- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 23, 2000

PHILADELPHIA Being one of Hollywood's youngest and hottest filmmakers isn't what it's cracked up to be. Just ask M. Night Shyamalan, whose "Unbreakable," the follow-up to his blockbuster of last year, "The Sixth Sense," opened Wednesday.
"Oh, sure, no pressure whatsoever," the 30-year-old Mr. Shyamalan says with a laugh.
Though he had had a pair of small-budget films on his resume by 1999, he was a relative unknown when "The Sixth Sense," his third film, was released. It became the year's biggest box-office surprise, garnering six Oscar nominations and earning more than $500 million worldwide the 12th-highest-grossing film ever.
Mr. Shyamalan says the critical and financial success made it tougher going into "Unbreakable," which he wrote, directed and produced.
"I had more control this time but not the fun it was a lot, a lot, a lot of work," he says at the new film's recent benefit premiere in Philadelphia, where he grew up and still lives.
The suspense thriller reunites Mr. Shyamalan with Bruce Willis and also stars Samuel L. Jackson and Robin Wright Penn. Disney reportedly paid Mr. Shyamalan $10 million for "Unbreakable," which he started to sketch out before "The Sixth Sense" was out of post-production. Both movies were filmed in Philadelphia.
"With 'The Sixth Sense,' we had like five parties. Bruce was up there playing with his band. We didn't do anything but work, work, work on this one," Mr. Shyamalan says. "But it paid off."
Born in Madras, India, Mr. Shyamalan has lived in the Philadelphia area nearly all his life leaving only to attend New York University film school.
"It's wonderful to have a normal life your family, your house and make movies … and it's just a great thing to bring authenticity to your movies with your own memories," he says.
In "Unbreakable," Mr. Willis plays a football stadium security guard who emerges as the sole survivor of a horrific train wreck. Mr. Jackson plays a mysterious stranger who offers a bizarre explanation of why Mr. Willis' character escaped without a scratch.
"A bunch of ideas come out, and usually one stands out in the end, and that was 'Unbreakable,' " Mr. Shyamalan says. "This is definitely the closest I have ever come to the style of films I want to be making the heart, the action, the humor and the suspense."
Mr. Willis' character begins pondering his purpose in life a feeling Mr. Shyamalan knows well.
The son of two doctors, he was preparing to follow in their footsteps, but his passion for filmmaking changed that. His interest in filmmaking began when he made a short film at age 10 on a home video camera.
"That is what this movie's really about: discovering your destiny and asking yourself questions like, 'What am I supposed to be doing with my life?' "
Mr. Shyamalan is tight-lipped about his next project, but Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, hinted that he might be bringing out the lights and camera again soon.
"It's so exciting to have had Night's last two films here, and maybe we'll have him back sometime next year," she says.
An Academy Award eluded Mr. Shyamalan last year despite the half-dozen nominations for "Sixth Sense," but that hasn't deterred him.
"It's funny because a strange thing happens when you are doing what you are supposed to be doing in your life," Mr. Shyamalan says. "You start making the right choices, and everything just kind of lines up the right way."

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