting next to each other, with Zimmer on Night's left. Usually, Night found Nina's screechy voice amusing, but this night it was only grating. She sounded like the adults in the Charlie Brown TV movies: wha-wha-wha-wha-wha. Her problems with the script came spewing out of her without a filter. The boundary between candor and anger, Night couldn't identify it.

You said it was funny; I didn't laugh... You're going to let a critic get attacked? They'll kill you for that... Your part's too big; you'll get killed again... You've got a writer who wants to change the world but doesn't, but somebody reads the writer and does? Don't get it... What's with the names? Scrunt? Narf? Tartutic? Not working... What's with all these rules? Don't get it... Lin Lao Choi — and good luck finding a six-foot Korean girl — is going to explain all these rules and all these words? Not buying it. Not getting it. Not working.

She went on and on.... Night was waiting for her to say she didn't like the font Paula had printed it in.

The attack left Night feeling euphoric. He felt like a boxer, adrenaline coursing through him after getting hit. He came out flailing. He started with a broad attack, then planned to go into a line-by-line defense and conclude with soaring praise for his own work. He didn't want to have to do it, but who else would? He went right into Johnnie Cochran mode, which suited him. He did an excellent and funny, ''if the glove don't fit, you must acquit'' bit.

He was just about to shift gears when he looked at them carefully, one by one. He saw nothing. They weren't engaging him the way an opponent is supposed to. There was no boxing match going on. They were looking at him like he was on another team.

And as Night looked at them, he realized this wasn't a dinner meeting. It was an intervention, as if they were meeting with an alcoholic who needed to get into a treatment program. Their purpose was to talk some sense into him. Get on the team, buddy — we can all make lots of money!

Night felt sorry for them. They felt emboldened by The Village, by their belief that had Night only listened to them, that movie could have earned double or triple or quadruple the money it made.

''What are you saying, Nina? What are you saying the script needs? Three weeks? Three months?''

Nina said nothing. Her face said, Not three weeks, not three months, not ever.

''You're saying I've lost my mind.''

''No, we're not.''

''Yes, yes, you are.''

Night went into a long monologue of everything he had written as an adult, as a writer-for-hire, as a ghostwriter, as the writer of four original screenplays for Disney. He cited dollar figures, how the movies had ranked for their studios. When he got to the four Disney movies he had made, it was pow! whack! zoom! bop! The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village.

''Two of the four I made for Disney are among the largest-grossing movies of all time. But now — now I've written Lady in the Water, and I've lost my mind. Suddenly, I can't write anymore. I've lost my touch, gone crazy.''

Nina said, ''You know we had our problems with The Village.''

That was true. But Night had always thought they let him do his thing, as a writer and a director, because he had earned the right to do so. Now he was hearing something different. He was hearing: We didn't put our foot down last time, and we regret it; we're not going to make that mistake again.

He had known these people for years. He had always liked them; he had always thought they were smart. He knew they were good people. But a different kind of group thinking had taken hold of them. All of a sudden they looked like strangers.

It seemed to Night that they didn't know how they wanted the meeting to end. He couldn't understand why they didn't come in and say, ''Help us understand this movie.'' Had that been the first thing said at dinner, the whole night would have played differently.

He dug deep and said something he didn't know he still had in him: ''I'm going to have to decide whether I make this movie at all, or whether I make it elsewhere.''

Nobody responded.

Finally, Zimmer said to the Disney trio, ''We're thankful for the truthful response you've given us.''

Night didn't look at Zimmer. ''I don't agree with that. I didn't think it was a truthful response.'' He felt Nina had been preconditioned not to like the script, that she hadn't given it a truthful reading. He had put his heart into that script, he had put his soul and his dreams and his faith into it. It had more of a big idea — more of him — than anything he had ever written. It deserved more than we don't get it.

''There's a certain amount of space you have to give an artist, and the problem here is that you haven't given me that space. I don't have any room to move. You like the side of me that does conventional things that make money, and you don't like the side that does unconventional things.''

Everything was out now, including Night's unhappiness. The dinner came to a quiet close. Night tossed his spotless napkin on the table. The check came and Zimmer paid. The fivesome headed to the elevator.

''You three go down,'' Cook said. ''I want to talk to Night for a minute.''

Soon they were alone outside the elevator.

Cook told Night he could still make the movie at Disney, even if the executives didn't understand it. He said, ''Prove us wrong, Night. Just make the movie for us. We'll give you $60 million and say, 'Do what you want with it.' We won't touch it. We'll see you at the premiere.''

''I can't do that,'' Night answered. Spend a year of his life trying to prove them wrong? No. What a waste of energy. Their lack of faith in Lady in the Water would infect the whole project.


''I want to thank you for six great years and four great movies,'' Night said.

An elevator came, and they rode down together in silence. There were no hugs and there were no Hollywood loveyas. The three Disney people walked together past the doorman and out of the hotel and into a waiting car. As they left, Night was crying. He was crying because he liked them as people and he knew he would not see them again, not as his partners. He was crying because he was scared, because there was a big part of him that did want to simply get along with everybody, to do something safe, to be successful. He was crying because he knew they could be right. He was crying because in rejecting that script, they were rejecting him.


Rather than throwing his script away or putting it on the open market, Shyamalan asked Zimmer to take the movie to Warner Bros., whose entertainment president, Alan Horn, quickly agreed to make Lady in the Water. Bryce Dallas Howard was still set to play the title role, but the movie had yet to sign its male lead.

