In 2013, director David F. Sandberg and his wife, actress Lotta Losten, made "Lights Out," a two and a half-minute short film as part of the "Who's There" Worldwide Horror Film Challenge. It was a startlingly effective use of tension that showcased Sandberg's understanding of the horror version and caught the eye of Lawrence Grey, producing partner of modern horror icon. The director and producer behind "Saw," "Insidious" and "The Conjuring" agreed to help Sandberg expand his short into a feature film.
With a full-length version of "Lights Out" headed to theaters this July starring Teresa Palmer, Sandberg visited the world famous CBR Tiki Room at WonderCon in Los Angeles to speak with Jonah Weiland about the film. The director explained what it was like making the short, how his goals changed as the project expanded, and discussed the films that inspired his love of horror, including what he'd like to do as his career proceeds.
On what it's like making the feature film version of "Lights Out" after struggling to finance the short:
David F. Sandberg: In Sweden we were trying to make genre films, like horror shorts and stuff like that. One of the production centers over there even told me that they didn't want to give me money because I was too inexperienced even to make a short film. And then we make this two and a half-minute short for no money at all, put it on YouTube and it just blew up and Hollywood contacted us. "Hey, here's millions of dollars to make a feature out of it." It's just been insane, and we had no [idea]. We didn't think this would happen at all.
On how his goals changed between the short and the feature:
For the short we really wanted to do to have sort of a sting at the beginning, when she moves closer, and then just use the suspense as much as possible. So there's really only two -- there's that sting at the beginning and then the face at the end. Between that is just tension, tension, tension, which we try to do as much as possible. And we tried to keep that in the film as well, to really use that sort of suspension and not have sort of cheap jump scares that you have in some movies where it's just quiet, nothing happens, it looks normal and then bam something out of nowhere. That was a big goal.
On the films that inspired his love of horror:
I've always just been a horror fan. I grew up with "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Friday the 13th" and Chucky and all of that '80s horror. Some of my tastes have kind of changed, but some of the great films sort of stuck with me from then, like "Alien" and "Aliens" and "Terminator," stuff like -- "The Thing." I really love that sort of horror/sci-fi-ish stuff, so that's where I want to go eventually.
Horror doesn't have to be this little box. A lot of movies tend to be in a little box. I think you can do a lot of creative things within horror. But yeah, I definitely want to explore sci-fi elements within horror.
On what scares him:
I have this sort of weird thing where I wake up in the middle of the night and I'm not completely awake and I will hallucinate all these weird things. My wife Lotta, who's in the short and the film, she'll have to sort of calm me down, like tell me, "You're only dreaming, David." That's the terrifying stuff for me. I guess basically it has to do with sort of losing your mind, because your mind is the whole, it's everything, so if you lose that anything can become real.