Commit to the Craft,  Creative Adulting

Why M Night Shyamalan is My Role Model

Have you seen “The Sixth Sense?” It’s one of my favorite movies. Everything about it is nothing short of brilliant. It’s creator, M Night Shyamalan, earned the title genius from me. I became an instant fan and anxiously awaited his future projects with baited breath. His next film, “Unbreakable,” fell short of my (and many other’s) expectations, but it wasn’t bad… mildly entertaining… on to the next. Then came “Signs” followed by “The Village” and “Lady In The Water.” The trailers filled me with the same first-rollercoaster-drop level of excitement I experienced with “The Sixth Sense,” so I HAD to see them. And they had me… right up until the end. Each one left me with my head confused-puppy style, cocked to one side and muttering either “Seriously?” or “That’s it?” or “You’ve got to be f-ing kidding me!”

In the years that followed, my feelings toward M Night and his movies changed. I grew weary of his bait-and-switch technique. He’s like that guy you have an insane crush on that keeps making plans to go out with you, but at the last minute something always “comes up.” I really wanted to like M Night, but the threat of utter disappointment was just too great. After “The Last Airbender” (dear, God, that debacle), I quit him for good. He would try. He would entice me with a really sexy trailer (ahem… “After Earth”). But I have way too much respect for myself to fall for his charms.

My views are shared with a handful of film-fanatic friends. For a while, I thought we were the only ones. One night, roughly a year-and-some-change ago, I was in a crowded theater seeing a movie (I forget which one). A trailer hit the screen and had me on the edge of my seat with chills and thinking “this movie looks kinda scary and I don’t do ’scary’ so I probably won’t see it in the theater but I DO want to see it!” The other others around me gasping and whispering and sharing at least part of my sentiment. Then the words “A film by M Night Shyamalan” graced the screen and the entire audience… I mean the EN-TIRE audience… let out a collective and utterly disgusted “uuuggghhh.” Honest to God. True story. Clearly, I am not alone. M Night has left more than a few people hanging. Oh, and in case you were wondering (and so I don’t leave you hanging) the trailer was for “Split.”

Every time I’d see his name, I’d think to myself… “How is this dude still making movies? Who is funding this crap? Are they high? Is he high? Haven’t they learned anything from MC Hammer? Giving money away is a bad bad thing! Obviously, he either has a money tree in the backyard or he’s got something on the movie money folks and they make his films to keep him quiet!”

This rant is a frequent topic of conversation between me and a filmmaker friend… usually when we are feeling sorry for ourselves and our lack of progression in our respective creative fields. We lick our self-inflicted wounds and rake M Night over the coals for cranking out utter garbage year after year while we two geniuses are being constantly rejected or offered wooden nickels for our brilliance (among other items on the long list of BS excuses we cite as barriers keeping us from our greatness).

One day, we decided to get to the bottom of this mystery. We wanted to know… no, we NEEDED to know the secret to his success! What we discovered forever changed how we felt about M Night. I almost love him now. Based on my limited, two-dimensional view of him, I believe every creative entrepreneur (or entrepreneur in general) should look to him for inspiration and motivation! Here’s why…

M Night Shyamalan is 1000% Committed to his Craft and His Purpose

Yes, the extra zero is intentional. 1000%. From “The Sixth Sense” (1999) to “Split” (2017), M Night’s overall average Rotten Tomatoes’ score is 47%. He made eight films between 2008 and 2018… six of them scored between 11 and 18%. His highest score is 85% for “The Sixth Sense” (of course… which seems low to me). His lowest score is 6% for “The Last Airbender.”

Big W’s. Colossal L’s. And yet, he still makes movies! No matter what. His newest project, “Glass,” will be out this year (or next… I’m not sure).

He, obviously, is not worried about audience. He is a filmmaker fully committed to his craft. His purpose is to make movies and he will continue to put them out for human consumption until his last breath. He has fully accepted that our feelings about his work are completely out of his control. More than that, I don’t think he cares at all! Well… maybe just a little. Maybe he occasionally says… “Let’s see if they’ll like this one! No? Ok, well let me try again…” Nevertheless, committed… 1 0 0 0 %. He makes the movies he wants to make… because that’s what he does.

M Night Shyamalan Will Make You Redefine What Success Looks Like

On paper (and Rotten Tomatoes), M Night looks kinda like… well… a failure of sorts. When most of us average Joes think of movies and the making of movies, we think BIG bucks. For all we know, most movies cost bazillions of dollars to produce so, logically, they would need to make gazillions of dollars at the box office for it to be considered a success. Therefore, M Night is either living in his mama’s basement existing solely on bologna sandwiches or he’s got dirt on some industry executive like I said before. This is what usually has my friend and I scratching our heads about him. I mean, how can he possibly be (air-quotes) successful?

I’ll tell you how and it is very simple…

We know these truths to be self-evident… People either like M Night movies or they hate M Night movies. In either case, people SAW M Night movies!

