10 Directors to Watch: David F. Sandberg Scores Horror Knockout With ‘Lights Out’

The Swedish director spun his three-minute horror short into a box office sensation, making the step up to feature directing in the process.

david f sandberg lights out
sandberg: Jim Smeal/BEI/Shutterstock

Sandberg is living what he calls “every filmmaker’s dream.” That’s how he describes his rapid ascent from making “zero budget” shorts from home in his native Sweden, to sitting at the helm of back-to-back horror features for Warner Bros.

The first, “Lights Out,” grossed nearly $150 million on a budget of just $5 million last summer. It was born out of an eerie three-minute short Sandberg made starring his wife, Lotta Losten, for an online horror contest. The short went viral after horror fans started sharing it on Reddit, where it caught the eye of producer Lawrence Grey.

While Sandberg originally hoped that short could get him enough attention to make more shorts and possibly land a Swedish feature, Grey and “The Conjuring” maestro James Wan were so impressed with Sandberg’s concept, they brought in “Arrival” scribe Eric Heisserer to make it a feature for New Line.

“In March 2015, we had a script,” Sandberg says. “They asked, ‘Can you get out here next week? The movie’s happening.’ I was unemployed at that time, and my wife had to quit her job. The studio paid for the trip over.” They’ve only been back to Sweden for two weeks since.

Before “Lights Out,” Sandberg had never even seen a professional film set, let alone hired and collaborated with a cast and crew. “My first movie was a crash course, it was my film school,” he says. Sandberg (not to be confused with the fellow Swede, and “Kung Fury” helmer, who shares his name) actually had to ask his A.D. for the appropriate time to say “action.”

Now he’s wrapping production on high-profile “Annabelle 2,” an extension of Wan’s “Conjuring” franchise, and has plans for a “Lights Out” sequel.

In the future, he’d like to dip his toes into sci-fi, and is excited at the possibility of working in high-concept television. He may even take a crack at a feature in his homeland, but notes, “I’ve almost been spoiled with Hollywood now.”

Age: 35
Influences: James Cameron, John Carpenter, Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”
Agency: Paradigm
Manager: Gotham/Principal
Lawyer: Jackoway, Tyerman, Wertheimer, Austen, Mandelbaum, Morris & Klein