Siân Heder knew she had to cut the sound. His movie, “CODA,” features three deaf characters, and Heder wanted to give us, the viewers, an idea of how they experience the world. “I always knew there was a place in the story where I wanted to put the audience in a tone-deaf perspective and immerse the audience in what it was,” the writer/director said in the latest episode. from the video series “How I Did It.”
She found the perfect spot in the scene where high school student Ruby (Emilia Jones) performs at a singing recital. Ruby is the only hearing child of her Deaf mother and father (Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur), hence the film’s title, which stands for Child of Deaf Adults. Her older brother (Daniel Durant) is also deaf, and all her life Ruby has served as a link between the family and the hearing world. (All three actors are deaf; earlier this month, the entire “CODA” gang was nominated for Best Ensemble Cast by the Screen Actors Guild, bolstering the film’s chances of winning one of 10 Best Picture Oscar nominations.)
And Heder used this key recital scene to show both Ruby’s passion for music and the fact that her family can’t experience it the way she does.
“The concert stage – the audience has a set of expectations in this stage,” Heder said. “You’ve watched Ruby rehearse this song over and over, many times, and you wait to hear what comes out of her. Yet the moment Ruby shows up to sing, I wanted to suck in the sound, turn on the cameras on the extras in the audience and having Ruby’s parents, Frank and Jackie, look to strangers to figure out what’s going on with their daughter right now.”
Ruby performs Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “You’re All I Need to Get By” with her classmate Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), but just as they begin to sing, the camera pans back from the stage to the where his family is sitting and the sound fades away until it becomes completely silent. We see Ruby and Miles looking at each other and mouthing the words, while Frank and Jackie study the reactions of other members of the crowd, many of whom are visibly emotional. When the duo finish the song, the soundtrack plays and Ruby’s family joins in the standing ovation.
“It was a challenge in the editing,” Heder said. “I think we re-cut that scene over and over again so we could really live with her parents and her brother and be in their perspective, watching Ruby.” Even though Jones (who is not a trained singer in real life) sang better than she did in all the rehearsals, Heder did not change her mind.
“We were recording live on set and I remember the moment she went to sing, she hit this note that she’d never played before and she kind of looked at me like, ‘Oh, my God I can’t believe I did this! And I gave him a big thumbs up, like, ‘Oh my God, you did it!’ And I remember thinking, ‘Oh, wow, I’m going to take this out, nobody’s going to hear this but us in this room right now. And it was really powerful, like my own desire to want to share what happened. happened with his voice at that time, for me that was the very reason why I had to take it out of the public and take it out of myself to really be with them, be in their perspective.
And like Jones, who studied American Sign Language for nine months before filming, Heder had to learn how to communicate with Matlin, Kotsur and Durant. She hopes to put what she learned into her future films. “I had learned to sign. I was communicating with my actors in a language I was new to,” she said. “I will sign sometimes, if I don’t know the sign, I will invent a gesture, I will mime or I will use my body or the emotions on my face. And try to express my vision and give a note to a acting while using my body to do so has been a really intense and exciting experience that I really hope to continue with me.
“CODA” is currently streaming on AppleTV+.