CODA made waves during the early festival run this season, stealing many people’s hearts in the process (You can read Joey’s review here). It exceeded expectations, winning the Sundance US Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Film, and could do well in the 2021 awards season (Read more about that here).
Amidst all this, Awards Radar had the opportunity to talk to editor Geraud Brisson about his work on the film. He talked about his general editing process used for the film, and some of the more standout moments. Altogether, this was an absolute blast. Enjoy the interview below.
Benjamin: You worked on CODA an absolutely fantastic film. How did you approach editing the film? What was the principle you used when editing the film?
Geraud: I don’t think I have a pre-conceived idea of how the film. I typically try to be open to the footage I am going to receive. Obviously, I’ve read the script, I have expectations, but at the same token, I try to… You know, this idea of not having something that you impose on the film, but instead, let it talk to you from working on it. In a way, we knew a certain amount of things. Studying with Sean. We had discussed them. We knew that we had to be very careful, on many levels. The first of these being that we were two outsiders, observing characters that we were… We had some knowledge, I had worked on a show before, a TV Series, that was created and the writers who happened to be the two leads were deaf as well. So I had exposure, and that sort of started the trend of thought of like “we can follow what we don’t know and then you turn to see things from different perspectives. So was there that aspect to it, approaching all the scenes with her family. And then there was also knowing that the tone had to be right, in a way that we needed to be funny and yet not cross the line. in the same way, we had to be very careful so we’d be authentic with the emotions when we were getting there. So I think it was a lot of caution at first, and then a lot of reacting to the great performances and footage I received from Paula Huidobro and Sain Heder.
Benjamin: The recital sequence is the blending point of editing for the family and for Ruby herself. Who proposed the idea for the transition? How did you put this sequence together?
Geraud: This was an idea present in the script, as well as the French film that CODA is a remake of. The shifting of perspective from the hearing audience to the eyes of Ruby’s parents. To backtrack, the concept was something we knew we wanted to have but didn’t know how we would get there. We had the idea, we knew what we wanted it to feel like, but it was a challenging task. There was a massive amount of footage, and they had shot all the songs with the cast, beginning to end. It was shot like a concert, with multiple cameras, multiple takes, and the audience was covered this way too. In the midst of it, we had the parents, the character of Leo, in the audience, improvising the dialogue they had. We had to go from the beginning, cut it all for the song that was playing. Even though we knew it wasn’t where we wanted to end, we had to build up the foundation. This entire sequence is like building a house, and we had to start at the base. And while putting it together, we knew it was just the beginning. It was barely 5 percent of the sequence. Then we started building and adding the interactions between the characters on stage with each other, the interaction between the characters on stage and the audience, particularly Ruby and her parents, and the dynamic between the parents. Knowing also that we went through many ways of trying to condense the song, to make it feel like a significant moment, but not the biggest moment of the movie. And in the middle of all this, we had to figure out what the parents, played by Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur, were improvising. This was the one day we didn’t have an interpreter on set. So we didn’t have any translation, and Sian Heder and I spent a day trying to figure out what they were saying. It wasn’t always perfect and we made some mistakes. One particular mistake was when Marlee asked Troy what is for dinner. We originally thought it had nothing to do with Dinner, and instead was about feeling the vibrations. But when we realized what was actually said, it was an even better find. And it was really about telling the connection, finding the right moment to tell Ruby’s enjoyment of the concert and then switching the Point of view of the concert to the parents. And the major moment, when we end up dropping the sound entirely from the mix. It was a challenging moment for us. There were a lot of discussions surrounding it, asking if it would be too airy if it would take a hearing audience out of the movie. At the same time, we had made some decisions of trying in a very idealistic way to try to make that decision in a mindful way, not only for a hearing audience, Even though we come from that audience. At the same time, we were at the stage in the movie where people had heard, and wouldn’t be lost if we moved to a place of discomfort. And we knew that if we did it well, it would actually add an emotion from doing that. And it seems we were somewhat successful to that end based on your wording.
Benjamin: Editing is often very invisible in Western Cinema. How do you keep yourself motivated in such a “thankless” role?
Geraud: Editing always depends on the Genre you are in. In some movies, you notice editing way more. CODA was not one of those movies. We were in the Coming of Age genre, which has comedy and drama. And this was a very character-centric film. It’s not about the storyteller, but rather being in the story the whole time. And to that end, motivation came from the project itself. It felt like the story was telling you what is needed in every instance so that the next sequence could happen. So I wasn’t worried about editing in this project, nor was I really conscious about it. I wanted the editing to feel invisible, and there are always moments where we stitched two separate takes together. And I hope those stayed invisible.
