New M. Night Shyamalan protege: Here's how we're going to re-imagine '12 Angry Men'
The first time Daniel Stamm met M. Night Shyamalan, the auteur of the supernatural was fiddling with a horn section.
"I got a call from my agents that Night is in town scoring 'The Last Airbender,'" said the German-born, L.A.-based Stamm, who directed this summer's horror sleeper 'The Last Exorcism." "He wants to meet you in an hour. And so I went down to the scoring stage, and James Newton Howard is there with a 110-piece orchestra, and Night is totally engaged as he talks to me, but every once in a while he'll turn around and say something like, 'Can we have the trombone louder?'"
Soon after, Stamm was on a plane to Shyamalan's Philadelphia farmhouse. He was told he was being considered for the second movie in The Night Chronicles -- the trio of films Shyamalan is shepherding that kicked off with this fall's "Devil" -- but wasn't told anything about it. Instead, in keeping with the filmmaker's trademark secrecy, Stamm was given a script, shown a locked room and instructed to stay there until he finished. Then he was told to give notes to Night.
The two proceeded to discuss the script (knowing Stamm, with a certain enthusiastic contrarianism). Whatever the young filmmaker said, it worked: He got the gig.
The 34-year-old Stamm represents what might be called a new breed in the movie business, particularly in its genre precincts. He's a younger talent who makes commercial movies but whose vision was honed outside Hollywood (he studied at a film school in Ludwigsburg, Germany, before coming to the American Film Institute); who can stretch a dollar ("Exorcism," the story of a possessed farmer's daughter produced by Eli Roth, was made for less than $2 million and grossed more than 20 times that in the U.S.); and who can be paired up with more established filmmakers who serve as producers while he directs.
With Shyamalan, Stamm describes a relationship that's a mix of the hands-off and the interactive.
The new Night movie that Stamm will direct is a riff on a certain Henry Fonda jury-deliberation classic -- one that won't be new terrain to non-genre fans, and probably not to most genre fans either. "It's basically a supernatural take on '12 Angry Men.' It's that movie but with reincarnation," Stamm says. "We're in the [deliberation] room but it's not so confined that we never leave the room."
Surely Stamm is aware, though, that people hold the Sidney Lumet-directed original close to their hearts and might balk at a re-imagining?
"It's like 'The Exorcist' with 'The Last Exorcism,'" he explains. "Both are classics that people still have on their minds so you don't want to step on that. But there's no reason not to acknowledge it.
"Our protagonist can borrow from it as long as someone in the movie catches him borrowing from it," says Stamm (who also, incidentally, is directing an upcoming remake of of the French horror hit "Martyrs").
Stamm said that after his last movie, he needs to shoot this one a little differently -- with an eye toward how it can be marketed. (It's no doubt not lost on him that "Devil" was a commercial disappointment, as were several recent Shyamalan directing efforts.)
"With 'Exorcism' it was so intimate that we never thought about rating, we thought about target audience, we never though about trailer moments. Everything about studio movies we completely disregarded," Stamm says. "But I think it's smart to think about these moments instead of realizing in editing you don't have them and then going to the marketing department and saying, 'What do we do now?'"
Stamm says after working with unknowns in his previous films (before "Exorcism," he shot a dark micro-budget film about suicide titled "A Necessary Death"), he'd like to work with more known actors. While some genre filmmakers say they find that big actors can be distracting to an audience (and expensive for their budget), he's hoping to turn that wisdom on its head.
"I'm excited to work with and against perception," he says. "I've love to do a serial movie with Michael Cera as the serial killer."
There's something unexpected about Stamm's own turn. His roots began far away from Hollywood, in a Hamburg childhood where he was constantly telling his parents he wanted to be a journalist, not a writer of fictional stories, because of a German cultural norm that emphasizes the practical. But in truth he didn't really want to be a reporter -- he wanted to be a screenwriter. (Good choice, Dan.)
Stamm also says that filmmaking gave him a sense of creation few other adulthood pursuits have. "In Germany we played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. We were big nerds. But it was an amazing youth. It was trying to think something into existence that didn't exist a minute before," he says.
He continues. "There's just something godlike about the whole act of filmmaking. It was like giving birth. I don't know, maybe it's just the thing that men can't have children." Unless, of course, they're starring in a horror movie.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photos: "12 Angry Men." Credit: United Artists. Daniel Stamm at the premiere for "The Last Exorcism." Credit: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images
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