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Interview: Cinematographer Paula Huidobro Discusses Her Work on ‘Coda’

After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival (Joey’s Sundance rave is here), potential awards favorite in Coda has now premiered on Apple TV+. The acclaimed film, which initially saw its release at Sundance, follows a teenager who lives with her deaf parents and brother. As someone who can hear, she has a relationship with her family that has its conflicts. This is all captured with a grounded look that is shot beautifully on location in Gloucester, Massachusetts. This is thanks to the work of cinematographer, Paula Huidobro who is best known for her work on television shows like Barry, Physical and Little America. Awards Radar recently sat down with her to talk about her latest work on Coda.

Brandon Winchester: Well today I’m speaking with Paula Huidobro of Coda fame. She’s the cinematographer for Coda. I just want to say congratulations on the film and its release. It’s very exciting, I loved the film personally. I just had a few questions for you. What attracted you to this project and what was it like working with someone like Sian Heder on it?

Paula Huidobro: I mean I think what attracted me to the project was that I’ve been working with Sian since we were both students. So we have a history together just growing as cinematographer and as human beings. It’s been a friendship and personal journey. We’ve always had a good time imagining from the script and shot listing and going through the location scouting. Also Sian’s sister she’s the storyboard artist. It’s almost like family sitting together and imagining the film. We’ve done a ton of short films together and we worked on Little America for Apple. It’s been awhile.

BW: Well speaking of your work on Little America, you’ve shot a lot of projects for television, streaming services in general, I’m looking at your filmography; you’re talking about Physical, Barry and Little America. What are the differences of shooting for television versus shooting for film?

PH: I think the main thing that I love about film is that you only have one director so it’s just one vision and everyone is on board. And you don’t have to like every episode sort of find your groove again. That would be the main difference. The other good thing sometimes with TV is that you get to meet more people and some directors are awesome. On film you have more of a partnership with a director and its their vision and you’re helping them. With television you have to carry the vision of the show through different narrators.

BW: I noticed that you guys, within the film, shot on location a lot; Glouceter, Boston. What challenges and benefits does that present to you as a cinematographer?

PH: That was a huge part of the movie being in Gloucester and Sian grew up going there so she was very familiar with all the small places and the quarries and the beaches. It was also not some summer experience being there with her and her family. The community and the fishing town, that landscape and the nature was a huge part of the movie. We wanted to do justice capturing it. I think that helps when you’re not from there to really see the beauty and be more aware.

BW: I think it’s wonderful to have a film excellently capture that fishing town sort of vibe. I don’t think there’s a lot of films that have done that. Maybe Manchester by the Sea a few years back, but this is the closest thing I’ve seen since. I noticed the film had a very cold look to it given that its set on the water. Throughout the film Emilia Jones’ character was presented in warmer hues in comparison to the rest of the family, was this a conscious choice?

PH: I think the film is more naturalistic. We didn’t really want to impose a style to it. We wanted it to be organic and to sort of let the landscape and the story be center front. I think maybe what you’re responding more [to] is when you’re in the ocean is the vastness of the landscapes. But when you’re in her world like in her little room, it does feel a lot warmer and a lot more intimate. That was part of the cool thing of the movie. It’s like capturing the whole fishing town and the community and the family, but then also what it feels like to be a teenager, first feel in love, to love music and to sort of find your own destiny in life.

BW: That leads into one of my other questions. Maybe this speaks to the fact that it is close as a family drama, what was it like to film something so personal and intimate where characters would get into arguments, but also have these close moments of connection throughout the film?

PH: That’s what drew me to the film. When you feel something as a human being and when it resonates to your own experience. We wanted it to feel like a real family. That was the main thing for us.

BW: I know specifically for me the scene at the concert at the end of the film is very poignant, but also the scene where she is sitting on the truck with her father and she’s singing to him even though obviously he can’t here her, it’s very beautiful.

PH: Thank you. (smiles)

BW: I just want to talk about that scene at the concert for a second where the film goes silent to establish the perspective of the Rossi’s with the audience. How did you go about filming this scene knowing it wouldn’t have sound in comparison to the other scenes throughout the film?

PH: I think that was a very important element of the film. The fact that the family couldn’t hear and were isolated from the rest of the world. We wanted to feel like if you go somewhere and you can’t hear; it would be incredibly boring seeing a concert and everyone is getting emotional and you do’t know why. It was a part of the choice to get inside their head and sort of space of mind. I think what I love the most about the movie is there is humor and warmness and realness and familiarity. I think that’s something pretty magical to me.

BW: Definitely. I completely agree with that. Given that you had to shoot from this different perspective did you have to take into account different framing devices for the ASL (American Sign Language) use within the film?

PH: Yeah definitely. You could never go so close that you wouldn’t see their hands. That’s the language. Often on movies you block the scene and an actor is saying something with their back to us as they’re walking away. So that was definitely something we had to get used to. That was what I loved about watching the film the first time that a lot of the humor between the family, that I had no idea was happening, because they were expanding even from what was on the script.

BW: I have one more question. I always like to this, as it taps into their personal connection to the film as a piece of art. What was your favorite scene to shoot and/or block in the film? And did you have to take into account visually due to [the project’s] unique nature?

PH: One of the scenes I loved, there are many scenes I loved working on, there’s one where Ruby’s in her bedroom and Miles’ is there and they’re trying to play the song, but it’s kind of awkward and sort of like a date as well. I had two operators, but on that scene I was like ‘give me back the camera’ and it was handheld. I just love operating and being close to the actors and reacting to the emotion and responding and being more intimate. I think because with Sian I had operated on some of the smaller films we had that common language where we know what we like. Sometimes its a littler harder when you’re communicating that to an operator.

BW: More one on one. (laughs).

PH: (laughs) Yeah. I just like the immediacy of that scene.

BW: Alright well congratulations once again, I really hope that this goes far and that maybe there’s some Oscar love in the future. And I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to me.

PH: Thank you very much Brandon!

Coda is available to stream now on Apple TV+.

For more interviews from Awards Radar be sure to stay tuned.

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