Benjamin: There’s a lot of really slow sequences where the shot lingers with Marlee or Troy, despite this being Emilia’s (Ruby’s) movie. When you started editing CODA, how did you decide what the pace should be?
Geraud: That’s a good question because I don’t know if I approach editing that way. There isn’t a right or wrong way to edit, but I feel that in this case, we wanted to use the coming of age genre to our advantage. We wanted to steer the story less with the plot. We have already seen a million movies about a young woman growing up and having to leave her family. So even though we are that, and we embrace it, we kept asking what else can we say about this situation that she is in. It’s not just Ruby’s story; rather, it’s her entire family’s story. And coming from that perspective, of trying to make you feel from both the perspective of the family and Ruby. We wanted the film to be about the characters, about the people, and not the plot. The plot is definitely there, and it’s driving to a destination, but the core of this film is in the relationships. And in keeping CODA character-centric, the pace almost was dictated for us. When to use wider shots, how long they should be. In an emotional and significant way, and hopefully, we did it right.
Benjamin: The film is definitely impactful. Speaking of those wider shots, you have integrated them into familiar beats of the story to create a fresh, real film. How did the collaboration between you, Paula and Sian enable these sequences to come together? What was the discussion between you three like regarding the tone and pacing?
Geraud: As I’ve said, there wasn’t a clear discussion about it. Rather, we happened to be looking for the same thing. It’s definitely Sian’s interest in characters, situations, inside drama that drives this film. She has the talent to take typical situations and look at them in different ways. She takes familiar moments and rebalances them, with the dialogue she writes between characters. You’d recognize the story beats, but she would take it slightly in a different way. And that is an indication of the tone. I had worked with Sian once before on Little America, and so I think I had an understanding of her style and knew where she was aiming to go with CODA. But at the same time, I thought we also were liking and looking for the same thing without even saying anything. That really helped with making CODA, and I found working with Sian very rewarding. It was very collaborative, and I always felt in good hands. I don’t know all the answers, and I always felt that if I had a question, I could turn to her and she would have the exact answer. And even if she thought she didn’t have the answer, she would. So I had a lot of trust in her, and that really helps and simplifies the filmmaking process. We had to find ways to condense the story, but we weren’t going to sacrifice the characters and what we found profound about the script.
Benjamin: This intuitive side of editing is fascinating to me.
Geraud: It’s really hard to talk about editing. I am not the most articulate in talking about it, because I agree with you, it’s very intuitive to me.
Benjamin: Building off of that Intuition, what did CODA teach you about editing and storytelling in general?
Geraud: For editing, every experience opens new doors. I feel like I always start new projects from zero. Obviously, it’s not true, I’ve worked on enough projects that I have some experience. But that feeling of having to know everything, that pressure, isn’t there anymore. Each project is a brand new set of cards. And in this case, with CODA, it was a whole new dimension regarding cutting scenes in ASL. I had to trust myself and look for performance in ASL, even though I am an outsider. Even with the little bit of experience I had from previous projects, it was, and still is, a daunting task. But the biggest takeaway with CODA for me was learning to be open. To be open to the material and the performances. We were open to new ideas and had to be humble in what we were doing. That humility had to permeate each moment because we were still outsiders to those a part of the Deaf-Community. We had to treat it with respect and be humble in what we did. We had to listen to feedback regarding how those characters would act or think or feel, and find a way to translate and put that into the film. It was super rewarding for us. It’s rewarding to have a little bit of an inside look into that community. Even though we are separated, it’s nice to find ways to make that separation smaller. That is probably the biggest thing I took away from working on CODA. It’s a little bit of editing and a little bit of storytelling.
Benjamin: What is next for you?
Geraud: I am working on another project for Apple, a TV series called Shantaram. It’s a personal redemption adventure story, about a convict who escapes prison and runs to India to look for a second chance. t’s an adaptation of a big novel and has been what I have been working on since CODA. It’s still in the making.
Benjamin: That’s fascinating. Thank you so much for your time, this has been an absolute delight to hear you speak about CODA.
Geraud: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to me.
CODA is now available to stream on Apple TV+.