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The Visit Press Conference: M. Night Shyamalan and Jason Blum

We’ve got a one on one interview with M. Night Shyamalan over at Nerd Report talking about The Visit, but we also attended the press conference where Shyamalan and producer Jason Blum spoke to reporters. It’s Shyamalan’s first Blumhouse movie, the studio known for contained, low budget horror films. And The Visit takes place entirely at a farmhouse so it fits. Here are some highlights from the press conference and be sure to check out our 1:1 and review of the film at Nerd Report.

Nuke: So, Night, I didn’t notice your director’s cameo in this movie. Were you maybe one of the guys on the cruise ship having the hairy chest contest?

M. Night Shyamalan: You know, I so wanted to be in this one. This is the problem with being Indian. It’s hard to be one of the family members. Everybody is white, usually. I was actually thinking about playing Kathryn Hahn’s boyfriend but then in the original script, he comes back in the last scene and I didn’t want everybody getting thrown off so I didn’t put myself in there. That’s a great idea!

M. Night Shyamalan on the set of The Visit
M. Night Shyamalan on the set of The Visit

Nuke: So did having the found footage format give you all new cinematic tools for misdirects and keeping us guessing?

Jason Blum: We do a lot of found footage movie and I really feel like this is different. It’s a mock documentary and I almost feel like they are opposite. Found footage is really purposely sloppy and the person documenting found footage has nothing to do with wanting to be a filmmaker. Really they are amateurs and are catching things by accident. The lead of this movie is the opposite. She loves cinema and is making a documentary to bring her family together. One of my favorite things about the movie is that the shots are very composed. It’s not a shaky camera and is very far away from found footage. Mock documentary, for sure, but shot by someone who loves cinema and is concerned with how it looks. I think that did provide a new way for you to shoot, right?

M. Night Shyamalan: I storyboard every shot of my thrillers in general. The difference in this one is I had to put it in the screenplay. So it’s in the screenplay where the shots were. “He picks up the camera.” “They leave it on the shelf.” “She’s carrying it in as they enter the door.” That’s in the screenplay. As I was writing it, I was kind of storyboarding it. The really wonderful part about making small movies is the limitations create opportunities. I know this is going to sound like pie in the sky stuff, but we can’t leave the locations much when you’re making a smaller budgeted movie. I found this farmhouse. I shot it in Pennsylvania, near where I live. There was a farm that was going through foreclosure from a bank and I said, “Can I have this? Can I rent this from you for about six months before you put it fire sale?” I gave them the whole spiel of, “Once I make a movie there, you can sell it for more.” They said, “Okay. You can have it for six months.” We had this incredible situation where I had the actual house through pre-production. So I would go with the actors and I would rehearse in the rooms on the stairs, in the kitchen, and I’d say, “You come around in there” and I’d be there with the cinematographer. There was a lot of times when I’d – this is kind of creepy – go to house by myself and just sit there and think of the shots. So I could really, really plan it out and think it through. “This is where we want to tilt here.” “This is said off-camera.” All these things I’d take copious notes on all of it. It’s how I like to make movies but the challenge was to make it look spontaneous.

Q: Sort of playing off of what you were saying about shooting, did you allow the kids to shoot any of the shots? How restrictive were you with the dialogue? Was there room to ad-lib?

M. Night Shyamalan: There was no ad-libbing dialogue-wise.

Jason Blum: On Paranormal Activity movies, there’s no script. There’s just an outline and it’s just improvised. This is much more a totally different way to approach this kind of filmmaking.

M. Night Shyamalan: I don’t mind anybody suggesting. It just has to earn its way in. Generally speaking, I have so many demands on them that they’re not thinking about being writers at all. I’m like, “Hey. That’s not where the character is coming from.” And give a million suggestions and trying to add it. And usually if they add handles, it’s like, “Um, uh, this” or something. And I’m like, “Get rid of those handles. It’s just crutches. Get rid of that. Get right to the sailing. Get right to the line. This is why he or she said that kind of thing.” But you had a two part question…

Q: Did the kids shoot anything?

