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Trey Edward Shults

Picture this: making a film about addiction using your own family, when the subject of the film hits closer to home than the storyline attempts to depict. Director Trey Edward Shults did just this with his recently released film Krisha, which premiered at SxSW last year, earning itself the Grand Jury Prize, and later premiering at Cannes Film Festival. The film which was acted, written and directed by Shults (wearing mainly a bathrobe and towel on his head and shot in his own house) is based on a very intimate and painful personal story–his family's suffering in the thongs of addiction, having lost both his cousin and father to the battle. The film explores a family reunion over Thanksgiving imbued with tensions of Hitchcockian proportions as their addict aunt and black sheep of the family, Krisha, returns leading to a cascade of clashes and breakdowns. It was quite a move given the raw and painful nature of the backstory, to use his own family and himself to portray the inspired roles, but the result was a depth and reality blurring that far surpasses cinematic storytelling into a cathartic portrait of the suffering and love.
Krisha is out in theatres now.

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krisha-treyedwardshults-creativemapping-interview copy

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Follow your gut, if you truly believe you're meant to make films, do it at whatever the cost. Me dropping out of college and just watching movies, people thought I was crazy. Just follow your gut, but if you want it, it has to be 100% or nothing. Trey Edward Shults

CM: What triggered your desire to be a director?

Since I was a little kid ive ben obsessed with it, I've been making movies as a little kid, even at family reunions and i would always pick up a camera and make a movie around it, so it's funny that my first movie is about a family reunion. Since I was a kid, I felt like in my gut it was what I was born to do and when I was nineteen, weird stuff happened and I got on this Terrence Malick movie and travelled with it. I didn't go back to college and since then i have been studying cinema and on tours and giving myself my own film school.

CM: What's your opinion on film school?

It can be good, it can be bad, it's whatever it needs to be. Particularly people talk about connections you make from film school... obviously it isn't necessary. Paul Thomas Anderson said he went to school for like a day or something and he handed in a page from David Mamet, handed it right in as his own just to see what would happen and he got a C and he dropped out and used that money to make a short film.

CM: What are you like on set?

Very chill. Let things flow. The way we shot the movie we'd knock out the script, the rest we'd improvise and collaborate and create our own scenes. So i'd say the final thing is 60 40 script then improv. People say I'm very mellow... the whole shoot I wore a bathrobe or a towel on my head. Im a weird guy, but very mellow. You'll see it in the movie, I'm in the background doing stuff, shirtless with a turban on my head.

CM: What drove you to make the film?

It's a really personal subject matter for my family, and my family struggled with addiction and I think Krisha's character is a combination of different family members and different relationships, and just the relationship between myself and her in the movie is like the relationship I had with my father. Personal stuff... We had a family reunion and my cousin relapsed and then two months later she overdosed and passed away. That was the original jumping off point and processing that and since it was so personal, I thought the only way we could make it was if my family members were literally the actors. We shot in my mom's house, and I was hoping something special would come out of it and be cathartic for me family.

CM: Was it?

Yeah, 100%

CM: What was it like filming with your whole family, with that reality overlapping with the fiction?

Most of the time, it was 'we're making a movie' and the practicalities of making a movie over times shooting certain emotional stuff. The reality would trickle through. Especially my other aunt, who's also in the movie. It was her daughter who had passed away, so there are scenes in the movie of her crying and that's real, it's triggering real things.

CM: What was the hardest scene to film?

The one film I was nervous to do was our final scene, this big blowup, because if we don't get this, the whole film isn't going to have as much impact, but then literally the hardest to film was earlier on. There are a lot of long takes in the movie, and there's one long take that's choreographed like a play and there's the whole cast of actors and they're in different moments and the camera is panning here and there, and I have to stand up and tell everyone how it's going to be, and then I got to get into the scene.... it's funky, it's weird.

CM: How did you all prepare for these roles?

I think a lot of it just reading the script and having conversations, but I think particularly for the people that we brought in that weren't family members, most everyone that's not are friends, but there were a lot of long conversations about where their characters could go because my plan was to collaborate and play around and add new stuff.

CM: How was it finally bringing this intimate film into the public?

It was weird. I didn't know what people were going to think, and then the premiere happened it was really special and people really connected with it. That was one of the best days of my life. I'm sure it's the kind of movie that some people aren't going to get at all, and others are going to love, and that excites me.

CM: What are you working on next?

I have a movie that I wrote that's equally personal, and which I wrote after my dad died and which is filled with regret and fear and putting that into a horror film, a horror family drama kind of thing and it's my baby, and all I want to do is get the gears rolling on that. And people keep asking are you going to make the next one with your family? And I don't think so because we caught something special here and if we try and do it again, you're trying to catch fire twice. My goal is to step up, making something a bit bigger while still making an incredibly personal movie.

CM: Best advice for aspiring film makers?

Follow your gut, if you truly believe you're meant to make films, do it at whatever the cost. Me dropping out of college and just watching movies, people thought I was crazy. Just follow your gut, but if you want it, it has to be 100% or nothing. If you could see yourself doing something else, you should probably do that, but if all you see yourself doing is this, then go for it, go do it. You'll probably be in my shoes in a couple of years.

Photo © Krisha
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