10 Questions for M. Night Shyamalan

The director's fantasy epic The Last Airbender is in theaters. M. Night Shyamalan will now take your questions

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Jerome Bonnet/Corbis Outline

Why go from making thrillers to something like The Last Airbender?Ashley Steinhauer, FRESNO, CALIF.
I've had a lot of conversations with different estates and different studios about doing one of these big, epic franchises — the Harry Potters and the Chronicles of Narnia. But it never felt right. Then, suddenly, this dropped in my lap. The Last Airbender is genetically engineered for me. I love martial arts. I study it. The movie's based on a lot of Buddhist and Hindu philosophy. I was raised Hindu.

This is the first time you've worked so extensively with CGI. What were the challenges?Donna Gardner, WAIHI BEACH, NEW ZEALAND
Where I really feel comfortable is at a dinner table where I can write a six-page scene about us discussing what that noise is out in the forest. I'm not a tech guy. The great news is, I had a lot of time to learn. It took about three years to make this movie. The things that used to scare me — thousands of extras and battle scenes — are now part of my comfort [zone].

The anime show on which the movie is based has lots of fans. How can you live up to their expectations?Josh Coppenbarger, NORMAL, ILL.
It wasn't like I had to guess what the fans loved about the show. I was one of the fans. This is just where one of the fans got to direct the movie.

Do you think the criticism about casting Caucasians in Asian roles in the film is a fair one?Andrew Chang, EDISON, N.J.
Anime is intended to have ambiguous features. That's part of the art form. It's not meant to have a specific ethnicity behind it. I could have cast anybody I wanted to. You're talking to one of the only Asian filmmakers in the world who has complete control. And I'm not straying far from the truth when I say that this is the most culturally diverse tent-pole movie ever made. The criticism that I didn't cast the right Asians? That is small-minded.

Who has been your greatest inspiration as a director?Dallin Gonzales, CHANDLER, ARIZ.
Definitely Spielberg. I was 10, 12 years old when E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark came out. My jaw dropped. My life changed. If he wasn't there, maybe I wouldn't have made movies.

What's the most difficult experience you've ever encountered on a shoot?Aaron Shaw, LOA, UTAH
Airbender was my longest movie. Three-quarters through the shoot, I lost my grasp on everything. I came on the set and there were 600 extras battling, and I just got exhausted. I felt like I'd lost control of the movie. And that was a scary moment.

What is your dream project?Dennis Benjamin, DENTON, MD.
Up until now, I've done only what I've dreamed of in my head. I'm the luckiest guy on the planet, because the answer to that question is: every movie that I've done.

Have there been times when you felt as if you were going to fail with a movie?Rebecca Weaver, HANOVER, PA.
Lady in the Water. That was really the only movie I've made that lost money for the studio. I take that superseriously. They give me all this leeway to make these movies artistically, and it's my job to make sure they get their money back. That movie bothered me. I never got a chance to get it to the audience because I didn't know how to sell it.

What film gives you the creeps?Emily Hansen, SANDS POINT, N.Y.
The Exorcist is the scariest movie ever made. It just felt dead-on real, like you were watching the existence of the devil.

Has being known as a director with a penchant for twist endings become a handicap?Tom Hale, NEW YORK CITY
When you shorthand someone's career, you pull out all the anomalies and ignore them. So they'll say, "All your movies have twist endings." Well, not Signs, not really Lady in the Water and not really The Happening. But ... I guess you're right?