Sian Heeder’s heartwarming family movie “CODA” not only scored the historic Academy Award for deaf actor Troy Coutsur, but is also the first English-language version of a French film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Acquired by Apple Studios in 2021 Sundance in a record-breaking $25 million deal, “CODA” is based on the 2014 French box office hit “La Famille Bélier,” about a teenage girl who has singing talent and is the only hearing member. Deaf family. Like most remakes, the underdog would have faded after sitting on the shelf for so long had it not been for the all-star team of French producers with ties to the United States who sponsored the project.
In addition to Jerome Seydoux of Pathé Films, which funded the entire film, the main “CODA” producers are Philippe Roselli, who worked for many years at Warner Bros. In Los Angeles he produced “Lord of War” and “Source Code” with his Vendôme Group logo, and Patrick Wachsberger, former co-chair of Summit and Lionsgate who now runs Picture Perfect Federation.
“If you look at other remakes of French films that have been made, they have often been subsidized by American studios, while ‘CODA’ was made like an original indie film in the United States,” says Rosselli, adding that Heder’s creative vision played an important role. in the success of the film.
“Initially, [Heder] She was only working as a screenwriter but we soon realized that she was the only person who could direct the movie with such fidelity and precision, and she did so brilliantly even if she had made one movie before, “Talula,” says Roussell.
Heder’s idea was to set the film in a blue-collar seaside village in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where she spent her youth. The producer says Heder also gave the film a more visible social edge and fleshed out the characters in more depth.
“The stars lined up with this film in an amazing way,” says the French producer. The project was initially set up in Lionsgate, where Wachsberger acquired the rights to the French film and its reproduction, and was planning to produce the adaptation with Rousselet and Fabrice Gianfermi. Wachsberger’s exit from the studio in 2018 could have ended the remake, especially because Lionsgate and Heder don’t seem to be on the same page about certain decisions, including having a cast of deaf actors playing deaf roles. Fortunately, Wachsberger was able to buy back the rights to the new edition from Lionsgate, and Rousselet was able to get Seydoux and his powerful French Pathé on board for full funding.
“Both Jerome Seydoux and Ardavan Safai in Pathé loved the script and didn’t see the fact that we wanted to shoot with deaf actors on location in Gloucester as an issue; instead, they understood that we had to make the film as original as possible and make it socially and culturally grounded for it to work,” he explains. Rosellet, who won a PGA Award for the film, along with Seydoux, Gianfermi and Watchesberger.
Aside from Marley Matlin, who was related early on, other actors, including Kotsur and Daniel Durant, auditioned for their roles, alongside Emilia Jones. The role of Robbie, who went to Jones, says Rousselet, was “the hardest role to play” because they had to find “a very good actress who can sing too.” Jones also studied American Sign Language for eight months for film.
As for the best picture of the movie that won an Oscar, Rosselli says, “No one expected such an outcome for this Sundance movie, because the competition has been so intense this year, with films by Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro and Paul Thomas Anderson.” He commended Apple “for campaigning for it with great creativity, intelligence and integrity – they didn’t oversell the film and made steady word of mouth.”
Then in the “CODA” adventure, Vendôme Pictures and Pathé partnered with Tony Award-winning Deaf West Theater to develop a musical.
“We’d love to put the CODA cast into this musical, but it’s going to take about two years to put it together, so it’s a long shot,” says Rousselet. “My wish is that the critical laurels that our wonderful team so well deserved with ‘CODA’ will allow them to land a wide range of roles moving forward.”