M. Night Shyamalan Talks Shift to TV With Fox Mini 'Wayward Pines'

Wayward Pines M. Night Shyamalan Inset - H 2014
Ed Araquel/FOX/AP Images/Invision

Wayward Pines M. Night Shyamalan Inset - H 2014

M. Night Shyamalan marks his TV debut with Fox miniseries Wayward Pines, an event series with an all-star cast that has already been compared to Twin Peaks. The mini, set for 2015, will make its debut on Friday at Comic-Con in San Diego, where it will screen for fans as part of the network's offerings.

The 10-episode drama is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Blake Crouch and is described as a thriller in the vein of Twin Peaks. The project revolves around Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon), a Secret Service agent who arrives in the bucolic town of Wayward Pines, Idaho, on a mission to find two missing federal agents. But instead of answers, Ethan's investigation only provokes more questions. Each step closer to the truth takes Ethan further from the life he knew, from the husband and father he was, until he must face the terrifying reality that he may never get out of Wayward Pines alive.

Melissa Leo, Shannyn Sossamon, Carla Gugino, Terrence Howard, Toby Jones and Juliette Lewis co-star in the FX Productions entry created by Chad Hodge (The Playboy Club). Hodge wrote and Shyamalan directed the premiere episode. Fox landed the series, based on a spec from Hodge, after a competitive bidding situation.

Ahead of the panel, THR caught up with Shyamalan ahead of his Comic-Con debut to discuss Wayward Pines, the differences between producing movies and TV and why so many film writers, directors and actors are coming to the small screen.

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What was it that attracted you to Wayward Pines?

When I read it, it was the humor of how to do this kind of story. Even the movie that I'm doing, it has so much humor in it and that's where I am: I enjoy this kind of black humor and really love it. As soon as I read it, I loved the mystery and how much we're off-kilter and I loved the tone. I knew how to direct this and felt it click. That's what you want to feel, that click.

Wayward Pines is your first foray into television. How did the process compare to film?

The 10-episode full season was something I was really excited about — how to tell a story over a long period. I supervised all 10 episodes, hired everybody and I directed the pilot. It was fascinating to be in a medium where the characters are king, which I love. That isn't necessarily the case in mainstream cinema where plot is possibly king and you have to battle it out with your characters — those of us who write our own movies are always trying to widen the characters and they fight against it: "Get to the thing when it happens!" In this medium, the deeper you feel connected to characters, the more you'll stay with them week to week. I really enjoyed that part of the discovery; it makes the characters more complicated and more interesting. It was fast, which was great. I had to go twice as fast as I normally go and I ended up making a small film after that where I used that training and it created a real urgency on the set that really benefits the energy level of what you see onscreen.

Was that the biggest challenge for you in this process?

Yes. People coming exclusively from film to TV for the first time, that's the first hit — the speed. But if you come from the independent world, which I did, and enjoy that kind of filmmaking, it's similar in the sense that you have limited resources and have to work at a fast pace. I also enjoyed the kitchy humor that's in Wayward Pines, that Twin Peaks-type style that I really enjoy and that's where my headspace is. It's fun to be able to do weird things that make people laugh.

Wayward Pines has been described as being in the vein of Twin Peaks. Were you a fan? How does it differ?

I don't want to say too much about the show, but Wayward Pines is a very unusual and wonderful story. It has a kind of larger, philosophical implication. When you first get into the world, it has this, how is it possible that these disparate things could make any sense at the end of the day [feeling] — and they do, which is a fun puzzle. I enjoyed this kind of kinship with the tone that Twin Peaks had. The Twin Peaks pilot is incredible filmmaking, it's off-the-charts audacity and its own tone. In our piece, there's an explanation for why everyone is acting like they're in Twin Peaks (laughs).

Is Wayward a self-contained story? Is this a miniseries in the truest form or could it run for a second season?

There's definitely an opportunity for another story to be told. I love where TV is at in that we've broken from the option of it being a procedural or a soap opera-like winding story that goes on forever. There are other formats now that we can do a miniseries, we can do 10-episode seasons, you can do American Horror Story and individual stories like that. There is an opportunity to continue Wayward Pines if we wanted to. But if we didn't want to, it's totally satisfying.

Wayward Pines marks your first time at Comic-Con. Are you nervous?

I'm super excited. I've seen and heard so much about it: the intensity of the fans and that it's a celebration of all these shows and comics that they love and celebrate. I can't wait to be in that energy, I'm a little giddy about getting there and seeing what it's all about. I wish I had time to go see the other panels for shows I'm a big fan of. But what I really like about Comic-Con is that it's for the fans.

We're seeing a lot of film actors, writers and producers head to TV. What do you think is behind the surge?

I think it's two things: That film's primary tool is the resonance of the movie to it has to be sellable. That movement that has shifted over the last two decades to where we are now, where sellability is first and foremost — and primary — which then puts certain limitations on all of us in terms of how we tell stories and what stories we can tell. Then the exact opposite in TV is happening. They're moving from, "We need as many eyeballs this very second that we put it on and we need it to be very accessible and familiar," to, "We need it to be resonant." We want a Mad Men so that our station is known for the resonance of the quality of our show. The value system has shifted to the storytelling and that is loud and clear. So for all of us — including the actors — to be free, to have control, to try different things: Can you do a scary thing with a Twin Peaks vibe? We can try different tones and everybody is open. Even the networks, you can see Fox is shifting into that equation. It's a really cool and healthy time for all of us to try out these different formats, whether it's cable, Netflix, etc., it's an opportunity to tell stories we believe in with new tones. It's very attractive.

You're also prepping Proof for Syfy. How much more TV are you looking to do?

I have a few TV shows that I'm thinking about. I want to bring the same care to it that we brought with Wayward Pines and want to make sure we're not diluting [the marketplace]. I'd imagine we'll have something to talk about soon.

Wayward Pines will screen at Comic-Con on Friday at 1:30 p.m. in Room 5AB. Check out the trailer, below.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
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