Writer/director M. Night Shayamalan had not even finished editing The Sixth Sense when
he started developing ideas for his next project and came up with the concept for
Unbreakable. 'I had actually been working on another story for a few months during
post-production on The Sixth Sense, and was just at the stage when I was going to commit
to writing it," says Shayamalan. "Then I had this idea about a man being the
sole survivor of a horrific train crash who walks away without a scratch and how he begins
to question who he is and what his purpose is in life.
"The idea was just so provocative and intrigued me so much, that I immediately
started outlining it. Within a couple days I had it to the level of the movie that I'dbeen
working on for months, so I just kept on going. "For some reason, the other movie I
was working on just didn't seem like the right next step," adds Shayamalan. "I
wanted to go forward in scope and implications for something that would really capture the
imagination and this idea lends itself to that. It was a great canvas as opposed to the
other idea which felt like it was very similar to The Sixth Sense."
As he began the process of writing the initial drafts of the script, Shayamalan asked
his producers from The Sixth Sense, Barry Mendel and Sam Mercer, to work with him again on
his new project. "The three of us together as producers are very effective,"
says Shayamalan. "Barry handles a great deal in regard to many of the creative
aspects of making the film and Sam is great at being able to physically execute my movies.
..he always figures out a beautiful way to make the impossible happen. Most importantly
though, they are good men and we all have the same temperament and have a great time
together. So between the three of us we are checks and balances for each other
practically, creatively and emotionally."
Mendel recalls Shayamalan’s intensity from the start: "From the moment we
finished filming The Sixth Sense, I kept seeing him furiously reading all of this research
about train crashes and technical aspects of other big fatality accidents. But all he said
was just that he had a new idea, he wouldn't tell me anything about it. He basically went
away on his own and just went into a hole and came out with an entire script. So this
truly is something that springs entirely from Night's mind."
"I conceived the whole movie in my head"
"Before I wrote it, I conceived the whole movie in my head," says Shayamalan.
"I said I want to do it with Touchstone Pictures. I want Bruce Willis and Samuel L.
Jackson to play the leads and I want it to come out at Thanksgiving." That was pretty
much how he tackled The Sixth Sense, too.
With his vision clearly set in his mind, Shayamalan began writing his initial drafts of
the script specifically for Willis and Jackson, having no idea if the two actors would
either agree or if they would be available to clear their busy schedules in order to meet
his self-imposed deadline for the target release date. Within a few weeks he had a working
draft and decided to call them to see if he could start making his vision a reality.
"I told them I was writing it specifically for them and gave them an idea of when
I wanted to shoot it, but at that point did not tell them what it was about, and they both
said they were in. Isn't that the way it should be?" laughs Shayamalan.
"Seriously, I'm not sure why they agreed at that point without reading the script,
but that is exactly the kind of fate that the movie is about and would ultimately require,
so I took that as a very strong sign that it was definitely supposed to happen."
"I trusted him implicitely" Bruce
Says Willis: "I couldn't believe it when Night called and said he was already
working on another script and that he was writing it specifically for me. We had just
finished shooting The Sixth Sense, the movie had not even been released in theatres yet,
and he already had a new idea and wanted me to star. I was so impressed by his confidence
in me and, having just worked with him, I knew what he was capable of, so I trusted him
Samuel L. Jackson also had the same kind of instinctual trust about Shayamalan and the
script. "I had read The Sixth Sense a few years ago and thought it was an awesome
script," says Jackson. "So not only did I trust his writing, but I had also
spoken to Bruce about his experience working with him and trusted his opinion about what
he had done. So I said, just let me know when it's ready and I'll be there."
With Willis and Jackson on board, Shayamalan continued to finalise the script for the
next few months, during which time The Sixth Sense was released with overwhelming box
office and critical success, grossing more than US$500 million worldwide. Shayamalan grew
more and more excited about making Unbreakable and quickly made his last revisions to his
sixth draft in order to deliver the final version.
"My initial reaction was 'Wow! He's done it again!,"' says producer Sam
Mercer. "What impressed me the most was the level of detail and layering, which I
thought far exceeded The Sixth Sense. It is clever, inventive, emotionally grinding and
incredibly riveting with even stronger and richer characters. As a piece of writing from a
young writer/director, it really is two more giant steps further along."
"This film really is a progression for me," says Shayamalan. "I
implemented a whole different theory of filmmaking on The Sixth Sense that was just
beginning, and this is kind of the evolution of that -like that was the bachelor's degree
and this is the master's. Hopefully it will be sort of a signature in that you can tell it
is by the same filmmakers -very suspenseful with a lot of twists and turns and emotion -
but with a whole new story and excitement."
"this is a more original idea" producer
"I thought the ambition of it was greater than The Sixth Sense because that film
relied more on ghost stories which is more recognisable, whereas this is a more original
idea," explains producer Barry Mendel. "It's a more ambitious screenplay that
shows a greater maturity of storytelling in terms of going out on its own and trying
something new. Most movies have something good about them ...great action, great suspense,
a great twist. …but very few scripts pull it all together."
The greenlighting process was just another example of how easily the pieces of
Unbreakable seemed to fit together. "I gave the script to Bruce Willis and Sam
Jackson on a Friday, they called me on Saturday and I took it to Disney on Monday with
both actors confirmed to star and available to shoot on the dates we needed them, and
fortunately the Studio agreed immediately," says Shayamalan. Unbelievable.