A Man, a Brand, a Filmmaker: M. Night Shyamalan

What does Wal-Mart have to do with your movie-going experience? More than you may realize, noted M. Night Shyamalan during his recent Wharton Leadership Lecture.

After all, films are a multibillion-dollar industry. And if Wal-Mart says its constituents are interested in purchasing a certain type of film on Blu-ray or DVD, there’s a good chance that film will be given the green light. Which means the next installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is not necessarily a rumor.

“Quantity over quality,” Shyamalan lamented.

M. Night Shyamalan

Shyamalan is a writer, producer, director and actor. He is also a businessman who understands that film is as much about business as it is about art.

Beyond that, M. Night Shyamalan is a brand. In a brand-management lesson to lecture attendees, he told Wharton students that his decision to brand his work with his name is one of the best and worst decisions he ever made.

As a businessman, Shyamalan said, he knows that filmgoers identify with his brand on a certain level and expect his movies to deliver a particular experience. However, as an artist, he aims for authenticity in his productions. For better or worse, he has remained true to his visions.

Unfortunately, as film critiques and box-office numbers have indicated, the audience hasn’t always followed along if a product failed to meet expectations. He said he hopes that, over time, viewers will revisit his films and recognize them for their artistry and creativity.

“I wanted an author relationship with my audience,” he said. “And I do have an author relationship with the audience, but the flip of that is that with a brand come expectations. The moment I had a relationship with the audience was through a scary thriller with a twist at the end. That’s where the relationship began. That doesn’t mean it’s all I make.”

Recognized as much for his failures as for his successes, Shyamalan often must take a step back and look at his work and business dealings from a broad, detached perspective to continue to develop work that is creatively fulfilling while also maintaining smart business practices. To guide and center himself as a businessman and leader, both on set and off, Shyamalan said he tries to follow the tenets outlined in Miguel Ángel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements: be impeccable with your words, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions and always do your best. He said these serve him well when working with high-level executives as well as with production assistants.

The Wharton Leadership Lecture featuring M. Night Shyamalan was co-sponsored by Givology.org. Givology.org was launched in 2008 by University of Pennsylvania students in an effort to raise money for scholarships and education projects in the developing world.  The M. Night Shyamalan Foundation has partnered with Givology.org to help improve education in Philadelphia and around the world.

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