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How a Chance Encounter With Terrence Malick Turned Trey Edward Shults Into a Filmmaker

Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast, Ep 31: The "It Comes at Night" director talks about how he got his early start.

Trey Edward Shults and Joel Edgerton on the set of "It Comes At Night"

Trey Edward Shults and Joel Edgerton on the set of “It Comes At Night”

Eric McNatt

When Trey Edward Shults was 18 years old, he went to Hawaii for the summer to stay with his aunt Krisha – yes, the same Krisha who starred in his 2016 breakout “Krisha.” His aunt was connected to small filmmaking community on the island and got her nephew jobs working on commercials and other productions.

READ MORE: ‘It Comes at Night’: Why A24 Took a Gamble on a New Filmmaker’s Ambitious Horror Vision

“I lucked out and got on this Terrence Malick movie,” said Shults when he was guest on IndeWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast. The small crew, sans Malick, was shooting footage of a volcano for the documentary “Voyage of Time.”

“It was five guys with an IMAX camera,” said Shults. “I loved movies, but I didn’t know how they were made, really. I didn’t even get what the guy [the film loader] in the changing bag with the film was doing and I was sharing a room with him.”

Shults bonded with his roommate, who showed him how to load magazines [the light-tight chamber that holds film stock and attaches to the camera] with the enormous IMAX negative. He would practice in the evening using a changing bag. When the documentary’s Assistant Cameraperson had to leave, the film loader took over as AC, leaving Shults as the on set film loader.

Listen to the Entire Podcast Above

“I just remember the day, the first time we were out in the field doing it, the DP was screaming for a mag, lava was flowing by, it started raining, someone was holding a tarp over my head,” said Shults. “I’m like an 18-year-old kid trying to change IMAX film, which is huge. Luckily, my heart was going crazy, but I did OK.”

The cinematographer Paul Atkins invited Shults to come with them to Chile, Iceland and other far off locales to keep shooting, much of which ended up being used in the birth-of-the-universe section of “The Tree of Life” before “Voyage” was completed.

“Essentially that happened and it changed the course of my life,” said Shults. “I was at school for business, they didn’t even have a film school at Texas State…I made the decision to drop out of school.”

READ MORE: The Coen Brother Rules: How ‘Fargo’ Maintains Its Cinematic Consistency

Shults eventually met Malick while they were shooting in the Redwoods. He’d go on to intern for Malick when they got back to Texas and then crewed on “Song to Song.”

While working for Malick, Shults’ life started to revolve around movies and trying to learn film grammar, while watching carefully as Malick worked with his star-studded cast and award-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.

Eric McNatt

“After that I got obsessed and just studying movies and studying movies,” said Shults. “I had no life. I worked for my dad at my parents’ house, watching movies, making shorts and interning for Terry.”

Shults naively first tried to make a feature version of “Krisha” in five days with $7,000.

“I failed miserably, had a nervous breakdown behind closed doors that whole week, the worst week of my life because I believed in the story,” said Shults. “It comes from a personal place and I knew what the movie could be.”

READ MORE: ‘Krisha’ – Stream Trey Edward Shults’ Short Online Before ‘It Comes at Night’ Opens in Theaters

The footage he shot he turned into a short film. He took two years to learn how to rewrite and plan the story as a proper feature. It was during this time that his dying biological father re-entered his life, which became the impetus to write “It Comes At Night.”

“After I wrote ‘It Comes at Night’ — the two films are interlinked — I thought [it] would be my first movie, not ‘Krisha,’” said Shults.

The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on iTunes, StitcherSoundCloud and Google Play MusicPrevious episodes include:

The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.

You can check out the rest IndieWire’s podcasts in iTunes.

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