Eventually, after Shults sent a letter and a rough cut of the film to Ocean, he heard that the singer-songwriter had found time to watch it, and was willing to clear all his music at a reduced rate. “I don’t know what we would have done without Frank Ocean,” Poster said. “When we were able to get to get those songs, I think we breathed a huge sigh of relief: ‘O.K., we have really the emotional spine that we’ve been looking for.’”
The trickiest negotiations came when Shults sought clearance from Kanye West. The filmmaker is a big fan of the mercurial rapper — when “Krisha” was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, Shults wore a shirt to the ceremony emblazoned with art from West’s album “Yeezus” — but clearing even one of his songs can be costly. “It was intense,” the director said.
After months of tenuous back-and-forth, West fired the management team handling the negotiation, and Shults had to start from scratch. Eventually, West sent word that he would approve only one song cue — “I Am a God,” which Shults hoped to play over a particularly fraught moment — with a unique complication: Since the rapper is currently turning his back on secular music, Shults would have to use a “clean” version of the song.
This proved easier said than done. “I don’t even know if a nonexplicit version exists,” Shults said, laughing.
As “Waves” neared its completion date, Poster and Currier raced to contact other artists who had a hand in West’s song, hoping that the rapper would eventually capitulate. “Until you clear the primary artist, you’re not going to get a response from the people who own 10 percent of the song,” Poster said. Fortunately, West eventually waived permission to use “I Am a God,” and the music supervisors managed to track down every other stakeholder, securing the song for a centerpiece sequence of the film where Harrison’s wrestler, high on pills, is driven to an emotional breaking point.
After all those hectic negotiations, would Shults mount a new film without the songs secured first? “At least right now, the last thing I want to do is another soundtrack movie,” he admitted.
But he’s pleased that in the end, he got nearly every music cue he’d first imagined when writing the script. “Someone told me it was like I made a musical, but it’s the camera doing the dancing,” Shults said. “I love the idea of that.”