8L60_ITP_00026RV2.jpg_cmykM. Night Shyamalan: Yes. There was one part that the kids shot. Mostly it was our operator who was a fantastic operator. I actually used the cinematographer, Maryse Alberti, who shot The Wrestler for Darren. It was actually Darren that recommended her. Luckily enough she was available and wanted to do it. The intimacy of the camera work was from her and the operator of how to portray, when you’re holding handheld, how not to feel like handheld. Don’t make it feel like handheld. This is someone trying to make it beautiful. Trying to take care to turn and hold it. Where’s the intension and that kind of stuff? We had one day which was a problem which was the underground where grandma crawls. The camera operator was too big. He was a grown man. He couldn’t keep up and go and crawl under there. In classic movie style, this is what happens on big movies all the time, the grips all got together, “We can figure this out. We can make a contraption. Just give us ten minutes.” They made this mechanical thing and of course an hour and a half later, they’re trying to pull it, it’s not working and it’s tipping over. We’re all sitting there and I’m dying. Literally one-third of the day is gone and I look over and Ed [Oxenbould] is there and I’m like, “Ed? Why don’t you just hold the camera?” And he was like, “Yeah!” He just ran underneath like he was squatting and he ran. So he did all the camerawork under the house. He was so proud that day.

Q: There’s actually a condition called gerontophobia. When you were younger, did you have a fear of old people? Where was your inspiration?

8L60_ITP_00063RV2.jpg_cmykM. Night Shyamalan: Basically when I’m writing something I think what is the subject of the piece? The subject of the piece is our fear of getting old which is a variation on our fear of dying. I have to believe there’s a primal thing that we’re talking about, even though it’s fanciful and we’re doing it in a tongue and cheek manner, but what is the thing that makes it scary? What is the psychology behind it? Actually I met my wife at NYU in Abnormal Psychology. I love the psychology of why we do things. Why is this color red do? What does this camera angle do? That’s the primal thing of it is that we’re scared of getting old. Playing on that is a powerful conceit. We talked a lot about that.

Q: Both of you seem like a perfect fit to work together. What was the most surprising aspect of working with each other?

M. Night Shyamalan: Here’s the thing about Jason. He’s the perfect foil for me because he’s super inspirable. If I’m next to a partner and I know there’s business, I know this is about art and commerce and that’s always tough for everybody, it’s just so hard. We’re selling art and that’s just hard. I get it and you can go way over here and be like, “I’m the artist” and you can go way over here and “I’m selling out” but it’s hard. To have a partner that’s advising me on the business side but all he cares about is being inspired, that makes me feel safe. I know he won’t betray the individuality of the movie. That’s all he cares about. He is the champion of those movies that other people did not see that would become something that they’re universal, no pun intended, in their reach. So Jason, I really look to him. I’m super confident about creative stuff and I’m really not confident about human interaction stuff. He’s very good at it so he’ll always be like, “It’s gonna be all right. Let’s do this.” It’s just been a wonderful pairing. You can talk about how we first met.

Jason Blum: Yeah, so we first met, I’ve always obviously been a huge fan of Night’s movies. Three or four years ago I started calling him and saying, “We have this low budget system. We make low budget movies.” He was always really polite and listened but always played his cards very close to his vest.

M. Night Shyamalan: Wait, pause there. This is to tell you how insecure I am. So he comes to my house.
Jason Blum: Not only did I phone. I actually went to Philadelphia.
M. Night Shymalan: Flew to Philly, sat down at my table and was telling me about all the merits of making a small movie, not taking any money. I’m like, “Okay, we don’t take any money, I got that part.” He’s sitting there and he had a hole in his sweater. It was just a hole in the sweater. All I was fixated on, because I’m a director, right? So I’m like this means something. It’s a hole in his sweater. And you looked exhausted too. I’m like, “He’s exhausted and he can’t buy a new sweater.” Everything he was saying, I was just staring at this hole in his sweater.

Jason Blum: I wore the wrong sweater but I kept going over. I pitched our process with my hole-y sweater. Then I didn’t hear from him for a while. Then I got a call, this was about a year ago, and he said, “Jason, you know, I heard everything that you said and I did it.” I said, “What do you mean?” And he said, “Well, I made the movie.” And I said, “But you didn’t call me. We didn’t talk.” He said, “I know, I did it all by myself.” Which to me was terrific. It’s the best version of what I said. I said, “That’s so cool.” He said, “I’m calling you to show it to you. I want you to see the movie.” So I saw it.

M. Night Shymalan: He saw a rough cut version.

Jason Blum: I saw a rough cut version and we obviously worked on it. To answer your question specifically, we had obviously met a bunch of times but we hadn’t really worked together until we started working on the movie together. I had always heard, I was intimidated by Night and I had always heard he has a very specific point of view. I think there’ve been a lot of terrific things that have come out of our relationship over the last 12 or 13 months but the best one is it’s been so collaborative. Night won’t always agree but every single comment, and every time we have a conversation, he’s like, “Wait, wait, tell me more, tell me more, tell me more.” Some directors we work with are like that and some aren’t, but it’s really fun when someone is as collaborative as that and really wants to hear ideas and our point of view. We’ve had a very healthy dialogue and as a producer that’s a very satisfying, fun thing. So that’s been the best thing for me.