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M. Night Shyamalan on ‘Complicated’ Shooting of ‘Old’ During the Pandemic in Hurricane Season

During a recent Tribeca Festival panel, the filmmaker discussed the difficult filming conditions he worked through while directing his latest film.

M. Night Shyamalan’s upcoming psychological horror film “Old” was one of the few big-budget movies to film during the coronavirus pandemic. Finding a way to shoot safely and efficiently was no simple task for the filmmaker, especially after a hurricane destroyed the film’s set. Shyamalan discussed the production challenges he ran into while creating “Old” during a Friday panel at the 2021 Tribeca Festival.

The director began principal photography on “Old,” which centers on a vacationing family at an isolated beach that mysteriously causes them to rapidly age over the course of a day, in September in the Dominican Republic. Shyamalan noted that everyone in the cast and crew avoided becoming ill with the coronavirus by effectively quarantining themselves.

“There were a couple times that I was on the verge of tears, but I guess I covered it well,” he said during the event, which was moderated by his “Old” star Alex Wolff. “We were the first movie to shoot and cast in the pandemic and the way we were making a movie was very new. I was making up the rules because I was the first one. So I said, ‘We’re all gonna stay in this hotel. I’m gonna pay for everybody. The cleaning ladies, the caterers, the reception person, the person parking our cars. Everybody is staying with us, and if they commit to these 10 weeks, I’ll cover everything and we just go from the hotel to the beach, back and forth everyday. And we stay safe. We didn’t have a single positive case, which is fantastic, even if it’s very scary. But because of this we had to push from May into hurricane season.”Scheduling issues motivated Shyamalan to shoot the film during hurricane season and he noted that he became more mindful of nature after his set was destroyed.

“Because of people’s schedules, I couldn’t have this cast if I waited,” he said. “I wanted to make the movie with [this cast] and we took the risk. Of course there was a hurricane and it took the sets and just destroyed them. We decided to build again but the biggest concern was that the beach had eroded. There was no beach for our beach movie. We got very lucky; by day one, part of the beach came back, so we shot on that side and then we became very versed with nature, like the tides and storms out 100 miles away and how many times the water comes up per day. You had such respect for nature, being out there. … Because of the movie’s premise, they’re aging and it’s one day in the movie, so if an actor was playing Alex’s character young they would be in the morning, then another would be in the daytime, and then there’d be another actor later. There was all these prosthetics and it was a very complicated thing.”

Shyamalan also discussed the influences behind several of his films during the Tribeca panel, including “Old,” which the director said was inspired by his father.

“‘Old’ is, my father is very old and has dementia. He comes and goes,” Shyamalan said. “I could tell him I’m coming into the Tribeca Film Festival and I’m not sure he understands what I’m saying. The kids are now directing and singing concerts. When did this happen? So, I made a movie about that feeling about, ‘Wow, we blink and everything changes.'”

“Old” features an international cast which includes Gael García Bernal and “Phantom Thread” breakout Vicky Krieps, as well as Wolff, Eliza Scanlen, Thomasin McKenzie, Aaron Pierre, Vicky Abbey Lee, Embeth Davidtz, and Rufus Sewell. The film will hit theaters on July 23. byTyler Hersko

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