'Happening' day for M. Night Shyamalan

He previews 'Airbender' then hits a premiere

It was a big day for M. Night Shyamalan.

The filmmaker held an early Tuesday presentation of his 2010 Paramount Pictures/Nickelodeon Movies theatrical franchise "The Last Airbender" and later attended the New York premiere of his Fox thriller "The Happening."

Before a crowd of eager marketers at New York's Licensing International Expo 2008, Shyamalan unveiled a preview of his three-feature adaptation of Nickelodeon's animated sci-fi martial arts series "Avatar: The Last Airbender" (the first word removed to avoid confusion with James Cameron's upcoming sci-fi film). The first film is set for release July 2, 2010.

Shyamalan has storyboarded the entire live-action film twice, and his video presentation showed a series of hand-drawn landscapes -- more traditional than the series' anime style -- mixed with stock action footage, including Asian warriors on horseback. A large part of the reported $250 million projected budget of the three-film series will be spent on CGI special effects.

With Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman in the audience, Paramount's John Lesher and Rob Moore took the stage to discuss how Shyamalan brought them the project after his daughters' enthusiasm proved contagious. Shyamalan, who said his family was disappointed after he turned down a Harry Potter film and another well-known franchise, said several times that the film's religious subtext was what drew him to the project. "It has to be something I see God in," he said.

"I have a low action-fatigue level," Shyamalan said after the event, when asked to explain why he hasn't made many films outside his trademark thriller genre. "It can't be 'I want to hurt you.' All the fighting has to have a reason behind it."

The director said Paramount was impressed with his enthusiasm and that the price was right. "I do everything cheap, baby!" he joked. "All my movies come at a 30% reduced rate. This will be an 80- to 85-day shoot, which is very short for something on this scale."

Based on his script, Shyamalan estimates the first "Airbender" will be about two hours long. He's close to casting a set of young actors who will age with the story line, but said he's only committed to direct the first film, set to be shot in Greenland and Vietnam. "I'll need to rest after that," he explained.
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