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Filmmaker Trey Edward Shults

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At a time when much of Hollywood's award hopefuls feel familiar in their storytelling formula, it's refreshing to find films like "Waves" and the upcoming "A Hidden Life" from Terrence Malick that speak in an audaciously cinematic language that is pure visual poetry.

"Waves'" filmmaker Trey Edward Shults grabbed my attention two years ago for "It Comes At Night," an unconventional horror film that was poorly served by its misleading ad campaign. I had the opportunity to speak to Shults back in 2017 when "It Comes At Night" opened. With his new film in theaters I thought it would be fun to revisit his interview.

Speaker 1: 00:03 From its first breath waves announces itself as a vibrant piece of cinema. Welcome back to another edition of listener supported KPBS cinema junkie podcast. I'm Beth like Mondo

Speaker 2: 00:27 [inaudible],

Speaker 1: 00:27 the time of year when Hollywood studios serve up their Oscar hopefuls, but a small indie film called waves outshines. Most of these bigger releases

Speaker 3: 00:39 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:40 dynamics soundtracks. That's the film in motion as over-saturated dizzying images from cinematographer drew Daniels and colorist Damien Vander Krusen convey a ravenous energy that drives us forward into the lives of the characters and orchestrating sound image and the performances is director Trey. Edward Scholtz waves looks to the upper middleclass South Florida Williams family that includes high school senior Tyler who has a bright future. His sister Emily is demanding but well-intentioned father Ronald and his loving mom Catherine. The film opens with Tyler on top of the world. The camera can't seem to keep pace with him as it takes us through his classrooms. Wrestling practice, family life, and love interest. The camera spins and tracks as we take in the details of his world, the pace and the intensity of the film pick up and build to a crescendo that leads to tragedy and then the tone and focus abruptly shift to Tyler sister.

Speaker 1: 01:38 If the first half of the film is about crashing and burning, the second half is about healing. The film takes us on a journey as the Williams experience loss and tragedy and then try to move toward forgiveness and rebuilding. It's a familiar story, yet it's told in bold, fresh, cinematic language. The film is shoes, a conventional narrative in favor of sweeping you up in emotional waves, first violent, and then soothing that define the characters and determine their fates at a time when much of Hollywood's award hopefuls feel familiar in their storytelling. It's refreshing to find films like waves and the upcoming a hidden life from Terrence Malick that speak in an audaciously cinematic language that's pure visual poetry waves director Trey Edward Scholtz grabbed my attention two years ago for it comes at night, an unconventional horror film that was poorly served by its misleading ad campaign.

Speaker 4: 02:32 I think that will and I should be the only ones that go outside for awhile. We don't know what made Stanley sick. We don't know anything. Nobody touched him, so I think we're fine. Right.

Speaker 1: 02:48 Use the door. You don't go in. I didn't touch the door.

Speaker 3: 02:56 It was already open. Yeah. [inaudible] [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 03:14 there's a saying that you can't judge a book by its cover. Well, you also can't judge a film by its ad campaign. This trailer ends in a stereotypical rapid horror montage cut to a pulsating soundtrack and that created false expectations for the film when it opened in 2017 it also prompted some to leave the previous screening. I was at frustrated and even angry that they didn't get a more conventionally scary film.

Speaker 1: 03:42 All movies, but especially horror films have to contend with the fact that movie marketing places a huge set of expectations on them. Films like it follows and the witch had the heavy burden of having to live up to ad campaigns that proclaim them the scariest films you would ever see. No film can live up to that because it sets the bar too high. People have to come in and discover whether or not a film is the most terrifying thing they've ever seen. When a film is promoted with such hyperbole, people tend to go in with high expectations and a kind of a, Oh yeah. Prove it. Attitude that can result in them leaving the cinema. Disappointed. I had the opportunity to speak to shoulds back in 2017 when it comes at night opened. We got to talk a little bit about that ad campaign plus about filmmaking in general. I'll take a quick break and then be back with my archive interview with filmmaker Trey Edward Schultz.

