Okay, so the Family Festival isn’t nearly as sexy as the star-studded-soiree side of the Tribeca fest. But who doesn’t love a good bedtime story?even if it comes before lunch? Last Saturday morning, director M. Night Shyamalan stopped by the Tribeca Grand Hotel to read from his upcoming children’s book, Lady in the Water, to a rapt crowd of pint-size listeners. Due in stores June 21, one month before the release of Shyamalan’s movie by the same name starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Paul Giamatti, the book tells the story of a ”narf” (or nymph-like creature) who lives in a child’s swimming pool. When story hour was over, the man who never met a twist ending he didn’t love answered a few questions.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, why do your first public reading at the Tribeca Film Festival?
M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN Actually, a lot of reasons. Tribeca [the neighborhood] was, for me, the beginning place. I went to NYU Film and one of my first movies [1998’s Wide Awake] was with Miramax, [whose offices are] in Tribeca. When you’re a kid, the first meetings you have stick with you forever. I remember having the first story meetings — I was like, Oh, this is filmmaking! This is making movies in Manhattan! This is unbelievable! And so it’s very close to my heart. It’s such a beautiful community of creative people.
Has writing a children’s book changed your process as a storyteller?
There’s a poetry to writing something so concise as a book like this. The way it’s laid out and the wording — you struggle over, say, ”she” or ”narf” for hours. There’s a great discipline and beauty that comes with that, too. I think it made me a stronger storyteller.
Are you going to check out any Tribeca movies while you’re here?
No. Because I’m just locking my movie, so I’m trying to stay in that head space. As soon as I’m out of that head space, I’ll make the wrong decisions.
With the book component, do you see Lady in the Water connecting with more kids than your previous movies?
Yeah, it definitely skews a little younger, because it is about whether an adult can believe like a child again. I would love really young kids to come and see it, but it’s a little scary. I’d say 8 and up.
You’ve never shown a movie at Tribeca before, but are you getting a sense of the fest, now in year 5?
My impression, from the industry and from [living] outside of New York in Philadelphia, is that it’s growing stronger and stronger, more important every year. It started out like an idea, but the idea has become reality.
Would you ever debut a movie here?
Absolutely, if the timing was right. I miss all festivals because I always finish [my movies] right in the summer sometime, and the festivals, they’re spring or fall. It’s frustrating.
So, maybe for the next one?
Do you have any idea what that project is?
And you’re not going to tell me, are you?
No. [Laughs] Two years, you’ll see it.
Well, I know it’s not adapting Yann Martel’s novel The Life of Pi for the big screen. Why did you drop out of that project?
I love that book. I mean, it’s basically [the story of] a kid born in the same city as me [Pondicherry, India] — it almost felt predestined. But I was hesitant because the book has kind of a twist ending. And I was concerned that as soon as you put my name on it, everybody would have a different experience. Whereas if someone else did it, it would be much more satisfying, I think. Expectations, you’ve got to be aware of them. I’m wishing them all great luck. I hope they make a beautiful movie.