Shazam! Fury of the Gods is the long-awaited sequel starring Zachary Levi, Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Asher Angel. I recently had the opportunity to screen the film and chat with one of my favorite filmmakers, David F. Sandberg, about returning to the world of Shazam and what it was like to work alongside a Hollywood icon like Helen Mirren.
Scott Menzel: Hey David, seeing you again in person is such a joy.
David F. Sandberg: Yeah, It’s been a while.
Scott Menzel: I think it’s been since the first film that we saw one another. I know we’ve chatted online occasionally, but it’s been years since we did this in person. So, to kick things off, did you ever think when you were making those short films that you would ever be here, making two DC superhero movies?
David F. Sandberg: No, absolutely not. And I mean, that’s the cool thing. It’s the people you work with like Lucy Liu and Helen Mirren. I remember watching Kill Bill or something and thinking if someone had told me back then, “Oh yeah, one day you’re going to work with Lucy Liu.” I was like, “What?” No, I’m constantly amazed and very happy about it.
Scott Menzel: Going back to the shorts and you starting with Lights Out as a feature film, working on those small, more intimate films, and then now you have these big films with so many moving parts. We rarely talk about all the moving parts in a movie, such as the costume designer, and visual effects. Can you talk briefly about what that experience was like with something of this size?
David F. Sandberg: It is quite an undertaking, but that’s the good thing that you get to work with all these very talented people who know and can do more than you. For example, you have the costume designer Louise Mingenbach on this one, who knocks it out of the park. But it’s a lot of balls in the air juggling simultaneously. And the thing with movies is that things keep changing so much, just throughout production. And even when you have tech scouts and things where you’re talking about how you’re going to shoot something there, and then things fall through, and you have to shoot it somewhere else, and that’s the big challenge for me, the constant changes. Because even when you do all these storyboards and diagrams, and then you have to just throw it all out because things fall apart, and you have to change things, or the notes, or whatever. So it’s a challenge. I bought Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite book of the storyboards, which I love looking at, but it’s like I’d love to do that kind of thing one day where you have the storyboards, and then you do them, and then there’s your movie. Not without the constant challenges and, “oh, we can’t actually do this because of that,” or “But I think I’ve gotten pretty good at improvising on set and on the day because I’ve had to.
Scott Menzel: I can only imagine how much things change on something like this. There are so many moving parts. I also know you’re also a stickler when creating a scene. I love those breakdowns that you posted on YouTube and Twitter about, “Hey, this is what we had to do to correct this scene.” Is there a particular scene in this movie that after seeing the final cut that you caught and you were like, “oh, how did I miss that?”
David F. Sandberg: Well, a big challenge was that I wanted the third act to be at night. We were shooting in Atlanta during the middle of summer, and the sun doesn’t set until way late. And we’re working with underage kids, so we can’t shoot it all at night because we’d get two hours a night with the kids. So there are things in there. There’s a scene when they go and wake up the parents, and it’s in the middle of the day, so it’s like because it was written at night, but it’s like we had to change it to during the day. So that bothers me a little bit. But maybe they were having an afternoon nap or something. And then, towards the end, there’s a big scene at the stadium at night, which needed to be at night because of the lightning and everything. So it goes from day to night pretty quickly towards the end there. But that’s just because we had to have a day for the kids, but then the ending had to be at night. We had to cut out a little scene in between that sort of bridged it a little bit. So it’s the sun sets quickly in Philadelphia.
Scott Menzel: I love that you have a brief cameo in this movie.
David F. Sandberg: This is the first time you see my face in a movie. Before, it’s been my voice, a creature performance, or something like that. But yeah, you get to see me, I get to do a little stunt work.
Scott Menzel: Did you do your stunts?
David F. Sandberg: Yeah, and I have pictures of the bruises to show it. It was cool to be on a harness and get pulled up in the air like that. And I did a lot of takes because it was fun and also to get it right.
Scott Menzel: I love it because I love how you put your Easter eggs in there and then to finally see you in there. I was like, “hey that’s David!” I’m so curious about the tone of this one. As you know, I loved the first one, and it is up there for me in the DC films. This one had a different tone because it focused less on the kids. It’s not about self-discovery like the first one was because the story has already been set up. And I was wondering how did you balance it? Because I feel like there’s some dark stuff, there’s also the greatness of balancing the adult situations versus the kids’ situations.
David F. Sandberg: I mean, we tried to keep as much of the charm and the fun with the kids from the first one as possible, but I mean, they are older now, so we had to lean into that. And that goes into the story, like Billy being worried about aging out of the foster system and so on. But it also needed to go a little more serious and darker, especially toward the end, just because of the threat they’re facing. And this is the movie where Billy has to grow up and make certain sacrifices and things like that. So it naturally turned a little bit more serious, but it was still sort of a balance because we had a lot of jokes and things that we cut out because that’s not going to fit when the tone needs to be a little bit more serious. But we tried to keep as similar of a tone as we could from the first one, but still taking it in this new direction.
Scott Menzel: I thought it was a little bit more of a juggling act because there was so much you had to deal with. I wanted to ask you was product placement. This movie has to have some of the best product placement in recent memory and I am talking about the candy with the unicorn sequence. How do you do that without making it feel like product placement? Because I just thought it was such a fantastic scene and incorporated a product in a fun and creative way that didn’t take me out of the film.