Speaker 5: 04:40 So tell me about it comes at night. Where did the idea for this story initially come from?

Speaker 6: 04:46 Well, I had a rough relationship with my biological dad. Our relationship was cut off for 10 years. He had had pancreatic cancer and I went to him on his death bed and he was so full of regret and did not want to let go. And, um, I was just trying to help him find peace and, uh, it was one that, you know, one of the most traumatic things I've ever gone through. Two months after that I started writing. You know, in hindsight I see it obviously as a, as an act of grief. You know, I'm a movie guy, I love movies. So I think I was processing my grief through the Testament, started with that opening scene of what Sarah says to her dad, and then it goes into a totally fictional narrative. It's essentially about what my head was about, what I was thinking about. It was on my mind.

Speaker 5: 05:35 Well, it's interesting because I was thinking that this film ties into your other one. Krisha. I mean it seems like you're interested in these family dynamics. Like that seems to be kind of the, the thing that hooks you in and that that is the strongest element in your films.

Speaker 6: 05:52 Yes, definitely. And it's not necessarily a conscious thing per se, just what I'm naturally drawn to, you know, and you know, I think we all know family is a universal thing that's I think infinitely fascinating. And you could explore so many different aspects of it.

Speaker 5: 06:07 Now it comes at night isn't really overtly horror. So do you, do you consider it a horror film? Is horror genre that you're interested in?

Speaker 6: 06:20 Sure, but I, I mean I, I'm not like a horror expert. I just love movies and I love good movies whether that happens to be a horror movie or another movie. And when I approached this movie it wasn't like this is my version of a horror movie. It is just what came out of me. And it was a, it started with that personal place and it all connected to this thing. And as I approached it through every step, it, the intent was never to like make this as scary as possible or anything. It was just to tell this story and tell it in a way that felt right to me.

Speaker 5: 06:53 Well, what's interesting is I think your other film is definitely not a horror film. However, there are like horrific elements in terms of how people sometimes can treat each other. And it seems like that gets expanded to a certain degree in this film.

Speaker 6: 07:07 Yeah, I think so. For sure. And I know I wrote them both around a similar time, so the knee, they're meshed together and they could even be seen as companion pieces in different way, even in different ways. But I'm sure some people will like one and not the other or whatever. But um, to me they're all interconnected. Um, and I think they're both sort of, they're both sort of like confrontations but confrontations with different things and they're both kind of dark and intense. But hopefully the positive being they're bringing something to light that just should be on our minds. Talked about, you know,

Speaker 5: 07:42 [inaudible] because this is for radio. I can't show people visually what your film looks like. Suit. Talk a little bit about the visual style and how you wanted the film to look and, and kind of the mood you wanted to create with the visuals and the cinematography.

Speaker 6: 07:58 Yeah, well the biggest thing that jumps out right away is night. You know, night isn't the title of the film. And we wanted to truly feel night, you know, in the fear of fear of the unknown. Like, if you just walk through your house with a flashlight, with all the lights off, it's scary. The darkness around you is scary. Or if you go outside in the woods especially. And that was really important. It also gets the what I think the movie is really about, about fear of the unknown. So we wanted to bring that to our film grammar as well and pass that, you know, I think the movie has a, a somber tone but also maybe something full of dread and 10 and um, you know, that's kind of our approach and pass that to, we kind of wanted with our camera and everything else. A bit of a subtlety to where you're just envelop in the movie, you know, and you're enveloped in this thing.

Speaker 5: 08:52 Well you mentioned the forest in darkness because uh, recently the, which also had this sense of that what they call like country black, where it's like, it's that darkness that really you can't, like, it's almost a tangible quantity. Like you could touch it. It's so dark.