Get it?
Ok, let me help you…

People have seen these movies in the theater. I am one of those people, having seen his first five films on or shortly after opening weekend. We all bought tickets and regardless of our reaction, M Night’s bank account went “cha-ching.” Sometimes a big cha-ching… more often a little cha-ching. But it cha-chinged, nonetheless!

I don’t believe for one nanosecond this Shyamalan guy is a dummy. He has to know his work is not popular but, again, he doesn’t care about us! He’s 1000% committed to his craft and his purpose. So committed to it, he makes his films on a relatively low budget. Therefore ANY money made at box office is in “the black.” For example, “The Happening,” (90 minutes of my life I will never get back) cost roughly $48 million to make. It grossed over $160 million world-wide. Professional and amateur critics be dammed, he MADE money. So despite scoring a dismal 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, “The Happening” IS a successful project! While it may be a profit pie sliced extremely thin, $112 million ain’t nothin’ to sniff at! Regardless of opinion, he’s shown his backers that he is an asset, not a liability.

There’s a bigger picture here…

It’s not about the cha-chinging! (Well… not completely) Let’s face it, if he was doing this solely for money or praise, me thinks he might have given up this gig many moons ago. He’s not making “Marvel Studios” money by any stretch… but he IS making money. He’s not making money to get and be rich. He’s making money to live his way of life (whatever that may be) and to continue to create. He is 1000% committed to his craft and purpose, that’s all that matters.

Are you getting it now?
Ok, let’s keep going… Promise, I’m almost done!

M Night Shyamalan Knows There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Cat

Did you know that M Night wrote the screenplay for the hit kid’s movie “Stuart Little?” Neither did I! He’s had his hand in quite a few things over the years that you may or may not know about. He’s got more than one marketable skill. He can write, direct, produce, and even act, upon occasion, to name a few. I even remember his appearance in an American Express card commercial! So we can add “spokesperson” to the list. Again, he’s no dunce. He hasn’t put all of his income eggs in one “A Film by M Night Shyamalan”basket. Films take months… sometimes years to produce. During that time, dude’s gotta eat, right?

Again… there’s a bigger picture…

Making films is his life’s work… his purpose. It does feed him, clothe him, and shelters him… but it’s not required to. He does other things to supplement meeting his basic human needs so that burden is NOT completely riding on the success (or failure) of his life’s work.

It’s sinking in now, isn’t it?
Good! One last point…

M Night Shyamalan Knows Real G’s Move In Silence

When do we ever see M Night anywhere? Talk shows? Red Carpets? Walmart? Next to never, right? Truthfully, we don’t see that dude until he WANTS to be seen… and that typically tends to be in his own films when he makes a cameo. Remember what I said about “Stuart Little?” Not one of us who saw that movie was checkin’ for M Night in the credits!

Now, he IS on the Twitter pretty regularly. He tweets like a “regular guy” going about his daily routine, sharing that he’s at the Super Bowl, and what he had for dinner…yadda yadda yadda. He even tweets words of creative wisdom just like you or I would share an “ah-ha” moment or a Medium story that resonated with us. Also, like you or I, he shares a bit about his work day… editing this, shooting that, etc. But you only see THAT kind of stuff when there is something to see! After deals have been inked… after the casts have been casted… after the light has been greened.

The point being… any information about M Night and his work is given out on a need-to-know basis. When he’s ready for us to know what he’s up to, we will… and not a single moment before. Feel me?

So… What have we learned from my borderline obsessive deep-dive into all things M Night Shyamalan, boys and girls?

1 — If we want to be successful in our creative pursuits, we’ve got to be 1000% committed to our craft and purpose. Otherwise, it’s just a hobby. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a hobby. But if we truly want this amateur gig to go pro, we have to be ALL INPeriod. No matter what.

2 — If we define success by anyone else’s standards other than our own or if we measure it only by “fortune and fame,” we need to give up right now… or, at the very least, pick something else to do for a living. If we want to be a success, we will. When in doubt, refer to #1.

3 — Not everyone is going to like what we create. But guess what? Somebody WILL like it. A lot of somebodies will like it.

4 — Getting a “day job” is not giving up or selling out. Doing something that supplements what we need to live our desired way of life AND continue to create is smart. Anyone who says otherwise is probably not all that successful and is most likely living in his mama’s basement existing solely on bologna sandwiches. What’s even smarter is if we can supplement with a “day job” that compliments or even supports our craft. This way we’re not too far away from it and we can increase not only our credibility but our accessibility (and eventually our visibility) in the industry.

5 — Remember… real G’s move in silence! While it may be tempting to share with relatives, friends, and the internet because we’re SO excited about what we’re working on, we need to keep our mouths shut! Can you hold an idea in your hand? Neither can I! ZIP IT! Nothing to see here… until there is something to actually see! Got it?

My friend and I acknowledge our missiles aimed at Mr. Shyamalan were misguided. We no longer hate the player nor the game. We salute you, M Night! Whenever the fear of rejection rears it’s ugly head, we look to your shining example. You, sir, are a beacon of hope to all current and aspiring artists.

Oh… and in case you might have been wondering… Yes, I did see “Split.”(on HBO) Welcome back, M Night… I’ve missed you!



{also available in The Ascent}

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