After the meeting at Alan Horn's house, Night was desperate to reach Paul Giamatti, but could not find him. Not in his apartment in Brooklyn, not on his cell phone. When he finally did reach him, all Paul said was that he hadn't read the script yet.

Night's heart sank. Reading the script wasn't a major time commitment. You could do it in 90 minutes, less if you liked it a lot or not at all. But he buried his disappointment and summoned his inner salesman.

''Listen, dude, I wrote this role for you, man,'' Night said. ''I really want you to do it, and so does everybody at Warner Bros. I gave them all sorts of opportunities to tell me they didn't want you, and they said, 'No, we think he's great. We want him.''' Paul said some noncommittal thing and the conversation was over.

A week passed, Night had still not heard back. No news was bad news.

One day in that period, I was at the farm for lunch. I mentioned that I had seen The Upside of Anger, with Joan Allen and Kevin Costner.

''How's he look?''

''You know, he's got a little paunch. He's losing his hair. He looks kind of beat up. He looks good.''

''I've always liked him,'' Night said. ''I met him once. He punched me in the arm and said, 'I know you.' I liked that. Very endearing... Life's caught up with him. He doesn't have that invincibility anymore. Damn! Jose [Rodriguez, an associate producer on Lady], don't tell them anything's up, but call Costner's guy and see what his availability is.''

Twenty minutes later, Jose had an answer for Night. ''He's got an independent movie that has him tied up for the first two weeks in August, and then he's available after that.''

Suddenly, the man who hears voices was hearing voices.

Maybe it's not Paul. Maybe it's Costner. Costner has warmth. Costner grabbed my elbow. Cleveland Heep has to have warmth. Paul hasn't even read the script. Does that mean anything? My God — is there someone I can talk to beside myself?

He asked Paula to get Sam Mercer, Night's producing partner, on the phone.

Night's first words to him were, ''I'm starting to have second thoughts about Paul.''

It was startling. What about, Listen, dude, I wrote this role for you, man? His decisiveness had been overwhelming. The voices were loud and clear. They were telling him that he didn't need Tom Cruise or even Tom Hanks. Night wanted the guy with the meager beard who played the writer in Sideways. And now that actor didn't seem to want Night. The traffic wasn't moving two ways, like it was supposed to. As Night was flooring it toward Giamatti, Giamatti should have been coming straight at him. And he wasn't. He was...nowhere.

Night couldn't see the reality, that Paul Giamatti was an actor in demand with a lot going on. Night wasn't accustomed to dealing with real-world intrusions. You were supposed to get sucked up into Night's world and to hell with everything else. But that wasn't happening.

''What do you think about Costner?'' Night asked Sam Mercer.

It wasn't common for Night to ask Sam creative questions. But he needed someone to turn to, and Sam was there. ''Is Costner too graceful for this role? You believe Paul as a building super. But this is a super who is not a super, you know? Waiting like this for an answer from Paul, it makes me wonder. Maybe he just doesn't want to do it.''

Night went outside, collar up against the wind, alone with about the biggest casting question of his career.

One of the things Sam did for Night was have the conversations Night didn't want to have or didn't know how to have. He protected Night from some of the harsher realities of moviemaking: negotiating with union bosses, landlords, agents, managers. Sam was a fixer. He could say, to anyone, ''Are you in or are you out?'' He didn't brag to Night about his methods. He did the opposite. He protected Night from them.

Several days after Night had asked Sam about Kevin Costner, Night got a call from Paul Giamatti.

''Dude, I am so Lady,'' Giamatti said. This was in March, five months before shooting was supposed to begin, an eon in moviemaking.

''Stop it,'' Night said playfully.

''I'm telling ya — I am.''

Night didn't need to ask Paul what had taken him so long. The thing was, he was in. And for a moment Night was healed.

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Post by Og » Wed Jan 03, 2007 3:00 pm

At first, I thought you were crazy, posting that excerpt.

But it's fantastic. Now I'm gonna have to read the whole damn book.

Nice to see the inner workings of a creative human, and how he had to stick to his guns. It's right up there with The Battle of Brazil. Makes me admire Night more than I did.

Thanks for the post.

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Post by thirdeyeh » Fri Jan 05, 2007 1:00 pm

Og wrote: Now I'm gonna have to read the whole damn book.
then my master plan is working :twisted:

No seriously, its a great read and has a pretty sobering look at the creative process.

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Post by Og » Fri Jan 05, 2007 1:45 pm

Sobering, perhaps, but certainly inspiring. I love stories like this because it makes my all-too-human foibles and insecurities seem surmountable, perhaps even garden-variety. If Terry Gilliam and M. Night Shyamalan can overcome theirs, perhaps there's hope for all of us.

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Post by jdalton » Sat Jan 06, 2007 2:44 pm

I for one hope M. Night never surrenders that narrow ground between self-confidence and self-doubt. The quality of his movies speak to the results.
Jonathon Dalton
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Post by thirdeyeh » Tue Jan 09, 2007 1:03 pm

Yeah it always frustrates me that people often confuse self confidence with arrogance or assume that self confidence isn't also joined by self doubt. I mean when I am working on a portrait or my comic I have to know that I can do it otherwise I won't do a good job at all. But always on my mind is the knowledge that I can screw the whole thing up too.

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