‘Waves’ Director: Collaboration, Faith Fueled Family Drama

The film, co-starring Sterling K. Brown, examines much more than race in America

Trey Edward Shults’ “Waves” looks at a perfect family in a near-perfect free fall.

This upper middle-class clan has it all, on paper, but teenage son Tyler (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) would disagree.

The teen’s angst, and the events that eventually rock the family, power Shults’ third directorial effort.

Waves | Official Trailer HD | A24

“Ty is a great kid, and this is a great family … they’re not perfect, but who is perfect?” Shults says. His movie provides a “cautionary tale” for the culture at large.

What happens when a well-meaning parent sets up unrealistic expectations?

“His father [played by Sterling K. Brown] loves him too much, too hard … he doesn’t allow an open line of communication,” Shults says.

We first meet this attractive family through a curious lens. The writer/director’s camera spins around Tyler and co., swooping along with his wrestling exercises, car rides with his doting girlfriend (Alexa Demie) and sister Emily (Taylor Russell, “Hot Air”).

“You’re thrown into his world… his swirling world,” he says. From there, it’s up to the writer/director’s cast to create a fully-formed unit. Shults made sure his stars had plenty of say in the matter. That came from a combination of a “deeply, deeply personal story” and extreme collaboration.

“From the first time I was writing the script I was collaborating with Kelvin,” he says. The young man’s feedback mattered, because of his relative youth and the color of his skin.

“I’m a white man, and this is a black family,” Shults says. “The specificity of that is from Kelvin.”

The co-star’s input even fed into the father-son bond that plays a key role in “Waves.” Consider a sequence where Brown’s character tells Tyler why he pushes his children so relentlessly. The message is clear, even if it isn’t spoken aloud. Cultural bigotry creates a less than equal playing field for black teens.

“This is what my dad would say to me,” he recalls Harrison telling him. “It makes a lot of sense for these characters.”

Other elements of “Waves” transcend race and class, including grief, loss and pain.”

“Any family can connect with that,” he says.

Many movie goers will appreciate the role faith plays in both the film and the characters in question.

trey edward shults waves interview
Trey Edward Shults and Sterling K. Brown on the set of ‘Waves.’

Tyler’s family attends church and quote the Bible. It’s a far cry from a standard “faith-based” production, but the religious element can’t be denied.

The writer/director said that part of the saga came organically to him.

“I grew up Christian,” Shults says. “I’m a very spiritual person. That stuff just came in the script as I was writing … I wear my heart on my sleeve.”

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