‘CODA’ sound editor Martin Pinsonnault interview: ‘Silence can be as powerful as sound’

Sound editor Martin Pinsonnault has been working in film since the ’90s, but the new Apple TV+ film “CODA” provided him with a new experience. This marked the first time that the veteran sound designer has worked with deaf actors on a film, and part of the challenge was to authentically represent that experience. “Every film has its own specific subject and difficulties and for me, that was something new,” says Pinsonnault in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. Watch the full video chat above.

One of the more intricate aspects of “CODA,” about a teenage girl named Ruby (Emilia Jones) who is the only hearing member of her immediate family, was to honor her perspective as she communicates with her family. Pinsonnault enhanced the sounds of her mother (Marlee Matlin), father (Troy Kotsur) and brother (Daniel Durant) as they communicated not only with their hands but their mouths. He and director Sian Heder also had conversations with the deaf community about “how they perceive sound” in order to play with the sound design for the hearing audience.

Many of Pinsonnault’s standout moments come on the family’s fishing boat, where we hear the rumbling of the engine mixed with the sounds of the sea and dialogue between characters. Pinsonnault observes that while characters like Ruby’s father and brother are deaf, they are still able to feel sound in their own way. “It was very important to cover these areas of sounds where it’s not just what we hear, it’s what we feel,” he states. “They know any time the motor is riding and they know when it’s fast, they know when it’s slow.” Pinsonnault used his extensive library of effects collected over the years to provide an accurate soundscape for these fishing scenes.

The film shifts perspective from Ruby to her parents in the school concert scene, where we briefly hear her and her duet partner singing before the sound fades out completely. As Pinsonnault explains, “Silence can be as powerful as sound,” but it was important for him and the sound team to not “overdo it.” The scene becomes one of the most impactful moments in the film, especially when much of the sound up to that point has been intentionally “seamless” and almost entirely centered on Ruby’s point of view. He credits multiple departments for helping bring “CODA” to life in a way that critics and audiences have connected very personally with its story. “When a film is good, it’s because everybody did a really good job,” observes Pinsonnault, “and all this together brings it to something larger than us.”

To watch this same interview with closed captions, view the YouTube video below and click the CC button on the bottom right.

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