Lights Out with David F. Sandberg: A Discussion of horror filmmaking and beyond…

By Theron Moore

I got turned onto “Lights Out” about six months ago when a friend and fellow horror buff sent me a link for this movie.  “Dude, you gotta check this out!”  It was my first experience with the genre of short film, not short as in under an hour but short as in just a few minutes in length.

What blew my mind about “Lights Out” is that Sandberg was able to tell a complete story in under three minutes, the old fashioned way — proper pacing, building textured layers of suspense and utilizing sound as a storytelling tool.

The end result was Sandberg winning Best Director in the 2013 “Who’s There Film Challenge.”  His new short, “Pictured,” is available on youtube.  Ladies and gentleman, David F. Sandberg…

Church of the Necronomicon (COTN):  Has the horror film genre always been your passion when it comes to filmmaking?

David F. Sandberg (DFS):  Horror has always been a part of it but I like all kinds of films. Sci-fi and horror (and especially a combination of the two) are my favorites though.

COTN: I’ve heard you’re not an avid reader so where do the ideas and inspiration come from for your short horror flicks?

DFS:  I do still read from time to time but usually I’ll spend my reading time on screenplays. So far ideas have mostly come from my surroundings. I was turning off lights in the apartment and saw shadows which became Lights Out and Lotta {editor:  Lotta Losten, his wife) has a creepy old photo of her relatives that inspired Pictured.

COTN:  What sparks your creative process when it comes to a film idea?

DFS:  I guess “what if” questions. What if this was possible? What if you had this power? What if the camera on your phone showed the future? I don’t believe in the supernatural but I love the idea of those kinds of things. It’s great for stories.

COTN:  What is your work environment like when you sit down to write out movie ideas?  Are watching TV, listening to music?

DFS:  For shorts it’s usually just ideas that sort of come to me while doing other stuff. For a 3 minute short there’s really no need to write a script, I can keep that in my head. I’ve written some longer stuff, both by myself and with Lotta, and in those cases I usually write without distractions like music or TV.

COTN:  Does pop culture inspire you to write?  For example, what kind of music are you into?

DFS:  Of course I can get inspired if I see a great film, or even a bad one, but I don’t think I’ve been inspired by music though. I love Japanese horror comics and Junji Ito in particular. I haven’t played video games in a long time (feels like I’m taking too much time away from other stuff) but I love the Half-life games and Resident Evil (4 in particular).

COTN:  What is your creative process like?  Do you write out your film ideas in story format or outline?  If so, have you considered taking those stories further into a book?

DFS: For feature stuff I outline and I’ve written some parts in a story format, like backstory for characters. I’ll probably stick to screenplays though since that’s kind of how my brain works now. I read a book the other day and it felt wrong to have everything in past tense as opposed to the present tense of screenplays.

COTN:  How did the concept for “Pictured” and “Lights Out” come about?

DFS: I was turning off lights in the apartment and saw shadows which became Lights Out and Lotta has a creepy old photo of her relatives that inspired Pictured.

COTN:  After watching both of your horror short films I said to myself “He gets it!” because you’re getting scares the old fashioned way by telling a story, building levels of suspense and shooting scenes in such a way that it evokes a fear response inside us.  In your opinion why do most modern, horror filmmakers not “get it” and fall back on the CGI thing to tell a story and “try” to get scares?

DFS:  Well thank you! I have CGI in my films as well, although it’s more out of necessity since I don’t know to do special effects make up. The problem I guess is overdoing it. I loved “Mama” until we start seeing her CGI face all the time. The less you see of something the scarier I find it to be and when it’s CGI monsters your brain can kind of tell you that thing isn’t really there and you lose all the scariness of it.

COTN:  Do you think modern filmmakers rely too heavily on CGI and maybe have become lazy or complacent because of all the great technology that’s out there to make a movie?

DFS:  I think they’re too reliant in many cases but it’s also understandable in a way. CGI blood looks terrible but you can get more takes when you don’t have to reset a bloody scene every time so I guess that’s one of the reasons. I’d try to avoid it though. The worst is when they use CGI to create what are basically people like in “I am Legend.” That movie could have been so much better (well at least not as terrible) with people in make up instead.

COTN:  Here’s a flip side:  Do you think movie going audiences have settled when it comes to movies that are heavily CGI or video game like with their visuals / approach?  Have we lowered our standards?

DFS:  Maybe. I think there’s some fantastic CGI being done though like in the new Planet of the Apes films but it usually doesn’t work that well in horror films. I guess it’s a combination of nobody spending $200 million on horror films and no matter how good it is you still know it’s CGI so it takes away some of the scariness.

COTN:  I understand you have an agent and you’re working in Hollywood now.  Can you talk about any upcoming film projects you’ll be doing or involved with?

DFS:  Unfortunately I still can’t reveal a lot of details at the moment. Hopefully soon though because there’s some really exciting things going on with some really exciting people involved and I feel like I’m about to burst. I just want to tell everyone!

COTN:  Will you be making “Pictured” or “Lights Out” into a feature length movie?

DFS:  Yes! Lights Out is in the works right now and everyone I’ve pitched the full length story for Pictured to have been very excited so I have high hopes of getting that made as well.

COTN:  What does 2015 hold for you in terms of movie making?

DFS:  If things continue going as planned we’re shooting the Lights Out feature in 2015.