Trey Shults makes “Waves”

“One striking image can penetrate your subconscious. It’s one of the things I love about movies,” says Trey Edward Shults during a visit to Houston to present his third film “Waves” on the opening night of the Houston Cinema Arts Festival.

“On this movie we shot enough for a four-hour film, the first cut was three-and-a-half-hours. Some of my favorite images are no longer in the movie.”

“Waves” has been amazing audiences since its debut at the Telluride Film Festival over Labor Day weekend. The engrossing drama focuses on a suburban American family with the emphasis on the family’s two teen siblings Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Emily (Taylor Russell). Sterling K. Brown, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Lucas Hedges co-star.

What makes “Waves” memorable is the auteur style Shults displays as a storyteller. Tyler seems to be the main character during its first hour but a dramatic and tonal shift occurs and the rest of the narrative supports Emily.

“My style has been evolving since my first movie,” says Shults. “I’ve had the same DP for every movie and we’re trying to make it subjective and experiential.”

Shults along with cinematographer Drew Daniels change the point of view with different aspect ratios, something they also did in Shults’ debut film “Krisha.” The color palette also shifts to reflect the contrasting story on display.

“Every choice we’re making from the aspect ratio to the camera movement or lack of camera movement is to put you in the main character’s headspace,” says Shults. “We make a subjective and expressionistic journey.

“The aspect ratios are written into the script, Drew and I shot list everything to death. And talk about the arc of the whole story. Then when we’re actually shooting on the day, because everything is shot out of order, we know exactly where we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing. On any given day we had two or three different ratios we were shooting,” adds Shults.

“We plan, plan, plan. That being said, we know it so well we are ready to adapt, change it, throw it out on the day we’re shooting if we’re more inspired by something else. Not the aspect ratios, those are like chapter markers but once we’re in the zone of the film if we find something better we adapt.”

Both of Shults’ previous films were set in a single location. “Krisha” was shot in Spring, just North of Houston, and “It Comes At Night” was lensed in a rural area outside of Woodstock, New York.

“My last movie I was literally going claustrophobic making it. I wanted to make a sprawling bigger story. There are over fifty locations in ‘Waves.’ Harder in a sense but so much fun,” says Shults.

All of Shults’ films have been distributed by A24, a company that has invested in some of the best new directors on the scene; a list that includes Ari Aster (“Midsommar”) and Robert Eggers (“The Lighthouse”).

“All I can do is care and push as hard as I can and make unique films,” Shults says.

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