Shazam! director on blending his influences for making a blockbuster
In 2015, Swedish filmmaker David F. Sandberg found himself on the set of a real Hollywood movie. After years of making his own shorts, the director was sitting behind the camera of a major movie, his first feature-length film, Lights Out. Based on his 2013 short, the movie went on to gross $148 million at the worldwide box office on a budget of $4.9 million and pushed the director to a new level.
Following that he was absorbed into The Conjuring universe and given free reign on Annabelle: Creation, the second film to star the evil doll. That would go on to make $306.5 million worldwide, this time from a $15 million budget.
As the Hollywood cycle goes, this called for an even bigger swing at bat, and Sandberg was called to the big league….the Justice Leagues one might say… the same neighborhood at the very least. For his third film, the director signed on to bring the long in-development Shazam! to the big screen, his latest challenge in topping himself.
“It’s quite a marathon,” he tells us on the set of the film. “It’s a very different way of working, just because you have to do all this pre-vis, and plan everything out months in advance. And then when you’re shooting it … It’s not always as fun as shooting a smaller movie, because you have this little piece, and this little piece, because this piece is second unit, this is on blue screen, this is CGI. It’s a lot of things to keep track of. So the shooting is not always fun, but the result is so much more awesome when you have these kinds of resources.”
Sandberg is tapping into new territory for himself and for the DCEU as a whole with Shazam. He’s creating a movie for families and a movie that brings magic into the fold of this comic book cinematic universe (something that’s just easier if you go with it instead of trying to explain too much, he says). At the core of the movie is Zachary Levi as the title hero and IT‘s Jack Dylan Grazer as his friend and superhero guru Freddy Freeman. The pair create instant comedy for the film in a visual sense and because of their report.
“We got really lucky again with casting,” Sandberg said. “Jack Dylan Grazer and Zach Levi together are awesome. A lot of times when we’re shooting I’ll just wait to yell cut, because they always keep going and add little things. Most of that won’t end up in the movie, but I like to see what happens, because no two takes are ever the same with those two as well. They always are changing things up.”
Grazer’s character has an intense knowledge of superheroes in the world of the DCEU, and not like you or I, but in the same way people might know every stat about their favorite sports icon. These are real people to them after all. Knowing all the super powers of the world are his super power.
“Freddy, has a disability with his foot and his spine and in my eyes, is kind of a hero due to the fact that he doesn’t really let the hate get to him. He kind of uses that disability to his advantage. He laughs about his disability rather than feel sorry for himself, which I think is a really cool, strong move and he kind of teaches Billy that, ‘This is the most f***in’ cool thing that you could ever have! Dude, embrace the sh*t out of this!’”
Another tool at Sandberg’s disposal in the film is Mark Strong, returning to the fold of the DC Universe as another villain, Doctor Sivana.
“I’ve now got a chance to maybe exercise my evil credentials,” Strong told us, referencing his previous villainous attempt with Green Lantern‘s Sinestro.
Strong says the main appeal of playing Sivana was that he’s a “proper villain” and a character that could easily be terrifying for a movie of this nature.That style of villainy fits in well to Sandberg’s influences for the movie like 1980s fan favorites The Goonies and Ghostbusters. Sivana would get along swimmingly with Mama Fratelli and Gozor.
Don’t think that because Sandberg is making a family-oriented superhero movie that he’s not still bringing his horror roots to the table. The monstrous “Sins,” of the seven deadly variety (briefly seen in the latest TV spot) will be given pretty groesque designs, even for something that a 14-year-old superhero is expected to do battle with. Sandberg says the film is his “monster movie” that he’s finally getting to make; however, it’s also like another monster-free movie.
“They told me, ‘Oh, it’s like Big with superpowers.’ Like, that sounds awesome,” Sandberg said, teasing that many references to the Tom Hanks movie are in the movie. “There’s so much you can have with that wish fulfillment of this kid who gets to become a superhero and try out all these things. It just felt very unique.”
Shazam! will open in theaters on April 5.