Shazam Fury of the Gods David F. Sandberg

Director David F. Sandberg reflects on going super size with Shazam! Fury of the Gods

“The first one was kind of contained for a superhero movie — it wasn’t a very big budget — so we had to lean into the characters and humour more than spectacle. Now we can do both. We still have those characters and the great tone, but we get to go big.”

Before making his feature debut with the 2016 horror film Lights Out, director David F. Sandberg had already attracted an online niche of fans who pored over the short horror films that he’d made with his wife Lotta Losten. He continues to have a vibrant presence online, where he breaks down the tricks, visual effects and techniques that he uses to make his films. As he’s graduated to becoming a superhero film director in more recent years, his videos showcase what it’s like to work on a mega-blockbuster, particularly as an introvert.

With the release of Shazam! Fury of the Gods on the horizon, Sandberg sat down with Cult MTL via Zoom to discuss his online presence and tease out what to expect from the latest Shazam! film. 

Justine Smith: I watched your videos before you made your first feature, and it’s cool that you continue to make them, even if you’re less prolific. What motivates you to create online content as well as your feature films?

David F. Sandberg: It’s what I always wanted to see myself. I’ve always wanted this insight into how movies are made, how filmmakers think, how they solve problems, and the whole process. When I see a great movie, I want to know how it’s made and the challenges they face. But it’s very hard to find that stuff. When DVDs came around, there would be extras and behind the scenes, and I would devour them, but often (the extras) were just publicity stuff. Since that’s rarely made, I decided that, well, I’ll do my part. I’d love to do more of it, and you can do that when making little shorts, but with a movie like Shazam!, it’s a whole machine, and you can’t reveal everything. It’s why I still try to make short films and smaller things every now and then, so I can talk about it, because I really love it. 

JS: With a film of this scale, particularly one with a light and vibrant tone, you must create the right atmosphere on set. How do you go about doing that? 

DS: I think it’s about giving people room. Certainly, with Shazam! there’s a lot of ad-libbing, tweaking lines and coming up with new things. In particular, Zach (Levi) and Jack (Dylan Grazer) are great at bringing their own thing to the characters. I like to do a lot of takes on these movies, not because anything is wrong, it’s just like, “Well, let’s see what happens this time,” because they’re always changing things up. We’ve been very fortunate with casting and finding people who get along well. The whole Shazam! crew, they hang out outside the movies and know each other very well. It’s very nice not to work with difficult people, divas or anything like that. They’re all very happy to make movies and get a chance to do this.

JS: Do you feel there’s an evolution in those relationships since the first film, as you’re working with many of the same cast and crew? 

DS: Absolutely. I mean, it’s both. Most of the cast is returning, but most of the crew is new this time. It was a bigger deal making the first movie, where everything was new. I’d never made a superhero movie before. How does it work? What’s the whole process like? At least I knew what I was getting into going into this movie, but there’s always a sense of dread, like, how are we going to do this? Is it going to be possible? When you read a script like this one, where everything that happens is action, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. You really have to take things one step at a time and just focus on one scene. Like, how are we going to do this part? Then it takes a long time and a lot of work to do it. 

JS: Many of your short films were horror or thrillers. Without reducing too much, the Shazam! films are more comedy — they’re certainly funny. Both comedy and horror are such visceral experiences for an audience; you’re making them jump or laugh. How do you see the connection between the genres? 

DS: They’re very similar in that it’s all about timing, and a similar experience with the audience. You get immediate feedback from the crowd. What I like with horror as well is having those moments of levity. I’d love to do a horror comedy one day where you can get both laughter and screams. If you can pull that off, that’s great. I’m a big fan of Sam Raimi, the horror comedy master. 

I think movies don’t have to be one narrow thing. Some of the best movies have a bit of everything. Raiders of the Lost Ark has action, comedy and pretty terrifying stuff like faces melting. It makes for a more rich experience. 

JS: Can you talk about the importance of sound in a film like Shazam! Fury of the Gods

DS: It’s what makes the world real, where you can really feel it. I love low-frequency effects like bass, where you have a physical feeling; you know, explosions, or in a horror film when you feel that rumble. The process is probably my favourite part of moviemaking in general. I’m very fortunate to work with people who made movies I grew up with. You work with sound mixers who did Top Gun back in the day, and they tell all these stories about filmmaking. Sound is so important to me. If I had to choose between subpar image and subpar sound, I’d rather have good sound because it does so much. 

JS: For fans of the first Shazam! film, what can they expect going into this one? 

DS: We get to see more of the characters and more of the family, which we only got glimpses of in the first one. We get to see them deal with something on a much bigger scale. The first movie was kind of contained for a superhero movie, it wasn’t a very big budget, so we had to lean into the characters and humour more than spectacle, but now we can do both. We still have those characters and the great tone, but we get to go big. It’s very exciting. ■

Shazam! Fury of the Gods opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, March 17.

This article was originally published in the March 2023 issue of Cult MTL.

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