How the horror short 'Lights Out' went from 3-minute film to Hollywood feature

A simple premise and a three-minute minimum rocketed short director David F. Sandberg to Internet fame when his horror short "Lights Out" went viral. The quick flick landed on many folks' radar, including bankable horror movie veteran James Wan. And now that scary short shall become a frightening feature.

"Lights Out," the short, is a simple scene of a woman (played by Lotta Losten) being terrorized by a creature in the dark.

The feature film expands on that idea and creates an imaginary friend, not for a child, but an adult. "I always thought it would be more scary if the parent had an invisible friend," Sandberg said on his premiere WonderCon panel.

The first trailer for the feature premiered at WonderCon. Wan (who found horror fame directing "Saw" "Insidious," and "The Conjuring") took the stage welcoming newcomer Sandberg and his wife, Losten, who appears in the feature (and new trailer) as well.

Offstage in an interview with The Times, Wan described how he came across "Lights Out" via fellow producer Lawrence Grey. It was Grey who first recommended they turn the short into a feature film. Wan wasn't fully convinced until he met with Sandberg.

"He had a lot of really smart things to say," Wan explained. "I saw a lot of him in the younger version of me. You feel like you have a lot to prove, you've nothing to lose, you're new to the scene, you don't know anything better, you're young and naive. He also did a lot of things that I used to do. I would edit things, I would draw things to try and get people excited about my projects."

Noticing how Sandberg would frame a shot or design a sequence gave Wan what he needed to believe in Sandberg the filmmaker.  "This guy has what it takes, and it's really hard to find filmmakers that get these things. People think it's easy to make a horror movie that works. It's not, that's why there's a lot of crap out there. To find a director that gets this stuff I go, 'All right, this is what we'll do. We'll support him, we'll give him the tools, we'll give him a bit of the money that he needs to make the movie, we'll surround him with a good crew. And hopefully that will let him be creative as he can be.'"

The new director clearly benefited from Wan's presence on the set of "Lights Out," and he described a scene on the WonderCon panel where it helped to have the Wan cachet. 

"There’s a scene in the film where Gabriel, the little boy, has this little candle that’s the only light source,” Sandberg said to the crowd. "I was said, ‘Let’s light that with just candlelight. Let’s just have a candle.’ And people were like, ‘We can’t do that, you gotta light it, you can’t just have candlelight.’ Then on the day we were shooting that scene James was on set, and he said, ‘You know, we should shoot that with just candlelight.’ And people were like ‘Yeah, let’s do that -- great idea, James.’ So he came in handy to get [the film] made properly." 

As for Wan, not being in charge was actually liberating for the director. "I find it a relief because I go on set, I get that pang of anxiety," Wan said. "And then I think, oh wait, I'm not directing this! All right, I can just go to craft services, I can eat, I can sit back. I can joke with the crew and the cast. And let the director do all the hard work. Because usually on a film set I'm always so stressed out."

Did working with Sandberg revive any new passion or revive the creative streak?  Wan says he's not that "jaded" yet and is still happily working on his next project, "The Conjuring 2."

The sequel to "The Conjuring" also had a trailer debut at WonderCon. Back in the horror saddle is the Warren family (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). But this time the duo are headed to London for a new ghostbusting challenge. Wan wasn't ready to promise a "Conjuring 3."

"We joke about it," Wan said. "Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, we joke that the next one has to be set in the '80s. Because I want to see Vera with big earrings. That's all I know, if there is another 'Conjuring' it should take place in the '80s."

Although Wan has been working in the horror world for over a decade, he still practices restraint with all things occult. When the real Lorraine Warren invited the director over to her haunted museum (which has also housed the allegedly possessed Annabelle doll), Wan refused. 

"I'm very superstitious and I don't really need to attract or invite potential negative, spiritual stuff," Wan said. "I can just admire it from a difference." 

That caution is clearly not extended to the film world because "Annabelle 2," the sequel to the doll horror show inspired by "The Conjuring" legacy, already has a director: "Lights Out's" David F. Sandberg.

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