The Director of ‘Shazam!’ Gives You His Best Filmmaking Advice
Art and Experience: David F. Sandberg, director of genre films like “Shazam!,” “Lights Out,” and “Annabelle Creation,” has great advice for making movies.
Swedish filmmaker David F. Sandberg acknowledges that you are always growing and developing as you continue through a creative career, but you pick up what works best along the way.
And he should know.
His career spans over a dozen short and feature films, and he’s found out a lot during his career. He presented a few pieces of advice for young filmmakers on his YouTube channel, for which he goes by the very awesome pseudonym ponysmasher. Watch it below.
1. More characters means more difficulty.
Sandberg points out that each feature he’s made has included more and more cast members. Lights Out, for instance, was focused mostly on a small family, while Shazam! expanded to include the inhabitants of a foster home and a bunch of heroes and villains.
There are practical issues of blocking and coverage, which require different camera set-ups. So by the time 14 characters are in one scene in Shazam!, that becomes a lot to track.
Sandberg tackled this issue with a kind of unique overhead storyboard so he was always sure where everyone was during the final fight, and this paid off because the scene feels organized. But it resulted in a lot of extra work for him.
2. Getting good sound is more important than good image.
He shows a clip two different ways, one with distorted video and one with distorted audio. Which do you think is worst?
He also acknowledges that fixing sound is often easier and more affordable to fix in post than other problems, but you have to actually put in the effort to do that post work.
3. Resolution doesn’t matter as much as you think.
When he started in short films, Sandberg cared a lot about capturing high-resolution footage and keeping its integrity as intact as possible.
But now, with Hollywood experience under his belt, he sees it’s possible to do things like zooming into frames and still ending up with great images that look fine in a movie theater.
What matters more, he says, is having images with contrast and high dynamic range.
“It’s so much more important what kind of pixels you have, rather than how many pixels you have,” he says.
4. Don’t forget urgency.
On a film set, there’s a lot of downtime and waiting. This can lead to a lack of energy and dynamism during your actual takes, and also inconsistency between shots.
Even though actors and crew can be tired, make sure they are coming into scenes with the correct emotional energy. If they’re supposed to be afraid, upset, or sad, make sure that’s coming across even after a long break. And if they’re running in one shot, make sure they are in the next continuous shot, too.
5. Aim for 200% to get 100%.
In this tip, Sandberg is talking about going big on set and making what seem like risky moves to actually achieve what his vision is. This can be for everything from camera work, performances, action sequences, or even set design.
He mentions the home set in Annabelle: Creation.
“When I first saw it in real life, it felt like, ‘Oh, this might be too stylized, the way it’s worn and spooky,'” he says.
He also said he asked his VFX crew to “Michael Bay it” during the final sequence, blowing up light bulbs in the house. The action is much more muted on the screen compared to real life.
It’s always better to go big on certain elements and pull them back if necessary, rather than going small and safe and having to find ways to improve them later.
6. It’s all about the ending.
“A bad ending can undo almost everything you did before it,” Sandberg says.
On the opposite side, a great ending can convince an audience to forgive you for any missteps during the story.
You’ve really got to stick the landing. Take a look at one of our favorite finales for an example.
7. Your first cut will make you depressed.
Sandberg says the first time he watched Lights Out, he thought it was garbage. This is common for a lot of people in creative fields. You’ve worked on something for months. You think you’ve achieved perfection. Then you look at it, and you’re not happy at all.
He says you just have to accept that feeling, then get to work making it better. Edit out unnecessary scenes. Make changes. But even still…
8. Depression is inevitable.
Sandberg says the best time of making a movie is pre-production, which is full of possibility, and your project is still at a point where it can be anything. Maybe it’s a masterpiece!
But in the middle of the process, reality might hit. Maybe your work isn’t perfect. After you watch it for the first time, you might also feel bad. If this is the case for you, Sandberg says you just have to accept it and work to make your project better. Chip away at what isn’t working until you get as close to your vision as possible.
He also says he feels this right after locking the project and having nothing to work on and you’ve lost the found family of your cast and crew.
Sandberg admits his depression was bad enough that he sought help, and he’s glad he did.
“I guess, for me, the most important lesson of all is stick around,” he says. “Because you don’t want to miss out on all the awesome things that are in your future.”
What’s next? Check out more advice from directors.