M. Night Shyamalan’s Daughter Follows in Filmmaking Footsteps as ‘Old’ Second Unit Director

OLD, from left: Aaron Pierre, Vicky Krieps, Gael Garcia Bernal, Abbey Lee, 2021. ph: Phobymo / © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
Courtesy of Universal/Everett Collection

M. Night Shyamalan’s “Old” is a family affair, at least behind the scenes.

The film follows a group of tourists staying at a luxury resort who discover that the secluded beach where they are relaxing causes them to rapidly age. At one point, Maddox — the character played by Alexa Swinton and Thomasin McKenzie — sings a song in the film, titled “Remain.” The song was written by Shyamalan’s daughter, Saleka Shyamalan, a singer and songwriter.

The second unit director of the film is his other daughter, Ishana Shyamalan, a recent graduate of New York University. The two had previously collaborated on Shyamalan’s Apple TV Plus series, “Servant.”

Below, she talks about working with her father, learning from him and growing up watching horror films.

How did this job come about for you?

It happened randomly. I was doing work on “Servant,” and he pitched it to me far in advance. He said, “Would you be my second unit director?”

At first, I thought, “No way”… There was a lot of nervousness, but then as I got more comfortable working on “Servant” with him, it seemed the natural thing to do. It was this incredible, spiritual experience for us. We were together every day on this beach for up to 12 hours a day and in tandem.

What was it like working together and seeing his process?

The way he approaches movies is very prescribed and programmatic. He has everything storyboarded. In the hotel room, he had 12 huge storyboards with the whole movie laid out. We also talked about what elements I could grab on the island that would supplement the film such as nature shots, shots of the resort and other transitional shots.

As his daughter, I was in a lot of conversations with my dad and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis that would happen over a dinner table or in a car. I’d hear them going over shots and how they were inspired by so many Japanese films and Australian new wave films. They would show me clips, and then I’d go out and mimic those shots. I’d be mimicking the feeling of nature, it was about trying to implement their style into whatever I was getting. We shot on film, so you’re carrying a huge film camera and going up mountains or driving for hours to capture the bottom of the beach.

Talk about shooting on film.

I had to learn about it, because I had just graduated from NYU and they don’t really teach you film anymore. I’ve never shot on film before and it’s scary when you have this expensive thing here. You don’t have 20 takes to get that snake in a tree shot.

Do you have a favorite shot from the film or a sequence that you worked on?

It was a motion shot because you had to understand how to mimic the feeling of the ocean. Trying to get those and convey how the ocean changes was so cool.

How did “Servant” prepare you for shooting this?

I think of “Servant” as the other film school that I went to. It’s essentially a boot camp for all of the writers and directors to come together and make these different episodes. You’re surrounded by these other young directors who are equally as scared as you are as they are trying things out. It just allows you to fail with the safety net because my dad is always there.

What’s your earliest memory of seeing a horror film?

We watched horror movies from when we were way too young. From the time I was able to watch a movie, we were watching horror movies. I distinctly remember watching “Raiders of the Lost Ark” for the first time and seeing the scene where their faces melt off. I’d be sitting up at night thinking how gruesome it was.

I saw “Poltergeist” so many times. I remember in my elementary school in the library, I would come in every time and they would say, “We have a new scary story for you.” I formed a sense of identity based on that when I was pretty young.