Waves Writer/Director/Producer Trey Edward Shults On Why The Theatrical vs. Streaming Debate Makes Him Want To 'Double Down' On Making Films For Cinemas

The cast of Waves

With its stunning visuals, heart-wrenching performances, and pulsing score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Waves has been winning glowing reviews while making the rounds on the film festival circuit this fall.

I caught up with writer/director/director Trey Edward Shults and stars Taylor Russell and Kelvin Harrison Jr. at Middleburg Film Festival to talk about what having their work on the big screen means to them as well as their views on the future of the industry.

As filmmakers, how important is having your movie on the big screen so that you can see how an audience reacts to it?

Trey Edward Shults: For me, it’s everything. The movie was always meant to be a subjective, immersive experience and it doesn’t get more immersive than in a cinema with all the tools we have at our disposal: a big screen you can lose yourself in, a Dolby Atmos mix, and a 5.1 mix.

Growing up, the most cathartic experiences for me were in a movie theater. It was communal … it was like religion at times because of how powerfully impacted I was by movies. From the festival screenings [of Waves], I’ve heard about people crying together with strangers and it becomes this communal, cathartic experience. At big moments there’s been full gasps in the theater, and it’s a beautiful thing to have that. I pray that people see this in the theater.

Taylor Russell: We had a screening and a Q&A the other night that was really mind blowing because it was a lot of young people telling their experiences: how they related to the story and how it mirrors their own lives and their relationships with their parents. While watching it they felt the movie made them want to mend relationships in their own lives. To hear that a piece of art that you’re in has an impact on another life is so simple but it’s so huge. That’s the reason we do this. It’s the biggest gift. You can connect with other people.

Kelvin Harrison Jr.: My parents watched it last night with some of their friends, and talking to them was so fun because they told me they had a five-hour conversation about the movie. You don’t get to do that when you’re just watching a movie at home. When you watch it in a theater, you get to come with a group of people and discuss it afterwards. Their friends said it was so nice to see this movie, because as parents they felt represented. Their struggles, concerns, and insecurities were reflected beautifully. They talked about their experiences together, and they talked about how they can mend traumas.

It’s interesting to hear you talk about what you miss when you watch a movie at home. There’s this false narrative building that the rise of streaming means that movie theaters become less important, but a lot of actors and directors don’t seem to buy that. Some projects are designed for theaters, and others are designed for television. There’s a time and place for both. What are your thoughts on the debate that’s going on now about the dynamic between theatrical and streaming?

Shults: It’s a very fraught time right now, but personally that just makes me want to double down on making movies for the cinema … especially different movies, not just big superhero movies. We need unique dramas. I do believe people are still hungry for that, it’s just a little harder to get them there. It just makes me want to push harder to try and make something unique that will get attention and get people into a theater. It’s so important, and worth fighting for.

Russell: I think that people are always going to want to have the ritual of going to the movies. They want it to be an event that they can have on a Friday or Saturday night. I go to the movies so much … especially when it’s a special film, you don’t want to stream that that. You want to experience it with an audience so you can see something together and connect. Even with social media and other things that are really separating us more than ever, as human beings we want connection and going to the movies is part of that. There are some things that can be streamed, but some things deserve a bigger screen. I think that the people who care about going to the theater are never going to not care.

Harrison Jr.: Certain studios are still fighting for that experience. A24 has a done a great job choosing really quality projects, and finding movies that resonate in a larger way that people want to come out and see. They fight to get them into theaters instead of just saying “Well, let’s stream them on Netflix next month.” The movies that should be in theaters are there.

Russell: A studio caring so much about having a movie in theaters is how this stays alive. There’s a whole generation that is really excited to see A24 movies, and they know they have to see them in theaters. That creates a community to push you to get out of your house and go to the theater.

Waves opens in limited release this weekend.