Annabelle: Creation – Exclusive Interview with Director David F. Sandberg
David F. Sandberg built a reputation for himself as a horror director with his collective no-budget short films under the online pseudonym “ponysmasher.” In 2016, he enjoyed his directorial debut with a studio film produced by James Wan, Lights Out, which was based on his 2013 horror short of the same name. Now he’s at the helm of the latest potential blockbuster in The Conjuring universe, Annabelle: Creation (review). We had a chance to sit down with him to ask what the experience was like.
Dread Central: The look of Annabelle: Creation is spectacular! Part of that kudo must go to your DP, Maxime Alexandre, who’s best-known for his long-time collaboration with director Alexandre Aja. This is the first time you’ve worked with him – was he your first choice?
David F. Sandberg: He was the first one, yeah. I interviewed a couple of different DPs but, I was a fan since his first movie, High Tension, and I asked him as well, just because there were some issue on Lights Out, people were afraid to go too dark, so I was telling him how important it was not be afraid to actually be able to go dark and he was laughing – “I’m the right guy for that!” because he’s done all these great horror movies.
DC: And your production designer really gave you both a lot to work with in terms of atmosphere, because the Dollmaker’s house is so realistic and spooky.
DFS: I think production design is half the battle. You know when people talk about good cinematography with nice shots and composition, half of it is the production design. And we had this great house by Jennifer Spence that was just so inspiring and just looked great. I mean you could light it in many different ways and still looked great. Because it was really designed to have, nooks and crannies and hallways that we could scare people in. The way it really started out was, I started collecting these images from Google – googling old farm houses, dilapidated houses and stuff like that, and then when I met up with Jen, I saw the pictures that she had saved and it was like almost the same pictures, so okay, “We’re on the same page. I don’t have to give you even that much direction, just sort of the kind of layout that I want.” It was certain things, like the staircase can’t just be a straight staircase, because I want the camera to come around it and things like that. But then she added the dumb waiter, was her idea, so that inspired me to do the whole scene with Linda [Lulu Wilson] inside the dumb waiter, and it was a lot of those things that she added to the set that then gave me ideas to do cool stuff with.
DC: What are some of your influences in horror, especially as it relates in film?
DFS: Growing up in the late 80s it was a lot of Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, and Texas Chainsaw, and all these things. Sci fi stuff as well: Robocop still very gory and violent. The funny thing actually is back then there was a lot of censorship in Sweden on home video, so it took a while before I saw the uncut version of Robocop. When I finally saw that, it was almost a shock, like “Wow, this is really intense!” (laughs) But yeah, lot of those old classics like The Thing, and Alien.
DC: James Wan is also a horror geek. Any movie in particular that you two bonded over when you met?
DFS: I don’t know that if we talked that much about other movies, as the first time we met it was all about Lights Out, and what to do with that, how to approach it as a feature film. So I don’t know if we really talked that much about other movies.
DC: You went from no-budget to big-budget, without the usual stepping stones between. What surprised you?
DFS: A big learning experience just how movies are made here in Hollywood, how it works with studios. But it was also a bit surprising in a positive way because when you hear about studios and notes and all that, you sort of think it’s all about money and that’s all they care about and they’re gonna – you get this idea that the studio’s just working to destroy the movie and the filmmaker is fighting to save it. But I’ve noticed, at least with NewLine, they do very much care about making good stuff, because, yes of course they want their movies to make money, but they also want to make something that they’re proud of. So they do very much listen to fans. When they make their horror movies they go to all these message boards or whatever on line and see what people say, and they like, “okay we have to do better in this area.” So they are surprisingly responsive, and want to do good movies. They are very proud of it. They do make these T-shirts at NewLine and they’ve given a couple to me that says “Team Genre”, so they’re very proud of their horror movies and the quality of them.
DC: Anything surprising about making a sequel (or in this case, a prequel), or fan feedback?
DFS: That it’s good! (laughs) Because I mean, I read everything online that people say, and when this was announced, people were like “but why???” They just assumed right away this is gonna be garbage, like, there’s no point in seeing that. So I hope people will realise that this is actually something that is actually a good addition to the universe, that adds something to it. It would have been easy to make it as a cash grab, you know, just do the same story again, which a lot of horror sequels do, the second movie is just the first movie again with some slight tweaks. But this they actually want to spend more money on and actually get it right and do something with a bigger scope.
DC: What’s next?
Coming up is Shazam, the DC Comic book hero. So that’s a bit of a departure but I still want to return to horror. I am also exploring horror in television because I think there’s a lot of cool things being done in television.
David F. Sandberg directs from a screenplay by Gary Dauberman, who also wrote Annabelle. The film stars Stephanie Sigman (Spectre), Talitha Bateman (The 5th Wave), Lulu Wilson (Ouija 2, Deliver Us from Evil), Philippa Coulthard (After the Dark), Grace Fulton (Badland), Lou Lou Safran (The Choice), Samara Lee (Foxcatcher, The Last Witch Hunter), and Tayler Buck in her feature film debut, with Anthony LaPaglia (“Without a Trace”) and Miranda Otto (“Homeland”, the Lord of the Rings trilogy).
Annabelle: Creation has been rated R by the MPAA for horror violence and terror. Slated for release August 11, 2017, the film will be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Several years after the tragic death of their little girl, a doll maker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home. They soon become the target of the doll maker’s possessed creation, Annabelle.