Director Sian Heder Can’t Quite Believe Her ‘CODA‘ Is A Best Picture Nominee

Gosh, what a story for CODA, a movie about the children of deaf parents. It’s been over a year since it premiered at the virtual Sundance Film Festival. At the time, it received dynamite reviews, but was there really any chance it could come out of this all virtual film festival (back when we weren’t really used to that) and maintain enough chatter to even have a shot at something from the Academy Awards? But, here we are and CODA has been nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Director Sian Heder says she had dreams the last two nights that her film did not get nominated. (To be fair, that is a much better scenario than the opposite, wherein the dreams they get the nominations, then nothing in reality.) And talking with her this morning, she sounds, well, pretty flabbergasted. She joked her daughter would make fun of her for all the Q&As she did in support of this film over the last few months. Well, guess what, those Q&As paid off and now she’s the director of a Best Picture nominee. (It’s pretty hard not to root for a film like CODA.)

How are you? Oh yeah, you’re good actually. Why did I even ask that?

Really good. Such a funny question.

I know. That was my fault.

What if I was like, “I don’t know. Today kind of sucks”? It’s also hilarious. I’m trying to celebrate, but also make my kid’s school lunch. And she needs a hundred things to take to school today because it’s the hundredth day of school. So I’m trying to count a hundred beans. As we’re celebrating an Oscars nomination.

So you’re not going to pull a George C. Scott and refuse the nomination?

Yeah, not really my style.

I saw this at Sundance a year ago. Do you think about that experience, and then leading to today at all? Because it’s even hard for me to wrap my head around all that had to happen.

I mean, I was thinking about that today. The night before our Sundance premiere, where I was just roaming nervously around my house, feeling like, God, I hope this movie sells. I hope it sells to someone. I hope one buyer wants it. Yes, it’s so insane to think about the journey it’s taken over the last year. And also it was just such a scrappy movie to make. I mean, it was such a hard film to make. And it was a little indie movie and the crew just busted their asses to make this movie happen and people poured their hearts into it. It’s just so exciting to see this happen.

With the virtual Sundance, a lot of people saw this movie last year. I wonder if that also helped. Does that make sense?

It was like the democratization of Sundance. It was such a beautiful thing, because Sundance is often this kind of elite industry thing that the people who can come to Park City participate in and nobody else can. And yes, it was amazing to have a Sundance where my parents and their friends were at Sundance. The captain of the boat that we used in Gloucester and his entire fishing family got to be at Sundance. And so I think in a way, especially for a film like this that has touched so many different people and tapped into so many different audiences, I think it was an amazing way to watch.

If you just say the plot of the movie out loud before people knew about it, some people might think, “Oh, this is a drama.”

It’s hilarious. It’s hilarious. How do you get people to invest in a deaf fishing musical?

Because people might think it sounds like it’s going to be a movie that you’re going to be a better person after you watch it, but maybe not realizing it’s so accessible and so funny. And you have to get that across.

I just wanted to make a film. I think I never want to make a film that’s messaging something to people. You just want to tell a great story about characters that people fall in love with and I think the subversive part of this film is that the reason it feels like a step forward in terms of representation is because these characters are relatable and funny. And this dad feels like your dad, or your friend’s dad. I think it’s the normalizing of this family – and making them feel specific and flawed and messy in the way that real families are – that has touched people and made them connect with it. And by connecting with it, suddenly they’re connecting with deaf culture and with ASL, and this community that hasn’t been part of mainstream culture.

So take me through last night. How were you feeling? What were you thinking the odds were? Were you feeling okay?

Oh my God. I didn’t believe. I’ve had a dream for the past two nights that we got nothing. Both nights.

Well, this way’s better, right? It’s worse to have the dream you get it and then it doesn’t happen.

You’re right, you’re right. Totally, totally. Yes, I think my subconscious was preparing me. It just felt too big to be real, and also I was just trying to mitigate. I was like, “I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care.” Oh my God, I care so much!

Right.

So, yesterday, I think it just hit me how much I did want this to happen, and especially for Troy. I think I remember finishing the film and thinking, God, I wish this film would make Troy Kotsur a star. If I could do one thing, I would want that to happen from this film. And to see that happen and to get to FaceTime with him this morning and dance in our kitchens and cry together.

Oh, that’s great.

It’s such a beautiful thing. And for my whole cast, this is so big. People really believed in this project and worked really hard to make it happen, but nobody saw us ending up here.

How did you keep this movie in the conversation for basically a year to get to this point?

I mean, every time I’m leaving the house, my six-year-old says to me, “Where are you going, mom, a Q&A?”

Well, you know what? It paid off.

It was actually pretty joyful. Because I think, look, this movie came out during the pandemic. We never got to celebrate together. We never got to enjoy as a team talking about the film and sharing our experience. This is a cast that genuinely loves each other. And so it feels like a family. And the fact that we did get to go and talk about the film and be together and share our journey, and it’s a journey that I wanted to share because I really want to model how this kind of process can happen. How you can create an accessible set where hearing artists can work with deaf artists and everyone can be communicating and making something together.

And so sharing our process felt really important, because it felt like we were modeling a way that it can be done. I didn’t really have that model going into this process. We had to discover a lot on our own about how it could work, and so I think to create that environment on a set and realize how successful it can be, and hopefully inspire other people to do the same.

CODA is currently streaming via Apple TV+. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

×