Lights Out: A Conversation with Director David F. Sandberg

Author’s Note: Some spoilers ensue below. If you haven’t yet seen the short film Lights Out, I cannot be held responsible for spoiling its details—nor for any lack of sleep you may get if you do watch it. You’ve been warned.

“Have you seen Lights Out?” my girlfriend asked me one cold April night, as we snuggled beneath the covers to go to bed.

“No,” I said, getting comfy. “What’s that?”

“It’s a short film,” she said, and curious, I asked her if she could show it to me.

She had me grab her phone so she could find it, the light from the screen piercing the dusk of our bedroom. She stopped then, turned to me, and said, “Just remember, you asked me to show you this.” (This was after I’d made the same mistake only a couple of months earlier, when she introduced me to Salad Fingers.)

Two minutes later, she found what she was looking for and angled the phone towards me…

As I watched, my eyes slowly widened, my facial muscles slacking, and something very primitive began worming its way through my chest. I was experiencing a situation both familiar and unwelcome: that gripping, childhood terror of the boogeyman lurking just out of sight in any and every shadowed corner and half-open door. Needless to say, when the video was done, my girlfriend laughed and said, “I’m sorry, I’m a terrible person!” To which I replied, “That’s fine. Goodnight, dear.” It was quite some time before I was able to relax long enough for sleep to claim me.

Needless to say, my girlfriend and I were far from being the only victims of this short film. Lights Out has gained viral status as it continues to scare the living daylights out of people—including professional horror writers. Created for a UK film anthology group, Bloody Cuts, for their “Who’s There?” short film challenge, Lights Out is the horror-child of writer-director David F. Sandberg, and starring his wife, actress Lotta Losten.

Mr. Sandberg was kind enough to share some of his time to dish on his short film, its production, the waves it has been causing, and future projects.

BLD: You really, really perfectly captured the paranoia and panic of hiding under the bedsheets with this film. (Speaking for myself, I felt like a little kid, scared of anything outside of the safety of my bed.)

DS: Thank you! Since it was a zero budget film we had to make use of what we had. An apartment. A bed. Creaky floorboards. The story was kind of written by the location.

BLD: Starting with that initial shot of the woman walking up the hallway and turning off the lights behind her: how did you get the phantom to appear like that? It’s an immaculate shot.

DS: Since Lotta plays both characters, it’s a split screen shot, and I simply faded the phantom shot in and out with the light. You’d think a light bulb turns off immediately, but it actually fades out during a couple of frames.

BLD: In that final, terrifying shot before the lights go out of the phantom’s face…well, just what are we looking at? (i.e. was its face done with makeup, prosthetics, animatronics, SFX, etc.?)

DS: I’m a big fan of makeup and animatronics but since I don’t know how to do those things I had to do it CG. I modified and painted on a still frame of Lotta’s face and then added slight movement in Blender, a free 3D software.

BLD: You also did the cinematography to this film. Did you also edit it? (And did you score the music?)

DS: Yes, I do most things myself. Partly out of necessity, but also because I enjoy pretty much every aspect of filmmaking. Music is probably my weakest skill but at least I don’t have to pay any royalties. Though it was funny to see a short on YouTube use the “music” from Lights Out. I mean, if you’re going to steal music anyway, why not steal something good?

BLD: Lotta Losten is a natural actress. She conveys so much sympathy with her performance. How did you come to work with her?

DS: We actually dated when we were eleven years old. Then we took a break for about fourteen years, got back together and then got married last year. So we’ve known each other for a while. She’s an actress, among other things, and we help each other in our creative endeavors and work together on joint projects as well. We’ve written two screenplays together, but they’re not horror. Lotta’s not as into that as I am.

BLD: What films, TV shows, etc. have inspired you the most? And did any of them influence or inspire Lights Out?

