NEW YORK -- The Sci Fi Channel was thrilled when M. Night Shyamalan, maker of films "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs," agreed last fall to open his world to a documentarian's cameras.
Then it all went sour.
Shyamalan quit on-screen, and an expected benign profile has become a three-hour expose, "The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan." Sci Fi has scheduled a July 18 air date.
The Philadelphia-based Shyamalan, 33, burst onto the film scene when his supernatural thriller, "The Sixth Sense," became a surprise smash in the summer of 1999, earning him an Oscar nomination for best director.
Having the cameras turned on himself - although he usually does brief cameos in his movies - was something new for Shyamalan. He even alluded to it when the documentary was announced. "Agreeing to give unlimited access is a new experience for me," he said.
Different agendas might have been there from the start. While Shyamalan said last December he hoped the project "will demystify some of the mysteries of the filmmaking experience," Sci Fi said it wanted to dig out the source of his inspiration. It was all tied to the release this summer of "The Village," Shyamalan's latest film.
After documentarians Nathaniel Kahn and Callum Greene started, the project became less about filmmaking and more about the filmmaker, said Greene, who also produced "Lost in Translation" (for which Sofia Coppola won an original-screenplay Oscar) and was approved by Shyamalan to work on this project.
Greene said he started to go off the "suggested" list of friends to speak to and contacted others in Shyamalan's life. The filmmaker was angered by the personal nature of what they were asking, he said.
"Slowly, his cooperation dried up," Greene said. "We saw that as a challenge and just didn't let go."
A spokeswoman for Shyamalan, Leslee Dart, had no immediate comment on the documentary.
The tension reached the point where Shyamalan walked away during an interview and hasn't done any others for them.
Greene said he recorded "unguarded moments" that revealed what Shyamalan was like. Neither he nor the Sci Fi Channel would be specific about what they found, and wouldn't say what the "buried secret" was.
"We feel completely confident we are on solid ground in getting this on the air, in a legal way," Sci Fi spokesman David Westover said. "If the project reveals more than Night was comfortable with, that was an inherent gamble that he was aware of long before this was started."
Yet there may be an element of hardball at play.
Going public with an air date and title "is part of a strategy to apply some pressure to help us with what we need to accomplish," Westover said. Things could change if Shyamalan sat down for another interview; Westover said the program's content isn't completely locked.
It hasn't been a great experience for Greene. He said he shares an agent with Shyamalan and he's faced his own pressure.
"I'm not cocky enough or egotistical enough not to be worried," he said.
Meanwhile, it can't be fun for Sci Fi to be in a fight with a leading maker of supernatural movies. Sci Fi has some muscle of its own, though; it's carried in 83 million homes and has a new affiliation with corporate parent NBC Universal.
"We probably won't be working with Night in the near future on any creative projects, I can probably guarantee you that," Westover said.
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