David F. Sandberg: Well, thank you. Well, that didn’t start as product placement. That was sort of what the story was, and we added some Skittles to it, and then we asked for permission after writing it. I’m always bothered when they have made-up products in a movie, and it’s supposed to be Coca-Cola or something, but it has some similar name. I think it’s more natural when you have products that actually exist. So it wasn’t like they came to us, “Hey, can you get Skittles into the movie?” It was the other way around, but I think now Skittles are doing some promotion with the film, so I guess it turned into product placement in a way, but…
Scott Menzel: That’s great. I wondered about that because that scene stood out to me, and I was like, wow, he integrated this product so perfectly, and it’s interesting that you had that idea first and then went to the brand second. I feel like it’s always been the other way around.
David F. Sandberg: Yeah. Well, I guess that’s when it gets slightly more jarring.
Scott Menzel: Absolutely. You got to work with Helen Mirren, and so I have to ask you about Helen Mirren. What was it like working with such a legend?
David F. Sandberg: It’s great. A bit intimidating almost, but she surprised me a lot because you think, “oh, it’s Dame Helen Mirren coming to set and everything.” But the first day on set, she and Lucy walked on, and Helen said, “Oh, now we brought some pussy power to the set.” It’s like, “holy shit. That’s how she is?” I love just learning because I get to work with people who have done so much and are so experienced, and they’ve worked with so many people. Helen worked with some great directors, so I got to ask them about things. And so I talked to Helen about directing because she’s also directed a little bit. And she told me, “there are only four directions to give. It’s bigger, smaller, faster, and slower. That’s all you need.” So I guess that took a bit of pressure off, but there’s also not as much directing needed because what will I tell Helen about acting? It’s just like, this is what the movie is and what your character needs to be, and she does it. Yeah. And she does her own stunts in most of the movie as well.
Scott Menzel: Really?
David F. Sandberg: Yeah. We actually had to tell her not to do certain things that she wanted to do, but there’s a moment when Shazam holds her up over his head, and picks her up from the ground, that’s her in the harnesses and everything, that’s why we put a camera on the top looking down so you could see her face because we wanted to prove to people that she was doing it.
Scott Menzel: That’s truly amazing because you would never think someone of her stature would be doing that.
David F. Sandberg: She’s great in that way. She’s also the kind of actor who will hang around on set after she’s not needed, but she’ll still hang around and talk to people. And then, even when we do things with doubles or stunt doubles and things like that, she’ll show up even if she’s not working that day. She’ll talk them through how she would move and do things to ensure they get it correct.
Scott Menzel: I’m curious about the pandemic and the shifting of this movie’s release date. Has there been a situation where certain things have been cut out of it? I mean, I know it’s a spoiler but I’m just wondering how many edits you went through because of the current changes that have been happening?
David F. Sandberg: No, we got delayed with our shooting because of the pandemic, and it’s like, oh, the kids, they just keep growing and aging. We’ve got to shoot soon but it didn’t really change.
Scott Menzel: His voice changed. What are we going to do now?
David F. Sandberg: Yeah. Well, I will say one thing that changed was early on in the movie, they’re watching a baseball game at one point, and there was an early draft where they were actually at the baseball game, but it was like, oh, there’s going to be a lot of crowds and things. Let’s change that. But other than that, I don’t think it affected the movie, but we never had to shut down as well because we got really lucky, I guess.
Scott Menzel: So, were the T-shirt selections in the movie your choices?
David F. Sandberg: Yeah, and there are a lot of them. There’s Goonies, and there’s even my brother’s brand, he’s a video games designer, so Eugene wears a t-shirt of his video game. But that’s the fun thing with these movies. You have to choose everything, clothing, what posters they have on walls, what’s the name of this hotel, and since you have to make up stuff anyway, why not throw in a bunch of references to all kinds of things you like or are inspired by?
Scott Menzel: I love that. Besides Annabelle, are there any other Easter eggs in this movie from your previous films that I might have missed?
David F. Sandberg: Not from my previous films, no. But there are references to old Italian horror directors. There are personal references to schools I went to that only people in YoungShip in Sweden will say, “Yeah, I know what that is.” But those are the really fun ones because the few people who do know really like it.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, I’d say bonus points for them. In terms of Rachel, seeing her in West Side Story and becoming a superstar overnight, what would you say is a quality she has that makes her so prime to be an actress?
David F. Sandberg: She has charisma and star quality. I think she’s just so watchable. I remember when we cast her; West Side Story hadn’t come out yet. I knew she would be in that, but I knew nothing about her. So she just auditioned with a bunch of other girls, and we did chemistry reads with her and Jack, which we had to do over Zoom because of the pandemic. And I was like, oh, how’s this going to work? But even seeing the two of them on screen, having their banter and the look, a little flirting and things, it’s like, it’s just watchable. She has such a presence.
Scott Menzel: She’s so good at it. Last question: I know you want to wrap and have lunch. Is this the end of Shazam, or will we get more?
David F. Sandberg: Well, the cool thing is that I’ve been told that nothing we’ve done in Shazam, in the first and this one, contradicts the Future DC plans that they’re doing. So we haven’t talked about Shazam 3 or anything. But I mean, that’s a good thing about Shazam having been out on his own and not integrated as much with the bigger picture in that he hasn’t done anything where it’s like, well, now Shazam applies anymore. So we’ll see.
Scott Menzel: He’s not a member of the Justice League, so we’re good.
David F. Sandberg: Yeah.
Scott Menzel: Thank you very much, David.
David F. Sandberg: Thank you so much. Good seeing you.