Hi M, it’s me again. You know, one of your old fans from the glory days of Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense. Remember those days? Man, we were all so young and naive weren’t we? Remember Y2K? LOL.
Anyway, I’ve heard you had kind of a rough week. At the box office, your new movie, After Earth, lost to Now You See Me (a movie about magicians) and Fast and Furious 6 (a movie about sentient piles of meat that race cars). Coming off of The Last Airbender, the sharks are circling and whispers of your career being over are now heard from many corners of the Internet. Sorry, M.
No doubt you are worried about your future as a director of Hollywood films. I don’t blame you. But I’m here to tell you that, for your own good, I hope you get banned from making big budget movies. Let’s face it, you are awful at it. You are NOT the next Spielberg.
You aren’t even the next Michael Bay. At least his movies suck and still make money. You are box office poison. Embrace that. I know it may feel like getting banned from soaring budgets and A list stars is a step back in your career but the alternative is much worse. You will forever be relegated to begging for projects, lampooned in the media, and judged before you shoot a single scene. Again, I can’t stress this enough, You. Are. Box. Office. Poison.
Don’t worry though, there is a way to be great again. And, like a character in one of your movies (probably a bad one like Lady in the Water), you just need to discover that the answer was in you all along.
You should wake up every morning, stumble groggily to the bathroom mirror and say “I’m the guy who wrote and directed Unbreakable and that movie was incredible.” Forget the last decade even happened. Declare a do over. Prove to the audience and the media that you can make movie magic again. And I think you can.
Let’s remind ourselves of what made you stand out in the first place.
By now, your name has become synonymous with “twist ending”, but that didn’t start after The Sixth Sense. It started much later, and retroactively applied to that movie because it was the best example of the “twist” working well. But after The Sixth Sense, you made Unbreakable. A movie that has plenty of twists and turns but they never seemed to come out of nowhere and give you that “WHAAAATTTT?” experience. Instead, you wrote a quiet, subtle film about a relationship between three people (Bruce Willis, his wife and son) that had been quietly, subtly drifting apart because of unspoken failed dreams and enshrouded it in a fantastic conceit. That is a damn good movie and you wrote that thing.
It seems like you’ve forgotten that your old approach to movies was that concept shouldn’t get in the way of character. You used concept to explore character. And that’s the makings of a great movie. Even better, your concepts are always super interesting. Even the critically eviscerated The Happening had a concept that was actually pretty interesting: After thousands of years of abuse, nature “fights back”. But the concept didn’t have anything structure to build on and the characters consisted of watching two attractive people running a lot and occasionally whining. That isn’t a movie. Somebody should have stopped you half way through your first draft of the script and informed you that you can’t make a movie where the villain is the wind.
It’s popular these days to dismiss The Sixth Sense as “another Shyamalan movie”, but it shouldn’t be. It’s a victim of all your later failures. When The Sixth Sense came out, it blew peoples minds. The concept was interesting, the characters were motivated by multidimensional problems, and it was memorable in every sense (even the sixth). If you’ve ever seen a person walking by with a “I see dead people” shirt on, that’s because that line worked. In the film, Haley Joel Osment nails it and the simplicity of it sends shivers down your spine. Later, as the story reveals itself, the line becomes even more important. Outside of the movie, it was a cultural sensation. It was parodied, endlessly quoted and marketed to death. But that’s because it resonated with people.
Lately, your movies have been soulless and it shows. You’ve lost touch, M. While not all of your smaller budget movies (e.g. Lady in the Water) were hits, they at least had a spark of something in them. After Earth has been described as “devoid of emotion” which is a crime because your movies, at their best, were always about emotion. An attempt to get at that feeling behind our lives. I think you need to take a few years off, possibly lose all your money in a Ponzi scheme, disconnect your phone and delete your Hollywood contacts and just write a film that a young M. Night Shyamalan would want to make. You can probably even harvest the emotional depths of rejection and failure that you’ve experienced in your own career. Place the bad reviews, the poor sales, and mockery around you in your little writing room and swing away, M.