Speaker 6: 09:09 Totally, totally. And that's what we wanted. That's what we wanted to convey. And like, you know, if you just know that if you go outside and that in the middle of nowhere with a flashlight in what you can't see around you, I just think it's terrifying and it's, it's fascinating to me.

Speaker 5: 09:25 Well, your film also gets to something else, which I think is what I love about good horror films and it's not so much the scary things that are external and outside as the scary things that are inside us and kind of looking into the darkness within

Speaker 6: 09:42 certainly, certainly even to where, you know, I think, I think, uh, the story is Travis's story. This, uh, this 17 year old growing up and, um, I think, you know, terrible times a terrible circumstance. And throughout the film he kind of has these nightmares that can me past being scary or anything. I think they draw us closer to what's going on in his subconscious, you know, and what he's battling with and what he's contending with. And, um, I'm certainly fascinated by that. I'm less fascinated with a monster, uh, or some external force and more with what it does, the people and what's going on inside. And even if it is, you know, uh, horror movies, I love like, uh, this thing or this shining or negative living dead or something, it's for me. Um, personally I, you know, I don't love as much, like I don't love the monster that goes through the zombies, but I love what it does to the people in the power dynamics or the fear or the paranoia or however you approach it or a family unraveling. Um, and I got really excited about the idea of these two families, you know, these two tribes and, and one house, uh, this like microcosm and their little society and trying to coexist. Um, and seeing what happens in those circumstances and how quick and easy, just like fear in the unknown and uncertainty can spread and kind of infiltrate them like a disease and terrible part like that. That was kind of fascinating to me.

Speaker 7: 11:12 Okay. Tell us everything that happened. Angela was in grandpa's room and he was having a nightmare. So I will come up and I brought him to your room. Then I went to the back hallway, saw the door open, heard something, and then I woke everyone up. Andrews?

Speaker 3: 11:32 Yes.

Speaker 7: 11:40 I can't remember. Did you see Stanley last night? Andrew? Think real hard and tell mommy what you remember. How can you not remember?

Speaker 7: 11:54 Does he sleep? Walk? No, he doesn't sleep. Walk. This doesn't make any sense because Andrew is barely tall enough to reach those lives. You're, you're positive that the door was already open? Yes. How can you be positive? It was the middle of the night. You could have been half asleep. He said he was sure. I was wide awake. I'm positive. Look, I'm not saying you're lying, Travis. I'm just saying it was the middle of the night. Maybe you're not remembering correctly what I saw. I'm sorry, but the door was opened before. I'm not going to jump to 20 conclusions, but just to be safe, I think that we all shouldn't interact for a day or so that I'm sure it's fine. I'm just taking proper precautions. Okay. That was a scene from, it comes at night. I'll take one more quick break and then be back with the rest of my 2017 interview with Trey. Edward Schultz. His new film is waves.

Speaker 5: 12:45 You said you weren't like specifically a big fan of horror, but the things you're talking about the darkness and fear and the unknown. Are you by any chance a fan of HP Lovecraft? Cause that seems very kind of the core of a lot of his writing.

Speaker 6: 12:58 I'm sure I would be, I haven't checked any of it out but it's out.

Speaker 5: 13:04 I am curious about the advertising campaign for the film because I went to a screening of mostly horror fans who had come to see it and there were some people who were like angry at the end of the film going like, you know, this wasn't the scariest film, this didn't have to do with the supernatural. And they like kind of stormed out, which is similar thing that happened with films like it follows and the which like people come in with a certain set of expectations based on like the advertising campaign. So how do you feel about that? Do you feel that it, it, it might set people up for, with different expectations than what the film actually delivers?

