How Waves Director Trey Edward Shults ‘Cheated’ for His Film

Trey Edward Shults Waves Kelvin Harrison Jr.

Waves writer-director Trey Edward Shults says he employed a trick familiar to anyone who’s ever had to turn in a writing assignment that is too long or too short: He fudged the margins on his script.

Shults said at a SCAD Savannah Film Festival screening Friday night that an insurance company on Waves worried he couldn’t shoot his full script in the time he had planned. So he made some adjustments.

“We brought on a bond company. They said our shooting schedule was impossible. They found out I cheated the page margins,” he laughed. “Where the script was like 130 pages but it was actually over 150.”

He added: “I thought the movie was going to fall apart in pre-production. It goes on and on. And it was a lot. But to their credit and to everything else, we got through it.

Everything worked out fine. Waves, Schults’ third film, won acclaim at its Telluride Film Festival premiere and the Toronto International Film Festival. It also received a very warm reception at its SCAD Savannah Film Festival on Friday night.

The A24 film stars Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Sterling K. Brown. Waves follows a family navigating love and tragedy, taking time to reflect on the evocative colors and light of its South Florida setting.

“Once we started shooting it was the best thing in the world,” Shults said. “I really loved these human beings and believe they’re the best actors there are. And my crew was so amazing, and it was like we built this big, beautiful family. Once we got over the practical hurdles it was like the best summer of my life.

He also talked about how much the film drew from his own life, including a high-school wrestling injury, and identified the character he related to most: Tyler, the high school wrestler played by Harrison. Shults and Harrison first worked together on Shults’ film It Comes at Night.

Waves writer-director Troy Edward Shults at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival.

“A lot of this movie was born out of a collaboration with Kelvin. … I met him on my last movie and we just kind of loved each other and wanted to make something together again,” Shults said.

Shults’ said Tyler’s story led to the rest of the story in Waves.

“We were kind of having these mini-therapy sessions where we were talking about ourselves at that age, commonalities, differences, relationships with our parents, siblings, lovers, and everything. And pressures we felt,” Schults said.

He also said Tyler, initially an autobiographical character, came to be a little bit Trey Edward Shults and a little bit Kelvin Harrison Jr.

“Tyler sort of became, while he’s very personal, like a combination between the two of us and that kind of set up an energy that created everything else that followed.”

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