A major critical success coming out of TIFF ’19, Director/Writer Trey Edward Shults and Actor Kevin Harrison Jr. reunite in WAVES. The two collaborated in 2017’s It Comes at Night and the two returned to Toronto in support of this gorgeously-shot two-part Drama which follows a family before and after a tragedy. The Film shifts from the perspective of the son Tyler (Harrison) who is on the verge of big things, to the soft-spoken daughter Emily (recent Gotham Award-winning Canadian Actress Taylor Russell).
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Scored by Academy Award winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Waves is as stunning visually as it is sonically. Shults is asked about the importance of Music in this Film.
Shults: “Scorsese makes the best Soundtrack Films out of anyone. For me, I love a lot of Soundtrack Films like Goodfellas, Boogie Nights, American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused. That was always in the DNA of this. I think Music is another part of the world of the Film, so it was important having a Soundtrack that hopefully feels honest to these characters and their world. I consider this a Soundtrack Film, with the purpose of getting you closer to Tyler and Emily‘s world.”.
Our George Kozera asks whether there was a piece of Music that Shults really wanted, but couldn’t get clearance for.
Shults: “Shockingly no. We got so, so, so blessed. I embedded so much of the Music into this Script that you could press play and pause as you were reading it – just to set the tone from the beginning, we’re getting Kanye, Frank Ocean, Radiohead and everything in-between. I based it on personal tastes and being set in high school, Music then really got me through a lot of personal things. I was really music-hungry.”.
“That helped me a lot because I could write letters to these artists and tell them what the Movie means to me and why their songs work so well with the Film.”.
Harrison is asked about his involvement not only as an Actor, but in developing the Script together with Shults.
Harrison: “When I worked on Gully, that Director (Nabil Elderkin) let me get really in there, so I had a tease of what it could be like, but never in this capacity. Trey and I met at a coffee shop and he told about the two parts of the Movie, which part I wanted to choose and tailored the role for me. We had fun conversations about life, so by the time I got the Script he would ask me my thoughts on the character and dialogue, what would be said and what wouldn’t be said. It’s really incredible collaborating that way and it really helps you as an Actor in that the performance feels like you’ve really lived in it. I don’t have to try so hard to hit the marks, hit beats and try to execute things. I could just breathe.”.
Shults isn’t shy about taking inspiration from Wong Kar Wai‘s 1994 classic, Chungking Express exploring two arches and the concept of Dichotomy in Waves.
Shults: “The Movie is about the dichotomy in our lives, the good and bad of human beings, of family, of relationships, your loved ones, highs and lows of love and everything in-between. We are literally structuring the narrative in the dichotomy between a male and female, and between a brother and sister, while understanding how tragedy can transpire, but finding the healing and growth on the other side.”.
“We wondered if it was gonna work and the girl playing Emily – Taylor – really had to be amazing or the whole Movie collapses. She’s the best.”.
George Kozera notes how impressed he was with Harrison‘s performance and how Tyler‘s interactions varied uniquely between him and his father, mother, sister and girlfriend. He asks how much of this was instinctive, in the Script or based on his input.
Harrison: “In my life I interact differently with everybody. I’m close to my sisters and I’m different with my dad and mom. And I think it was important to be specific about who brings Tyler comfort, security, safety and who violates those safe spaces. Alexis (Euphoria‘s Alexa Demie) was his best friend and at the end of the day if he was going to tell anyone what’s going on in his life, it would be her. But then there’s this version of it where he has this bravado, this need to provide and what would a man do based on what his dad would do.”.
“When I think of my dad, there is this fear of disappointing him and disappointing myself. There’s this push-and-pull of living-up to the expectations that he has of me, and living-up to my own expectations, so I’m never really on the same plain as him. When you look at Tyler‘s relationship with his mother, he lost his biological mother and then had Catharine (Hamilton star Renée Elise Goldsberry) come into the picture. She’s there for him – this sounds weird – but they’re the real couple and have this unspoken relationship where we raised Emily together. Because Tyler’s dad – how present was he truly and how emotionally available was he? So we had to map this in the Script and there were a million things I had to ask Trey about and spent too many hours on to make sure we knew this boy wasn’t just reactive. He’s thoughtful, complex and has a life of his own. He just doesn’t always express it to the best of his ability.”.
Drew Daniels’ (Euphoria, It Comes at Night) exquisite Cinematography is intimate, taking us right into the emotions and mindspaces of these characters. Harrison and Shults are asked about its role in Waves.
Harrison: “Because I worked with Trey before, I understood what it would look like. This time I came way more prepared and ready to go. He would put what the Aspect Ratio would be in the Script, that way you have an awareness if you’re doing too much or little. But we still had freedom to play and not be restricted by the camera. I was always able to be honest. I was able to be a human being and know that he’d just capture it and I trusted him in that way.”.
Shults: “A Film like this lives and dies by its performances, so if we ever get to the point where a camera goes too far where we are getting in the way of the performances, then we have failed. We try to prepare, but also be ready to adapt.”.
Elevation Pictures release WAVESFriday, November 22, 2019.