Backstage Interview: WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

Backstage Interview: WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

INTERVIEW WITH: Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi and Patrick Wachsberger, Producers

FILM: "CODA"

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          Q.    Tell us, is there anything you wanted to say about the original

                French film and the writers of the film.  I know I didn't hear

                going about it later. I know Troy talked about it here in the

                press room.

          A.    (Sian Heder) Yeah.  I mean, Victoria Bedos, who is one of the

                original writers, emailed me today.  They are so happy, and

                that is joyous, too, when it starts from a place -- you know,

                they planted the seed.  This was a premise that was beautiful.

                I saw that in the original film and managed to take that story

                and imbue it with my own personal story.

                And that was an amazing journey, and I'm so happy that

                they gave me that gift.  And I'm so happy that they're happy

                that this film exists, and so it's been an amazing ride.

          Q.    Hi, I just wanted to ask you what this means for women.

          A.    (Sian Heder) Oh, my God. What does it mean for women? Look, I

                came up watching Jane Campion. I came up watching other

                filmmakers and understanding that this was something that I

                could do because I saw someone that looked like me doing it.

                And I hope I can be that for the new generation of young women

                out there and for indie filmmakers who are struggling to make

                their films and fighting for the way that they want to make it.

                I mean, this is a huge moment for independent film.

                You know, when we went into Sundance, this film had no

                distributor. Like, I went into Sundance thinking, "I hope

                somebody buys this movie," and we just won best picture.

                Like, this is, like, the stuff that dreams are made of. It's

                really been amazing, and so, you know, yes. To women out there,

                to indie filmmakers out there, to anyone who's fighting to tell

                a story like this is a beautiful moment.

          Q.    What would -- I'm so excited for the win. What would you say

                this movie celebrates?

          A.    (Sian Heder) This movie celebrates Deaf culture, and this is

                something -- look, Marlee Matlin won an Oscar 35 years ago, and

                she has been alone in this industry.  She has been the sole

                representative of this community, and it's time for that to

                change.

                And this is a huge moment for the Deaf community, for the CODA

                community, for the Disability community. This is history. There

                are three Deaf actors in the lead of this film.  There is ASL

                on screen.  We are saying that you belong here, that your

                stories are important.

                And I hope that this is the rock at the top of the hill that

                starts an avalanche, and I hope that this is not a movie; it is

                a movement.

          Q.    Huge congratulations to you guys.  This movie is just

                incredible. I just cried throughout all of it. I am so deeply

                moved by it.

                        How important is it for you to, you know, cast real

                Deaf actors and to tell the story of the Deaf community?  And

                do you feel like this is, like, a turning point in Hollywood

                now, where we're going to see more stories like this?

          A.    (Sian Heder) I really hope it is a turning point.  I hope it is

                the first. You know, this is a story of one family. There are

                so many stories in this community that need to be told.

                And I really hope that this movie kicks the door open and

                allows other people through, and not just Deaf actors, Deaf

                writers, Deaf directors, people from the Disability community

                that have been ignored and left out of Hollywood.

                I have an interpreter next to me because there are Deaf people

                at home that need to see this and participate in it. This is a

                historic moment for the community.

                And so -- I am so grateful that this happened. I am so

                grateful -- you know, I visited a Deaf school this week, and

                the kids were so excited.  They saw their language on screen.

                They saw a movie that represented them, and that was a

                beautiful, beautiful thing.

                And, you know, stories and movies can be forces of change in

                our society but only when they reflect the diversity of our

                human experience.  And so it's time to open the door.  It's

                time to welcome in people that have been marginalized and

                silenced. And I hope that this is the first of many, many films

                to come.

          Q.    Congratulations. I met you at the Gotham Awards, and it has

                been a long slog. I saw this at Sundance, and I knew it was a

                great movie, and it was a movie with heart.

                        And I know you're shocked that you're here. I mean, when

                you were at Sundance, and you said that you didn't even know if

                you had a distributor, and now you've won the Oscar.  I mean,

                can you go -- Patrick, can you go a little bit more into that,

                too? It must be a shock.

          A.    (Patrick Wachsberger) Yes. Yes. I mean -- look, I think that

                the -- for us, when we got selected for Sundance, that was,

                like, already an incredible victory. We were so happy. And then

                every other steps along the way was such an amazing journey,

                thanks to this lady on my left and my partners on my right and

                my left as well.

