The Watchers – Uncovering the mystery of mysterious creatures

“Ishana—who wrote a lot of the episodes of “Servant” and directed several of them—has a fantasy bent in her interests. “The Watchers” is an amazing book for her to adapt,” says producer M. Night Shyamalan. “She read it and fell in love, and wanted to both write and direct it. It was a very wonderful, organic way that it came about. We said, “It’s from an Irish author and based in Irish folklore—it would be a beautiful genre movie, and we could shoot it in Ireland.” And we did.”

 “It’s a wonderful book, kind of structured like a movie—it’s so visual,” says Ishana Night Shyamalan. “It begs you to think about how these worlds and characters look. It felt like an unending pool of inspiration to draw from—that’s the dream as both a writer and director. In my writing of the script, it was very much about remembering how I felt the first time that I read the book and what those visuals were. And literally, some scenes that are in the movie are exactly the way that I imagined them the first time that I read the book.”

OLWEN FOUÉRÉ as Madeline, OLIVER FINNEGAN as Daniel, DAKOTA FANNING as Mina and GEORGINA CAMPBELL as Ciara in New Line Cinema’s and Warner Bros. Pictures’ fantasy thriller “THE WATCHERS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Copyright: © 2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

The Watchers follows Mina, a 28-year-old artist, who gets stranded in an expansive, untouched forest in western Ireland. When Mina finds shelter, she unknowingly takes her place alongside three strangers who are watched and stalked by mysterious creatures each night. You can’t see them, but they see everything.

Filmmaker Ishana Night Shyamalan (Director / Screenwriter) recently served as writer and director on the critically acclaimed Apple TV+ series Servant. Among the youngest-ever series writer/directors, beginning at age 19, Shyamalan wrote or co-wrote ten episodes and directed six, including two season finales. She directed second unit on the hit features Old and Knock at the Cabin, both of which topped the box office in their respective opening weekends. Shyamalan also directed four music videos for R&B singer Saleka. Upcoming, she will release her highly anticipated feature directorial debut The Watchers, adapted by Shyamalan from the novel by A.M. Shine, which was the subject of a multi-studio bidding war for the first feature from the writer/director. Shyamalan is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and resides in New York City.

Writer-director Ishana Night Shyamalan with producer M. Night Shyamalan

The story…

ISHANA SHYAMALAN: “The Watchers” is about a young woman living in Galway, who is taken on this inadvertent adventure through Ireland and gets caught in the middle of a forest—a kind of enchanted forest—in this enclosure. There, she meets three other individuals and learns that they are visited by creatures every single night, who watch them through a window. The movie is very much a journey of uncovering this mystery—figuring out who these creatures are and what they want. Why are they being watched?


ISHANA SHYAMALAN: I knew upon entry into this film that it was going to be a thriller/horror— it’s not only the feeling and vibe of the book, but it’s also the genre I enjoy the most. There was this darkness that we wanted to be embedded into it. I was very inspired by Lars van Trier’s “Antichrist,”—that witchy, dark, textural kind of tone and feeling—and it’s very connected to nature. That felt the right approach to this. But as we began working on it, there was so much joy and light in the process that it ended up becoming much more tonally vibrant than I ever could have imagined. It’s very rich and full of life in the way it looks and in the characters. All of that emerged with the group that came together.

OLWEN FOUÉRÉ, Director/Writer ISHANA SHYAMALAN, OLIVER FINNEGAN and GEORGINA CAMPBELL on the set of New Line Cinema’s and Warner Bros. Pictures’ fantasy thriller “THE WATCHERS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Copyright: © 2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Jonathan Hession


ISHANA SHYAMALAN: Very early on in the process I worked with my production designer, Ferdia Murphy, to compile a book of concept images. He was the first crew member that I started collaborating with, months before we knew we were going to shoot. We just dove into what this world could look like. We worked with a concept artist, and the resulting art was just too good not to share with everyone. We sent them to the cast early, before everyone arrived, so they would have a sense of how big this world would be.

M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN: I think our basis was A.M. Shine’s inspiration and expertise in Irish folklore, which really informed and excited all of us—he was referencing ancient storytellers. We were taking his knowledge and then making it a contemporary thriller. It was lovely to learn the origins were really in Ireland, with the kind of dark insinuations in them—I think the beautiful part about the Grimms’ fairy tales is the darkness underneath it. And Al [Shine] really reminded me of all of that by making it a genre piece. When we went location scouting, we saw the actual table in the pub where he came up with the idea—and later, we ended up shooting there.


ISHANA SHYAMALAN: Al’s book feels very specific in the way that he depicts the world, and particularly Galway. Anyone who talks to him knows how much he loves Galway, so it just felt that the best way to honor his story was to shoot it there—we shot our bar scene in the bar where he wrote the book. Passing by the seat where it happened, it felt spiritually full circle.

