Making Scary Movies: Halloween Edition
It’s that time of year, where we all look to get just a little frightened. But as filmmakers, what are the tricks to scare your audience? Join us for a conversation with acclaimed horror filmmakers David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation) and Julian Terry (Don’t Peek) as we dissect (see what we did there?) what makes things scary!
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- David F Sandberg
Born in 1981 in Jönköping, Sweden and raised on a steady diet of films I started borrowing my father’s VHSC camera to make my own films with friends and family until I broke the camera.
In 5th grade I transferred to a new school and met my future wife Lotta Losten. We dated for about six month (an eternity when you’re that young) before breaking up.
In my late teens I worked extra in a video store which served as both a kind of film school as well as a way for me to save up money and eventually I was able to buy my own camcorder. With digital editing now possible I could take my filmmaking to a whole new level.
Making short films that I submitted to film festival I came into contact with the local film center ‘Film i Jönköpings län’ run by film commissioner Svante Rosberg where I interned and eventually started working on various projects. Mostly short documentaries for clients such as the Swedish Inheritance Fund, documenting their various projects.
In 2006 I started making animated shorts and had a big hit with ‘Vad Tyst Det Blev’. I uploaded it to this new thing called YouTube and it went viral in Scandinavia. It also won all the big awards at the November Film Festival that same year.
Thanks to the success of ‘Vad Tyst Det Blev’ I got commissioned to make animated commercial and corporate films. I started my own company and did that for a few years. I was also briefly involved as a consultant for the Swedish animated TV show ‘Myggan’.
‘Vad Tyst Det Blev’ going viral also lead to Lotta Losten reconnecting with me. We started dating again (after 14 years) and in 2013 we got married.
For a while I combined my previous experiences of documentary and animation work and made animated documentaries with Swedish producer Claes Lundin. Our biggest project was the TV-show ‘Earth Savers’ about real life people working to save our planet in various ways.
In 2013 I felt that I had strayed too far from my original love, live action genre films. Now working together with my wife Lotta we started making horror shorts. Our second collaboration was the short film ‘Lights Out’, made for the Bloody Cuts Horror Challenge contest. A few months after uploading the short to YouTube it went viral. Big time. It caught the attention of Hollywood and suddenly I had managers, agents and a producer who wanted to make a feature film version.
In 2015 Lotta and I packed our bags and went to Hollywood. I was getting to direct a feature film version of ‘Lights Out’ made by New Line Cinema with James Wan on board as a producer and Eric Heisserer writing. The first day on set was the first time I’d ever been on a real film set. It was a very surreal experience and I had to learn a lot quickly. In the end it worked out great. The film was a hit and before the movie was released I was offered to direct another New Line Cinema movie with James Wan as producer, ‘Annabelle Creation’.
Since then Lotta and I haven’t been back to Sweden much. We’ve been too busy in Hollywood. After ‘Annabelle Creation’ I was offered to direct the movie ‘Shazam!’ based on the DC comics character and Lotta and I are developing projects together for both film and TV.
In summation, I got extremely lucky and to this day I still can’t believe that my distant dream of becoming a Hollywood director actually came true. Life is pretty awesome sometimes.
- Julian Terry
I was born in 1990 in Chicago, Illinois. Growing up, I would sneak downstairs to watch scary movies with my dad. One summer, I watched Jurassic Park and The Thing. I reenacted those movies with my sister whenever I could!
During high school/college I worked at the local YWCA and battered women’s shelter teaching kids how to swim. Through teaching I started to develop my own directing style. I shot my first two short films, Puppy Love and My Friend Socrates. Like most fathers, mine thought filmmaking should be a hobby. I went to Northern Illinois University to pursue Engineering till I convinced my parents to let me go to film school, Columbia College Chicago! I was pretty rebellious and ended up failing my intro to film class. I also learned that my family was weeks away from losing the house. (It was a tough time!) I decided to go back to teaching at the YWCA and the shelter.
I borrowed my friend’s film textbooks and kept writing scripts in my spare time. Everytime I would go out to see a movie I felt the urge to pack up my car and just go to LA. So after a crazy life threatening night, I packed up my car and drove across the county to LA. I had only $200 and a Canon T2i. Finding work was damn near impossible without family or contacts in the industry. I worked a lot of free gigs as a PA. I would get kicked off set often for not knowing how to wrangle cable and basic set work. After working numerous PA jobs I eventually found myself as an AC/Camera operator for Discovery Channel for an awful showl. Later I got into gaffing music videos.
In 2015 I became an intern at BuzzFeed Motion Pictures. Where I shot something new everyday (even weekends)! I even got drunk for a video. I began to develop a style at BuzzFeed that got me noticed. I became the first full-time staff cinematographer for BuzzFeed’s Branded department, working on brands such as Toyota, Acer, and Purina. I filmed sharks with the Try Guys, I got to shoot Dear Kitten and Puppyhood. It was wild!
Sadly, they ended up closing my department. I calculated it out how many shorts I ended up making there and it was close to 200 viral short films. I had been a cinematographer, 1st AD, one job I knew nothing about was VFX. I figured it could help me out when I direct big movies so I got an internship at the VFX house, Pixomondo.
In the summer of 2017, I decided to make my first horror short for the My Annabelle Creation Contest called The Nurse. I gathered my friends that I shot my BuzzFeed projects and we threw it together in a day. It was finished and turned in 3 days later. It won and was optioned by New Line Cinema! While we awaited our meeting with New Line we made a second horror short, Whisper. It was shot in my bedroom with very little money. The next short film was a proof of concept for a feature, They Hear It.
They Hear It was a hell of a production, the DP quit and it snowed on us. Crazy enough I was contacted by The Picture Company who loved Whisper. With them I pitched it to Legendary where we sold it. David Robert Mitchell (It Follows) came aboard to write it. Two months later, we pitched Whisper to Amblin and they loved it. I actually have a video of myself crying hearing the news that Steven Spielberg loved my short film! Now, I’m prepping to direct my first movie!