Eighth Grade: Interview with Director Bo Burnham

Eighth Grade: Interview with Director Bo Burnham


What Inspired the Film?

Bo Burnham: I wanted to talk about how I was feeling at the time I was writing it. I really did not set out to write about an eighth grader. I set out to write about my own anxiety and what it felt like to be alive in the world. And the more I described my feelings to myself, the more I sounded like a 13-year-old. I felt scared and unsure of myself and uncomfortable and like everything was changing, and I was grasping for meaning and not having it.


Contrast with Comedy

BB: When I did comedy, I felt boxed in by a need to be cynical and sharp and satirical and ironic and truly like those tools that I think worked at a certain point against the current cultural moment just feel toothless to me. How do you satirize the Internet? How do you spin what’s going on right now ironically? I wanted to talk about something way closer to my heart, which was, if I’m really honest about how I feel right now, I have no certainty, I have no authority to make some cool wisecrack or spin on it. I just feel nervous and unsure of myself. And so that’s what I wanted to express. The people that know my work see this as a huge left turn, but the people that know me personally, this was truer to who I am.


Casting Elsie as Kayla

BB: We definitely wanted a kid that was of that age 13, 14. We saw hundreds of kids for the role. And she’s playing a shy girl. She’s playing someone that is voted most quiet. And every kid, every young actor that would come into audition for it felt like a confident kid pretending to be shy. And she, when she played it, she played it like a shy kid pretending to be confident, which is the actual role. Shyness is not cowering in a corner, not wanting to speak. Shyness is trying to speak every moment and not being able to. She took what everyone else I think saw on the surface as a very passive character and made her active. I don’t see Elsie playing Kayla I see Kayla playing all the people she wants to be in every moment. So there’s not much more to say beyond just she’s sort of a unicorn miracle person that can just do this. For me the entire drama of the movie exists behind her eyes and between her ears, and she’s offering every one of those moments. And it is written too, that’s the thing I try to emphasize all the time because it seems so natural people think that it was improvised. The monologues are written, so the thing about being yourself is a, like a, I’m reading this off a piece of paper. And I can show you nine takes where she stumbles in the same place every time. But it was about finding a kid that was reliably inarticulate; because I think young actors are taught to articulate themselves to an ability that is suspiciously similar to a writer’s ability to articulate themselves. And we want it to feel like kids talking, which is a mess.