Speaker 6: 13:47 I do. And I feel, you know, like I'm not in control of the market and I can't manage that. And a sad thing is the time we're living in. You ha, you know, it's like only certain things get people in to the theaters, I guess. You know, and it's, it's really tough to get people to see movies nowadays. So I would assume that's part of why you have to do something like that. For me, what I say is, I say, come at this with an open mind. You know, I wish people could just see it without seeing trailers, but that's not the world we live in. Um, but it's not a conventional horror movie and it was never meant to be that way. Um, it was never meant to be that way. And, um, just be open to it. You know, I think this movie has a lot on its mind and it's thoughtful. Um, and just because, uh, whatever, if you have preconceived notions, if it's different than that, that doesn't have to be a bad thing. That can be a really great thing. And I hope people see it that weren't going to see it. But then, um, instead of being frustrated, they're excited, you know, that that could be incredible.

Speaker 5: 14:47 Well, I really hope, I mean, I think horror films today have especially serious horror films, films that kind of take the genre seriously. Uh, I think it's really difficult for them because a lot of times ad campaigns will say, like, the scariest film you'll ever see for like it follows are the wins. And that's a huge burden to put on a movie.

Speaker 6: 15:09 It's funny, I just realized, even like look at the shining, when the shining came out, it was being marketed as the scariest movie of all time and like from Kubrick and everything, and then it came out and people are like, what is this? And I think it was, it was, yeah, I don't know for a fact, it's just what I read. But it seemed polarizing and not what people expected. But you know, with time people came back to it more open mind and look what it is now. So I don't know. It's, it's weird.

Speaker 5: 15:36 Well, I do see your film fitting in with this recent crop of films like it follows and the witch, which they're, they seem to be more about this sense of dread as opposed to overt horror. And it's something that I love in films, but I think there, there's a segment of the population that doesn't quite know how to deal with that kind of atmosphere, brick kind of horror when they're used to seeing saw.

Speaker 6: 16:06 Totally, totally. Um, yeah. Yeah. I mean, I would say you're certainly right and like I, um, I love those movies and, um, the, the horror movies I draw from are much more in that vein. Yeah. I don't know. You know, I, all I know is I take this 40, very serious, very seriously. You know, it's not, I didn't try to make a movie just to scare you or whatever. It's like, I really care about this story, these characters, and they care about what this film is about. I think there's a lot there, you know, and I, and I hope people get that.

Speaker 5: 16:38 Well, what's your film does well too, is that you develop these characters while, and I think one thing that a lot of contemporary horror sometimes falters at is that if you don't care about the characters, then it's hard to get scared because there's nothing at stake with these characters you open with that scene, which is, I mean, there's, I don't think there's anything more traumatic that you can think of then having to kill a family member when both of you are conscious of what you're doing. Yeah. Talk a little bit just about the pacing and editing and how you wanted to build that tension.

Speaker 6: 17:15 Yeah. Yeah. Um, I don't know. It's a good, it's a good question. I just like a lot of that stuff I approach intuitively, you know, and, um, it's just, you know, it's how the story came out of me and, you know, talking about characters and like, I hope these feel like real human beings in a terrible situation. You know? And I don't think there's any bad guys per se in the film. They're all just people trying to protect their family and then editing and paste and everything else. I just know what I like, you know, and I always saw this as like a kind of a chamber in this two families in this house and, and if this paranoia can infect that and the dreaded instills and um, yeah, I don't know. I think patients and subtlety with that stuff, if you're game for it and you go with it can have a crazy unnerving effect. Um, but yeah, I don't know. I would say you gotta you gotta see open mind.

Speaker 1: 18:10 All right, well thank you very much for your time and I sincerely hope that you do something else in the horror genre. Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. I'm so glad you talked the movie and that we could talk

Speaker 2: 18:29 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 18:29 that was filmmaker trade word Schultz in a 2017 interview talking about his release. It comes at night. His new film is waves cinema junkie. We'll be taking a holiday break and we'll be back with new episodes in January of next year till our next film fix. I'm Betha Mondo your resident's cinema junkie.

Speaker 2: 19:20 [inaudible] [inaudible]

Speaker 8: 19:59 [inaudible].

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Cinema Junkie

Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place