Read Siân Heder’s script that shines a light on deaf culture – Deadline

Editor’s note: Deadline’s Read the Script series debuts and celebrates the movie scripts that will be factors in this year’s movie award race.

After writer-director Siân Heder praised her feature debut Talulah, she caught the attention of producers who held the rights to the acclaimed 2014 French film The Aries Family. “They were looking to do an American version of the movie and really wanted a filmmaker to come up with a unique take,” Heder told Deadline, noting that she’s looking forward to exploring Deaf culture and American Sign Language there. screen in CODA, whose title derives from the acronym for children of deaf adults.

Coming from the hearing world, Heder quickly dove into research to find techniques to tell the story of teenager Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), the only hearing member of her family, and how she learns to balance her sense of responsibility towards family members. and his own hopes and dreams.

Heder was initially frustrated by the lack of cinematic precursors to inspire me.

“There weren’t many movies I could watch where I could see deaf characters on screen,” she said. “I was going back 35 years to Children of a lesser God.” This rarity, however, was “very motivating for me, in terms of the story to be told and also the character at the center”, she adds. “I think the CODA experience is unique: CODAs are raised within the deaf culture, but somehow live between the hearing world and the deaf world. So I was very excited about the specificity and yet the universality of the story.

Heder ultimately set the story in the Massachusetts fishing community of Gloucester, an area she knew intimately from summering there in her youth. “I knew this town and the fishing community very well,” she said. “For us, it was not just about immersing yourself in the culture of the deaf, but in the culture of the fishing community of this city and how specific it was… There was a lot of conflict in the community. There were many problems that family fishers faced in terms of losing their livelihood.

One of the most crucial challenges facing Heder, who incorporates a lot of humor into his work, was writing dialogue in a language that was essentially foreign to him. “It was interesting to write the script obviously in English, because that’s my mother tongue and that’s how I write,” she recalls, noting that there is no form written from ASL. However, the production’s ASL masters as well as the cast helped determine “how humor can live in the sign, and how a joke transforms when it becomes purely visual; how there are kinds of jokes that live purely in deaf culture that can only be visual jokes.

She especially credits actor Troy Kotsur, who along with Marlee Matlin plays Ruby’s father and mother, for helping shape the dialogue into a vivid – and sometimes risque – visual form. “[Once Troy] got a hold of them they went to a place where I was like, “Oh, the MPAA will never consider this movie anything other than something totally obscene” because Troy is so visual and outspoken with his language Heder said. “But it was just delicious, actually.”

“It’s the most cinematic language there is, so when writers talk about the experience of seeing their words come to life, it was the most literal version of that,” Heder says, “and it’s very beautiful. to write something, to have it in my head, to have these characters in my head, to hear their voices and then realize that I was never going to hear their voices, I was going to see this come to life, and it was very moving.

Apple acquired CODA for a record-breaking $25 million after its premiere at Sundance, where it won the Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Cast, Directing Award, Audience Award, and Grand Jury Prize of American dramatic competition. The streamer released it theatrically in August, and it’s available now on Apple TV+.

The picture is already gaining momentum this awards season, with Ensemble’s nomination at the SAG Awards earlier this week as well as a supporting actor nomination for Kotsur. who along with Jones won the Gotham Awards in the fall. The film received Best Picture names from the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards and was named one of AFI’s Top 10 Films of the Year.

Click below to read Heder’s script.