Scouting the forest was one of the most rigorous parts of the prep process. We made three or four trips and looked at all the locations in the area normally used for filming… but we weren’t finding the place that felt right. And all the forests felt very, very different. There’s a different energy to them. Then, we saw Ballinastoe Woods in County Wicklow. It’s incredibly striking and is full of these very stoic, dark trees—some of them you touch and they crumble in your hand. It’s just one of those places caught in time. We knew early on that the forest was going to become its own character, and that definitely came to fruition when we stepped into Ballinastoe Woods. It has an energy and character that seeps through the ground and the trees. Just being in there while we were setting up or in-between takes… if you’d wander off, it truly felt like you were living in the Watchers’ world. So, we had our hero location, and we could build everything else around that.

M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN: We were always going to shoot in Ireland—this was where it needed to be. And it was important to us to shoot with an Irish crew and use Irish actors in a lot of the roles. It was the right thing for the story. The strongest version of it is the one that rings the most truthful. To believe that there is this forest in Ireland and that this is really happening. To believe that maybe this folklore exists, and maybe that this folklore is true. We want to bring a global audience into this authentic world. Having Ishana steeping everything in Ireland is a beautiful weapon for this story that keeps whispering to the audience, “It’s true… it’s true.”

The coop…

ISHANA SHYAMALAN: The coop is such an intriguing place, and it gave us so much to play with and think about when designing the build. In essence, it’s an observatory, but it works two ways—you are looking out, but you’re also being watched. What would a structure look like that was built for two ways of watching, with judgment on both sides? We were really drawn to the idea of almost a play with very theatrical elements and lighting—where any moment you are being observed and on display. That can be a very uncomfortable feeling. So, we leaned into brutalist architecture, and the colors and textures associated with it. We built it on a soundstage—inside it felt isolating. It was very interesting how that shifted their bodies, their performances—the act of being in this space and being observed.

OLWEN FOUÉRÉ and Director/Writer ISHANA SHYAMALAN on the set of New Line Cinema’s and Warner Bros. Pictures’ fantasy thriller “THE WATCHERS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Copyright: © 2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Jonathan Hession


ISHANA SHYAMALAN: My dad and I have now worked together for a few years. We’ve mastered that kind of balance. It’s a challenging thing—and a beautiful thing—because we’re both artists and we both care about each other very deeply. On this movie, it’s been amazing. I feel even more respect for him as a filmmaker, just in terms of his precision and ability to master the materials. And in the moments when I was finding it all challenging and a bit overwhelming, to see how he does it with such ease and acuity, it was a wonderful thing to think about.

M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN: Let me tell you a little bit about Ishana, something that I’ve witnessed as her dad, but more as her primary partner in telling stories—I’ve always noticed that she comes from a place of textural senses—experiencing textures, being tactile, looking at fabrics and shapes. She was trained as a ballerina. There’s a sense of classicism to her. Watching as she grew up, she became heavily involved in production design, fashion and painting. She’d come up with these images, these creatures. When she started writing, I was like, “You know, there’s one art form where you can do all of these things.” I knew she was going to be a filmmaker, but I didn’t ever want to say that. I wanted her to come to it organically.

When she became a storyteller and started writing, she became very interested in genre, with a bent toward fantasy. She’s so good at it. Even the episodes that she directed of “Servant” leant towards fantasy a little. She likes world building. If this were my movie, my bunker would be different. Ishana and Ferdia have come up with this fantastical version of it. There’s so much world building in both the book and her screenplay. Some small little moment turns into something this big. So, we’re just following her. I noticed when we were shooting a scene in the forest, how she found just the right part of the forest, just the right angle of how to tell this scene. She saw that the leaves were this way and the branches were bent that way—she has an eye for that. And it excites her. You can see that’s what makes her very happy. A story that’s rich in those things—this story—allows her to express how she sees the world.

Director/Writer ISHANA SHYAMALAN on the set of New Line Cinema’s and Warner Bros. Pictures’ fantasy thriller “THE WATCHERS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Copyright: © 2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Jonathan Hession

A director’s vision…

ISHANA SHYAMALAN: As a young woman, it’s kind of inevitable that the ideas of femininity, womanhood and motherhood are imbued into the things that I write. And that very much became the center of the story, which to me is a mother/daughter story between the characters of Madeline and Mina. It really became a grounding factor. But this is not just for a female audience; it feels very muscular, bold, fearsome and strong. All the women in this film are all of those things. They’re very powerful. I hope it transcends stereotypes a bit.


