M. Night Shyamalan Uses Bathroom Breaks to Test the Success of His Movies

Dating back to his earliest films, filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan has delivered audiences unconventional narratives, with the writer/director recently opening up that he tests the effectiveness of his projects in an unconventional manner by counting how many viewers take bathroom breaks during test screenings. Shyamalan detailed how, when he first screens a movie, he screens nearly all of the footage he shot, only to begin to whittle down the endeavor to ensure the audiences stay invested. Once he notices that nearly everyone commits to consuming the movie in one sitting, he knows that he's streamlined the endeavor to its maximum efficiency.

"You screen the first cut of the movie, and it's really long," Shyamalan revealed on Late Night with Seth Myers. "It has like, everything in it. It's not paced correctly. And about 50 people will go to the bathroom during the screening of the movie. They'll just get up and go at some point in the movie. And as you make the movie and you keep on doing it, then 30 people go to the bathroom. And the time next it's 20 people, and then 10 people, then four people."

He continued, "And then the last cut of the movie when it's ready to go out, its two people and they're running, and they're backwards watching the screen as they go to the bathroom. And what's really interesting is that you stop thinking about yourself when you're completely connected to the movie. And like 500 people forget they needed to go to the bathroom."

The filmmaker's breakthrough film was 1999's The Sixth Sense, a film which has earned a reputation not only for its quality, but for its twist ending. Delivering a compelling narrative capped off by an unexpected reveal became a trend with his subsequent films, including Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village, with audiences all becoming trained to expect the unexpected. While it's possible that audiences in test screenings are riveted by what's unfolding on the big screen, it's also possible that viewers know that if they leave the theater even briefly, they could potentially miss out on witnessing a plot-changing detail that would render the finale's reveal confusing.


Shyamalan recently delivered fans the TV series Servant on Apple+ TV, which was renewed for a second season.

What do you think of the filmmaker's metrics for a successful film? Let us know in the comments below or contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter to talk all things Star Wars and horror!