“I’ve never written a screenplay where specific actors have to play the part. I needed these guys to do it, these three guys,” says M. Night Shyamalan about Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis and James McAvoy. “If one of those three guys didn’t want to do it or were not available, we don’t make the movie. That’s really scary for me, because when you’re committing and falling in love with this idea…”
That idea was Glass, the closing part of a trilogy that M. Night Shyamalan started with 2000’s Unbreakable, financed and released by Disney to a middling box office reception but whose cult has grown over the years, so much so that when people realised that 2016’s Split, released by Universal, was part of the same universe, it opened a window for the filmmaker to close off the trilogy. But there were a few speed bumps along the way.
“There were a lot of leaps of faith,” Night admits. “One was, ‘we’re going to make Split, I’m going do this tag at the end and tell everyone it’s connected to the Unbreakable world. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to pull that off rights-wise, so let’s just make sure we make a great thriller. If something were to go wrong, we made a great thriller from the beginning that could be standalone’.”
Split was a monster global hit for Universal, which actually ended up making things even more complicated.
“I think part of it was they were just really nice guys, and a part of it was that they perceived it as a small movie, which it was, $9 million… ‘Oh, Night’s making this small movie and he wants to do a wink or a reference at the end’,” says night about Disney’s permission to slip in the Unbreakable reference at the end of Split.
“When it did so well, it became a little bit more complicated. I was thinking, ‘how are we going to pull this off, because they have their certain slots and that whole company, the entire company moves toward selling that product. I’m going to say to two studios, ‘Give me one of your slots, both of you, but then give up the other part of the world.’ So, if you’re doing domestic, you’re going to have an empty slot in your international slate. So, you’re going to be dead, you have a dead leg there. And then if you’re doing international, you’re going to be having a dead domestic slot in your day. And let’s just share it, let’s just share 50-50, who’s up for that?’ Who would make that corporate decision?”
It helped that in Night’s corner was Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions, which has a first look deal with Universal Pictures. “I hire him as a producer, just to be a sounding board or if I need him for something unforeseen…” says Night. “I find him very calm and I like his advice. But more, he’s there not necessarily in a creative capacity, but in that capacity of how do we deal with things like Universal and Disney agreeing. What we achieved with the movie is pretty unprecedented, to get two studios to agree to this.”
Night goes on to tell us that this arrangement also allowed him to dip back into the Unbreakable well to incorporate it into Glass. “There’s scenes from Unbreakable that I didn’t get to put in the movie that I put Glass,” he hits. “Stuff that I shot 19 years ago is in the movie, which gives it a really cool, weird boyhood thing that happens; you’re cutting from the same people to the same people, but no CGI, just literally footage of both of them from 18 years ago, playing the same character.”
And what else can we expect in Glass, especially in terms of themes? “…belief versus doubt; do we believe there’s greatness inside us, is there an argument against that, is it more mundane and more grounded than we think it is… Everything is about that…”
Glass is in cinemas January 17, 2019