ISHANA SHYAMALAN: Though it is based on an Irish novel, I think it’s a very universal story—this idea of family, which is our center. There are family dynamics and human relationships at the center of everything. In the film, they’re really a family. Despite the fantasy, thriller and horror elements, and everything around them, I think it’s really about how people relate to each other and how to find a way to be connected in a world that’s really tough to be connected in.

DAKOTA FANNING as Mina in New Line Cinema’s and Warner Bros. Pictures’ fantasy thriller “THE WATCHERS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Copyright: © 2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

From the beginning of the design process, director/screenwriter Ishana Night Shyamalan and production designer Ferdia Murphy looked to two overriding ideas in “The Watchers”—containment and claustrophobia. “The sense of being safe somewhere, but also needing to escape from it… there’s a sense of both imprisonment and safety,” explains Murphy. “There are layers of observance—of watching and being watched.”

“The Watchers’” director Shyamalan and designer Murphy took inspiration from works that conveyed a mixture of fairy tale and nightmare—such films as Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Robert Eggers’ “The Witch” and Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist,” along with the work of American photographer Gregory Crewdson.

Director Shyamalan credits director of photography, Eli Arenson, with “the ability to elegantly bridge the worlds of reality and fantasy, which is just what I was looking for in ‘The Watchers.’” Arenson cites a wide array of references in creating the look of the film—as he puts it, “a kind of mix of highbrow to not so elevated: cinema of [Mexico’s] Carlos Reygadas, [Thailand’s] Apichatpong Weerasethakul, anime, manga, cartoons, and a huge array of other works we wanted to evoke. But overall, we wanted this story to be grounded. Though it deals with folklore, it’s very much rooted in reality.” 

Mirrors became a recurring element in the design of “The Watchers,” as Shyamalan explored the concept of mirroring and creating spaces that would be the reflections of each other—beginning with Mina and her twin sister, Lucy. Then, there’s the manmade coop and the Watcher-created burrows. And, of course, the massive two-way mirrored wall in the coop. The Watchers themselves also filch mirrors off of automobiles and stash them in the burrows.

GEORGINA CAMPBELL as Ciara, DAKOTA FANNING as Mina, OLIVER FINNEGAN as Daniel and OLWEN FOUÉRÉ as Madeline in New Line Cinema’s and Warner Bros. Pictures’ fantasy thriller “THE WATCHERS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Copyright: © 2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Because of the space limitations within the studio housing sets for “The Watchers” (which could not accommodate the crane required to lift one massive mirror into place), the coop set’s single-piece mirror was actually four individual pieces of glass—each piece took eight crew members to lift. 

While Ballinastoe Woods in County Wicklow became the “hero” forest for “The Watchers,” production utilized multiple forested locales to come up with their ideal woods for the film. Per designer Ferdia Murphy, “Some of the locations we chose have very distinctive qualities. Some are much softer than others. Some feel almost soporific, a languid quality. Some are really harsh—vertical lines of trees, very prickly. It was great to find that Ireland provided a diversity of looks to offer the film.”

“The Watchers” production designer Ferdia Murphy found himself putting holes into his sets and incorporating floating walls whenever possible to accommodate director of photography Eli Arenson’s creative camera placements during shooting.

Per “The Watchers” director Shyamalan, “We used theatrical lighting and elements to really underline the purpose of the coop. It’s a place for these people to be observed, to be on display. It’s an observatory that works two ways, with watching and judgment on both sides.” Production designer Ferdia Murphy and set decorator Jill Turner treated the coop as a stage with different vignettes for the separate areas. There’s a Victorian feel to the wingback chair and old-fashioned gramophone. The television and couch suggest something late Mid-Century. Then, there’s the simple bed, harkening to the 1930’s. The overall goal was one of simplicity, a sparse quality, with furnishings that would not compete with the quartet of occupants once the lights come on for the nightly Watchers’ visit. 

In “The Watchers,” after Mina has been in the coop for a while, she decorates the floor of the space with charcoal drawings. The drawings themselves were executed in a single night by three crew members, using ladders to maneuver around the furniture and to elevate the artists, keeping them from smudging the works.

The centerpiece set in “The Watchers” is the coop, which was built on a soundstage. However, a full-size of the exterior was also constructed in the hills near Luggala in County Wicklow, a peak measuring 595 meters.

In “The Watchers,” Mina sets off on a journey to deliver a golden parrot to its new owner, and when her car breaks down, both Mina and parrot enter the coop. The film’s animal handler located two parrots for the shoot, and the art teams created not only a faux bird, but also multiple iterations of the cage (for different scene requirements). The creation of faux bird/cages took seven weeks to conjure, taking time to ensure all versions would create a seamless whole when filmed.

For the set of a university professor’s office in “The Watchers,” more than 200 crates of books—along with a significant amount of furnishings and set dressing—were carried up four flights of stairs at an obliging institution.