          Q.    Does that mean independent film is still alive?

          A.    (Patrick Wachsberger) Yes, definitely. We are not folding the

                tents. Okay?  And no one internationally or domestically are

                folding the tents, and we are actually going to keep doing

                those movies that we care about for a global audience. Good

                stories will always remain alive.

          Q.    How hard did you have to fight to get a Deaf actor like Troy

                Kotsur in there?  Because they originally had hearing actors

                playing Deaf roles. And so was there any pressure?  People

                said, "Couldn't you get a movie star in the role?  Nobody knows

                Troy Kotsur.  He is just a theater actor."

                        So can you talk about the fight to get him in the

                movie?

          A.    (Sian Heder) Well, honestly, it is about how financing for

                films works, and the fact that it is frustrating being an

                independent filmmaker that you're supposed to run out and get

                movie stars in your movie, and that's how your film gets

                financed.

                And this was a case of really knowing how a story should be

                told, deep in my heart, in my gut, and knowing that I would

                rather see the movie die and never get made than get made the

                wrong way.

                And so yes. I've stuck to my guns, and there was -- there was a

                long time where I thought, oh, okay. Because of what I believe

                and because of how I feel, this movie should be made.  It's

                never going to be made, but that's okay, because I know what's

                right.

                I know, you know, how this should be done, and to speak to

                Troy -- I saw him on stage in a Deaf West production of At Home

                at the Zoo. And I was in the audience, and he walked on stage.

                He is the most charismatic, interesting, handsome, funny,

                weird, crazy, cool person.

                And I was like, that guy is a movie star. Why hasn't anybody

                made that guy a movie star? But I can't believe I did.  Like,

                I -- you know? I fought to cast him because he was so right for

                this part.

                He is so funny. He is so deep. He is so emotional, and I -- I

                just hope he continues to work. I want people to write for him.

                I want people to create roles for him, for all of these actors,

                for Daniel, for Marlee.

                You know, this isn't about sitting at home and waiting for

                the phone to ring because there's a Deaf part a year from now.

                Like, people need -- creators need to think about these actors

                as they're writing and be imaginative in their storytelling to

                be inclusive, because, obviously, people respond to a story

                like this.

          Q.    Congratulations for your film, for the gold that you have in

                your hand. One of the lovely things about your movie is that,

                at the end of the day, you represent people. And one of these

                people -- and I am from Mexico -- is Latinos.

                        But we don't see Latinos; we see a person, a master, a

                teacher, a mentor in Eugenio Derbez. And I know this is making

                history.  I don't know you know, but the last Mexican who was

                in a Best Picture movie like that was Cantinflas in Around the

                World in 80 Days. So I would like to ask you -- tell me about

                having an ally in Eugenio Derbez.

          A.    (Sian Heder) Eugenio is a joy. He is a brilliant actor. He's

                not just a comedian. He is a dramatic actor. And, you know,

                this character of this teacher was inspired by the great

                teachers of my life, my high school teacher, you know, my drama

                teacher, my English teacher.  It was sort of a mash-up of these

                amazing teachers that I had.

                And so to find someone who could bring so much humor to the

                film and energy and life -- and his work ethic is amazing.

                He's so much fun to have on set.  And, yes, this is not just

                about Deaf representation, you know. We have a Latino actor in

                there as well, and that's important too.

                So, you know, we gotta bust down these doors, guys. We gotta

                change it up, you know.  We've been telling the same stories

                about the same people for too long.

                And this is a great moment for -- for recognizing that the

                world will respond when they see something that feels true and

                loving and about universal themes that everyone can connect to,

                and I hope it continues.

          Q.    First of all, congratulations again. What scene are you most

                proud of or was the hardest to film? Tell us a little secret.

                C'mon.

          A.    (Sian Heder) Okay. The fishing boat stuff was so hard, and that

                Coast Guard boarding scene was so intense. We had -- we had a

                real-life Coast Guard, T.J.  who is the harbor master in

                Gloucester, and he has done, like, a hundred of these

                boardings. And so we were like, let's just do it. We're going

                to actually do this stunt, and he's going to pull up alongside,

                and he's going to jump on board of two moving boats, both going

                full speed out in open water in the ocean.

                And the first time, Heather is standing in, you know, fish up

                to her knees, interpreting, like, hanging on for dear life.

