After Writing the Story
After writing the story for the film, Will Smith -- also a producer of the film -- would turn over the writing reins to Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan would also direct the movie. Smith called Shyamalan on his birthday, and Shyamalan told Smith how great Jaden Smith was in The Karate Kid. Will Smith said, "Well, we do have a movie idea in the works..." and they took off from there.
"Night is a master of building suspense and fear," he says, explaining why Shyamalan was the perfect choice for After Earth. "If there were a single thing that I would say is clearly Night's genius, it's how to take a single, still image and terrify you with it. There can be no movement -- nothing happening, really -- and still, you're riveted. He is so good at setting the shot, setting the lighting, and setting the moment."
"I'm fascinated by the question of why human beings fear the unknown," says Shyamalan. "In our earliest days as cave-people, that was really important -- fear could keep us safe. Fear could keep you alive. But now, we'll fear a new job or a new relationship, because we don't know what's going to happen -- and that's not necessarily a good thing. Playing with that in a movie is a fun thing, and in this movie, it's about a father teaching a son how to overcome that. It's a wonderful lesson, because if you can learn how to control your fear of the unknown, you can do anything."
The concept of fear is expressed literally, as the alien planet has bred a dangerous species -- the Ursa -- that can sense humans' fear and use that to track and kill its prey. The only way to kill the beasts is not to fear them, as Shyamalan explains. "It becomes very metaphorical," says Shyamalan. "In the movie, we have a young man whose fear is chasing him -- and when he can overcome his fear, he becomes invisible to the Ursa. The Ursa can be in the same room, but it's no threat because it cannot sense his fear."
"Night puts everything into the movie," says Jaden Smith, noting that Shyamalan's style of direction is, often, sleight of hand: "He'll get you caught up in the story -- you'll be invested in the relationship between this father and his son -- and then -- bam! Something pops up. I love the way he shoots -- the long shots, not too many cuts, capturing the emotion of the scene without saying what's really going on, and leaving you in the audience time to wonder."
Jaden Smith's experience with physical training goes back years, to the days before the filming of The Karate Kid, but he says it took on a new dimension as he prepared to play Kitai Raige, training two hours each day, five days a week, for nearly a year. "I did a lot of work -- I had to change," he says. "I had to get a lot bigger and put on weight so I could look a bit older. I did a lot of parkour and running and training, so I'd be ready to run through the forest and on rocks."
"Jaden is very serious about his training and his physicality -- he'd do it during his down time. We didn't push him at all," says Will Smith.
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