Apple's Movie CODA Puts Berklee on the Big Screen

The record-breaking Sundance film features musical contributions from students and alumni and tells the story of the hearing daughter of a deaf family who wants to attend Berklee.

August 26, 2021

A coda, in musical terms, is a passage that brings a piece to its conclusion. In the deaf community, it's an acronym that stands for “child of deaf adults.” Both meanings apply in Apple's hit film CODA, a coming-of-age tale about the hearing daughter of a deaf family who dreams of pursuing a musical career.

Set in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the movie finds Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) torn between her duty to her family, whose fishing business is on the verge of collapse, and her own aspirations of becoming a professional vocalist. Her talent is undeniable, and after hearing her sing, Ruby's choir teacher Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez) urges her to audition for a scholarship to Berklee.

We...wanted the Berklee students to not sing at their full potential, as they were just too talented.

—Siân Heder, director, CODA

In addition to Berklee's role in the movie's plot, several students and alumni from the college's award-winning a cappella group Pitch Slapped appear in the film as members of Ruby’s choir. “They’re [from] Berklee, but of course, we cast them as Gloucester high school students,” said Siân Heder, CODA’s writer and director, to Filmmaker magazine. “We then wanted the Berklee students to not sing at their full potential, as they were just too talented.”

CODA made waves at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, sweeping the grand jury and audience prizes and going on to earn a record-breaking $25 million deal with Apple Studios.

Image from CODA

Emilia Jones and Eugenio Derbez in CODA

Image courtesy of Apple TV+

From the Studio to the Screen

Nicholai Baxter B.M. ’07, a graduate of Berklee's music production and engineering major, served as CODA's co-music producer, a role that included, among other responsibilities, developing musical repertoire for the film. During this phase, Baxter spent many late nights in Somerville’s Q Division Studios with the Berklee singers, recording all the music and vocals needed for the shoot, even though Heder’s intent was to capture as much music live on set as possible.

"As we get into production on the film, the job transitions into more of a music director role, rehearsing and planning all the music moments in the film. And overseeing these scenes on set,” said Baxter. "I love this stage as it’s a nice change of pace and gets me out of the studio, especially if there’s a live performance element on set where we can find ways to push the limits of location sound."

Photo of Nicholai Baxter

Nicholai Baxter B.M. ’07

"As the film moves into post-production, we combine all the live on-set material with our studio material to craft a final soundtrack that feels connected to the on-screen world,” said Baxter.

Berklee student and alumni singers who performed on set and in the studio for the film included Dominic Andersen B.M. ’20, Amanda Bradshaw, Samidio DePina, Kyana Fanene B.M. ’21, Anilee List, and Stone Martin; studio-only singers included Samuel Dantowitz B.M. ’20, Shakale Davis ’18, Mahamma Germain B.M. ’19, Laura Gray, Alexandra Hernandez B.M. ’19, Jordan Holly B.M. ’17, Claudia Nketia, and Isaiah Thomas ’18.

Baxter also had the opportunity to cowrite CODA’s end-credit original song, "Beyond the Shore,” with Heder, co-music producer Marius de Vries, and Berklee alumnus Matt Dahan B.M. ’07.

"We wrote the song during the first COVID lockdown, and it ended up being a gift having this creative and collaborative outlet during a tough time,” Baxter said.

CODA is now streaming on Apple TV+ and showing in select theaters.

Listen to CODA’s end-credit song, "Beyond the Shore":

Watch CODA's official trailer: 

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