                The whole crew is, like -- we didn't have a bathroom on this

                boat.  We were peeing in a bucket in front of the wheelhouse.

                And the boat pulls up, first time we do the stunt.  The boat's,

                like, smashed together, and all the windows smash on the Coast

                Guard boat. And I was like, first take, and we smashed all the

                windows on our one boat that we can use?

                So my amazing marine coordinator Joe Borland punched out all

                the rest of the windows.  So if you guys go back and watch the

                movie, there's no glass in the windows of the Coast Guard boat

                because we smashed it on the first day. So there you go.

          Q.    Yes. Patrick, several years ago at Sundance, at the Sundance

                Festival, you met a guy by the name of Damian Shazel?

          A.    (Patrick Wachsberger) Yes. That's true.

          Q.    And you discovered him. You gave him a chance?

          A.    (Patrick Wachsberger) I didn't discover him. I physically

                invited myself at a dinner party that he had for his movie,

                which I really wanted to acquire for domestic, and somehow it

                was totally screwed up.

                So I didn't get it, but I really wanted to. I thought he was so

                talented that I really wanted to spend more time with him and

                figure out a way to get involved in his life, on his next

                movie, which, as you know, we won the Oscar for 15 Seconds.

          Q.    It was called La La Land, yes?

          A.    (Patrick Wachsberger) That's true.

          Q.    And now, seven years later, you risked your filmmaker

                reputation for the little movie CODA. And here we go.  Here we

                go, and we have a real Oscar now.

          A.    (Patrick Wachsberger) True.

          Q.    So what does it take for you to find these young filmmakers and

                to risk your -- I don't even know the word.

          A.    (Patrick Wachsberger) There was no risk, per se. I mean, I

                think, you know, Philippe, Fabrice and I really got really

                lucky to got the basic of a great, great idea, which is a movie

                that Philippe has produced, which was the French movie.  And,

                luckily, you know, we met Sian.

                She came with an incredible feature. I remember that meeting,

                like, in details.  She came to the office at Lion's Gate, and

                it was so good. And we had meetings, I remember, with other

                writers, and I said to my team, and Philippe said as well -- I

                said, "We don't want to meet."

                "But Patrick, Philippe, the meetings are set already."

                "Cancel them, please. Okay?  We find our filmmaker, and

                filmmaker is Sian."

                And she was there from the very beginning.

          Q.    One more thing for Sian, I'm sorry, if I may.  Since you are

                Hungarian, how Hungarian are you?

          A.    (Sian Heder)  Half? I am half Hungarian. Do you want me to

                speak Hungarian?

          Q.    You can speak Hungarian?

          A.    (Sian Heder) Hell, I can count to ten.

          Q.    Well, I mean, how Hungarian are you in your heart?

          A.    (Sian Heder) I mean, in my heart? Deeply Hungarian. My -- no.

          A.    (Patrick Wachsberger) She likes goulash also.

          A.    (Sian Heder) No. I will say this. You know, look, my father was

                a Hungarian refugee.  He escaped during the Hungarian

                revolution with his family.  I think for me one of my points of

                connection coming into the film was as a child of immigrants,

                both of my parents, and feeling like while I was not a CODA, I

                did understand that cultural divide of feeling like you are

                culturally different from your parents and what that is to kind

                of feel a separation generationally.

                And so, interestingly, yes. And my dad -- you know, the Rossi

                family is my family. We are just as dirty and funny and weird

                and flawed as the Rossis but also just as loving.

                And, you know, my dad was -- had this refugee mentality where

                he would have kept us in, like, one room together at all times,

                hanging out all of the time, and there was probably some

                enmeshment there.

                But it allowed me to tell a story about a family that, you

                know, was boundaryless and needed to have a mutual

                coming-of-age in order to figure out what those boundaries

                could be and allow Ruby to go off in the world and pursue her

                dreams.

                So it actually is very connected to who I am and being the

                child of immigrants.

          Q.    Thank you very much. And huge congratulations.

          A.    (Patrick Wachsberger) And, Anico, just a little thought for our

                good friend, Andy Vajna.

          Q.    That's right. God bless you. Thank you.

Acceptance speech transcripts for the 94th Academy Awards are created by a team of transcribers in real time and with minimal editing, for the benefit of the press on the night. They may contain omissions and errors, especially in the spelling of names. Clips of winner acceptance speeches may be found on oscar.com.

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