Interview: ‘Lights Out’ Director David F. Sandberg on Subverting Expectations and Not Overstaying Your Welcome
Posted on Tuesday, July 26th, 2016 by Jack Giroux
Director David F. Sandberg makes his feature directorial debut with the James Wan-produced horror movie Lights Out. Sandberg’s journey towards making his first film began in 2013 with a short film that cost nothing. The director and his wife, Lotta Losten, made the short together, and Sandberg and Losten submitted it to the Bloody Cuts Horror Challenge, where it was well received.
But it wasn’t until a few months later that the short really gained its popularity. Once it hit online, the short was viewed over 20 million times. Then Hollywood came running and offered Sanberg the opportunity to turn the short into a feature, which is now in theaters and stars Teresa Palmer, Maria Bello, and Alexander DiPersia.
Below, read our Lights Out interview with David F. Sandberg.
When you and your wife made the short film, did you both have a backstory in mind for [the monster] Diana?
Nothing. It was only supposed to be that little short film that we had fun with. When all this happened, it went huge online, and then Hollywood started calling, that was the first time when we started thinking, “Okay, what can a feature film of this be?” The good thing about the short is it doesn’t have much story that we had to stay true to. It just mostly a concept or scene or two. So, as long as it stays true to that concept, the movie could be anything really.
How did you first notice the popularity of the short film?
It all happened overnight, really. We made the short for the contest, and I won Best Director when it made the top 6 finalists. We figured that was it for that short, and let’s keep making other shorts. Then, a few months after that, I was on Reddit and saw someone had linked to our short. I was like, “Oh awesome.” So I went to the short, and I saw that it had, suddenly, 8,000 views. I was like, “Oh, that’s amazing.” Then all of a sudden it had 70,000 views. Then it kept going and going.
Lotta and I were sitting there, refreshing the page, to see it go over a million, and it just kept going. We didn’t really know if that meant anything, or if that was going to lead to anything. Then, a couple of days later, I started getting all these emails from Hollywood. From producers, and studios, and agents, and managers. I had to make this spreadsheet with everyone I’ve talked to, and what was said last just to keep track. I had no idea that just a two-and-a-half minute short could get all that attention.
How much did the short film cost?
Nothing. Lotta and I had been trying to get money from the Swedish Film Institute to make shorts, because that’s how you finance shorts and features in Sweden, really. It’s with the grant money from the Swedish Film Institute. They’ve never been really interested in horror, or at least not our horror projects. We figured, let’s just make our own movies with no money. I have a camera, Lotta’s an actress, we can come up with something together. We made a short before Lights Out called Cam Closer, about a phone that sees the future. It was like, “Yeah. This was fun. Let’s keep doing it.” We saw Bloody Cuts guys from the UK had this online competition. It’s like, “Yeah. That’s what we’re doing now. So, let’s do another one.”