How 'Waves' Secured Rights to More Than 45 Songs: It Was the "Biggest Head-Scratcher"

Waves Still - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of A24

Trey Edward Shults weaved tracks by Frank Ocean, Kanye West, SZA, Kendrick Lamar, Amy Winehouse and Tame Impala and into his script. Then the producers had to figure out how to pay for them.

Music was an additional character in Trey Edward Shults' Waves from the very beginning of the project, as the writer-director-editor embedded the songs he wanted to drive his Florida-set family drama into the script. The music was included with extreme specificity, producer Jim Wilson tells THR. "Rather than just say, 'We hear Frank Ocean's 'Godspeed' over the scene,' it would say, 'We hear the first bar of 'Godspeed' and then when the piano comes in, this happens. It was as if it were choreographed for the music." Indeed, the team who created the companion soundtrack to Edgar Wright's Baby Driver built in the same seamless experience for Waves.

The script featured 45-plus tracks for source music, including songs by Ocean, Kanye West, SZA, Kendrick Lamar, Amy Winehouse and Tame Impala, but the film's music supervisors, Meghan Currier and Randall Poster, warned Wilson and fellow producer Kevin Turen that they did not have the budget for such a volume of songs. "The music was always the biggest head-scratcher to getting the movie made. Like, how are we going to do this?" Wilson says. "There were really painful moments where Kevin and I both thought, 'Trey is just going to have to sacrifice his vision of the soundtrack.' " Poster and Currier warned that the music budget on paper could have approached $3 million, half the picture's budget. "But that's really where the support of A24 and our amazing supervisors came in, who absolutely pulled up trees in terms of getting the costs as reasonable as possible," Wilson says.

Shults and the music supervisors worked in concert to reach out to artists like Ocean, who has six tracks in the movie, including "Godspeed" in the trailer. "Frank Ocean's music was so close to everyone's heart on the film. When we were there in Florida that summer, we all disappeared into Frank Ocean rabbit holes," Wilson says. "When the second half of the film allows you to breathe, the brilliant emotional spirit of Frank's music just seemed to fit in with that so perfectly. Frank really came through for us, agreeing to license his songs at a very generous rate."

Although acquiring the music was always a hefty challenge, there was no question for Wilson that it would result in a big payoff. "When you read the script with the music, it's such a cool feeling," he says. "It felt like, 'Oh, if we could pull this off, this will be so visceral.' "

This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.