DS: I guess everything you see influences you in one way or another. I love sci-fi as well, and especially when it’s mixed with horror, like (in films such as) The Thing, Cube and the Alien movies. It’s kind of hard being a horror fan, because most of the stuff that gets made is really bad.

BLD: What was the most recent great (or at least good) horror/science fiction film you’ve seen?

DS: I’ve mostly been re-watching things lately, like Jaws the other day. But I did go see Godzilla, which was kind of disappointing and X-Men: Days of Future Past, which didn’t make a lot of sense, but was very enjoyable.

BLD: How about literature?

DS: I read embarrassingly little fiction. Does manga count? I love Japanese horror manga, especially (from artist) Junji Ito. I guess I read some stuff online like creepypastas and SCP Foundation, but very little proper books.

BLD: Have you ever had anything spooky happen to you?

DS: The spookiest was probably when I was a kid, and during one really foggy evening, my friend and I were running around the woods not far from where we lived. We marveled over how little you could see ahead, through the thick fog. Suddenly we see a person in a cloak standing on top of a hill. As if that wasn’t scary enough, the person then pulled out a big sword and we ran for our lives home to my parents, who didn’t believe us. I’m guessing it was just a teenager having fun, but it was scary as hell when it happened.

BLD: I wonder if somewhere, someone just read that and laughed, thinking, “Oh wait, that was me!”  (Either that, or it was…something else!)

DS: If he reads it he better get in touch so I can finally prove to my parents that it happened. That’s the worst thing about being a kid; spooky things happen, and nobody believes you.

BLD: How do you feel, having this video achieving such popularity (or infamy?) online?

DS: Fantastic and strange. The film was a contest submission, and we didn’t expect it to have a life outside of the contest. When the plays on Vimeo were getting close to a million, Lotta and I sat in front of the computer refreshing the browser to see it happen. It was kind of like a New Year’s Eve countdown. It’s amazing what a 2.5- minute film can do. But I guess the fact that it’s so short, and that there’s no dialogue contributed to (it), it’s spread across the world.

BLD: How does it feel to know that you’ve successfully scared the you-know-what out of professional horror writers with this video?

DS: That’s the greatest compliment of all, if I’m able to scare someone who creates scary stuff for a living. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it more in the future.

BLD: Have you gotten any noteworthy work offers since this film’s release?

DS: Yes! I now have agents and managers in Hollywood. It’s crazy. I’m working on a feature film script now, and I’m getting sent scripts by my agents as well. I’m really excited to see what comes of all this. Maybe I’ll finally be able to make a horror film outside of our apartment.

BLD: That’s very exciting that you have a feature film in the works.  What can you (or are you allowed to) share about it at this stage?

DS: I’m not really sure what I can say, but I guess with the success of Lights Out, it’s kind of obvious that it’s based on that. When I made the short, I had no thought of a feature in mind; it was just a short. Luckily, since the short is very brief and kind of open, the feature can be anything really. But the main thing is the whole concept of only being safe in the light while surrounded by darkness where evil lurks.

BLD: Let’s pretend you had first choice to direct any upcoming film, be it officially announced or just a dream project. What would you choose, and what would you bring to it? (I’m calling it now: a new version of Richard Matheson’s Hell House.)

DS: I’ve never actually read (or seen) Hell House. I had to look it up and it sounds really interesting. I’ll definitely have to check it out.

I’d like to do a version of Day of the Triffids, but there’s already been a movie and two mini-series done, and another movie is on the way. There’s a very recent book called Bird Box (by Josh Malerman) that I would love to do as well, but it’s already in production, from what I hear. I guess the two are pretty similar in that they deal with the collapse of society and not being able to see. I guess that’s something that appeals to me, for some reason.

BLD: Would you like to add anything else?

DS: You can find more of Lotta and me at lottalosten.com and dauid.com. Or @lottalosten and @ponysmasher

BLD: Thanks, David! This was, quite frankly, very exciting.

DS: Thank you!

About Barry Lee Dejasu

I wasn't...and then I was.
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