It may seem like a contradiction, but there’s definitely an argument to be made for the idea that having unlimited resources can actually hurt a film. It’s something I’ve discussed periodically on The Fanboy Podcast; This idea that filmmakers and creative types work better when their backs are pressed ever so slightly against the wall, as opposed to having a blank check to do whatever comes to mind. Such seems to have been the case with Shazam!
A few months back, the internet was startled to discover that David F. Sandberg had made a very good looking comic book adaptation with a budget that was a far cry from what these movies typically cost. With a rumored budget of just $98 million, Shazam! was poised to be a success for DC Entertainment regardless of whether or not it was beloved by fans and critics.
Thankfully, it ended up beloved anyway!
With stellar reviews from critics, an A CinemaScore from fans, and an opening weekend that saw Shazam! perform beyond its modest expectations, DC has its second straight hit following the enormous success of last December’s Aquaman.
In a new interview, Sandberg opened up about what it was like to make a movie of this scale with less than half of the budget that films like Man of Steel or Batman v Superman got. Even David Ayer’s smaller scale, grittier Suicide Squad cost a reported $175M to make. Sandberg says that having a higher budget often leads to greater pressure, and it increases the chance your film might fail:
“I still would’ve taken on the challenge, but yeah, the higher the budget, the bigger the risk of failure. So, it certainly feels safer and more comfortable with having a somewhat lower budget.”
He has a point, of course. Because each of those previous DC films I mentioned did very good numbers for Warner Bros., yet since they cost so much to make…executives weren’t exactly dancing down the hallways in Burbank. When your budget is sky high, so are the expectations for the kind of profit your movie will turn.
Sandberg also discusses how his own, inherently “indie” style worked on the set of Shazam!– the largest film he’s ever made. He’s a filmmaker used to working on shoestring budgets, so check out his description of what it was like having more toys to play with.
“We just would’ve been more comfortable [with a bigger budget] rather than anything. For example, we could’ve shot the carnival indoors. Talking to people on set who had worked on bigger movies, they were basically saying that if this had twice the budget, we wouldn’t be out in the middle of the night in Toronto winter shooting all of the carnival stuff, because you could just build a replica of that carnival indoors.
“When we first started talking about how to shoot all these things, I was in my sort of normal low-budget mode and thinking, ‘Well, we could just cheat it like this’ or ‘We don’t have to actually do that.’ The line producer, Jeffrey Chernov, actually took me aside and said, ‘As a line producer, I don’t usually say this, but you should think bigger. You don’t have to think so much in the low budget that you’re used to.’ Then, I felt more free to just come up with cool s**t until he eventually said, ‘Okay, that’s too big. Let’s scale it back a little bit.’”
Indeed, it seems like the decision to hire Sandberg was an exceedingly wise one. It was probably way easier to get a director who’s used to smaller films to scale up rather than hire a filmmaker used to bigger blockbusters and asking them to scale down.
I’ve always been a firm believer that, on films like these, a lower budget is a blessing because it forces the entire creative team (and performers) to keep the focus on the characters and story. When you don’t have the ability to stuff your film with spectacle, you kind of have no choice but to make sure that your characters, dialogue, and plotting is really tight and well-executed- because those elements, in essence, become your biggest special effects.
Shazam! is in theaters now.
Editor-In-Chief and Co-Founder of Revenge of The Fans. Previously, he's written for Latino-Review, IGN, Moviehole, and The Splash Report. He's also the host of the top-rated show The Fanboy Podcast and the co-host of The Revengers Podcast. E-Mail: MFR@RevengeOfTheFans.com | Twitter: @I_AM_MFR