In 2013, David F. Sandberg’s life changed in a big way. His hard work and persistence making no-budget horror shorts in his apartment with his wife paid off when Hollywood came calling. Since then, Sandberg has directed the horror hit Lights Out, the upcoming film Annabelle: Creation (part of The Conjuring cinematic universe), and, as just announced at this year’s Comic-Con, will be directing DC Comics’ upcoming Shazam!.

In this video interview, launching exclusively through No Film School, find out how Sandberg did it (and how you can, too).

1. No money? No problem

Sandberg started out by making no-budget short films in his apartment with his wife. He didn’t wait for permission from gatekeepers. He just did it. And he learned and grew as a storyteller in the process. Over time, he honed his voice and style, culminating with his 2-minute short film, Lights Out, which showcased his skill at creating tension, executing a high concept, and delivering a genuine scare. The short went viral and caught Hollywood’s attention.

2. Cultivate a fan base

For every short film Sandberg made, he also created a behind-the-scenes video illustrating his directorial choices and how he was able to shoot on a microbudget. Additionally, the videos presented the opportunity for Sandberg to appear in front of the camera and establish a personal connection with the viewer. He found that fellow filmmakers appreciated the videos and kept coming back for more. You can follow Sandberg on his Youtube channel “ponysmasher”, where he continues to build his brand and now even offers tips and contests for fellow filmmakers to submit projects.

3. See your film with an audience

It may sound self-explanatory, but eventually, you should step back and watch your film with an audience. During the production process, filmmakers can lose all objectivity, having seen every second of their film hundreds, if not thousands, of times. You think jokes fall flat? Scares don’t work? The entire thing is a mess? It could be… it also could just be that you’re sick of your own film. See it with fresh eyes through an audience and you might just be reminded of why you decided to make your film in the first place.

The interview was shot at the Technicolor at Paramount sound facility where Sandberg completed sound post-production on Annabelle: Creation, and previously on his debut feature, Lights Out.