×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How Casting a Girl Kept Bo Burnham’s ‘Eighth Grade’ Current

As Elsie Fisher, the star of Bo Burnham‘s directorial debut film “Eighth Grade,” flatly stated: “Eighth grade for me sucked, but whatever.” Middle school, and indeed eighth grade in particular, is not exactly “Gucci” to say the least. But for a special screening in Los Angeles Wednesday night, A24 took guests on a trip down memory lane in the Joseph Le Conte Middle School auditorium–lack of AC and all.

“Being sweaty and a little uncomfortable is very on-brand for our movie,” Burnham joked before the screening started.

The universally-lauded film, which follows Fisher’s Kayla during her last week of middle school, was a story distinctly separate from Burnham’s own experience. “Being a 13-year-old girl sort of insulated me from projecting my own experience. I didn’t want to make a nostalgic story or a memory. I wanted it to be sort of visceral and current,” he said.

But he conceded that he does relate more to the character at this stage of his life: “I feel much more like her now dealing with anxiety and trying to come to grips with that.”

For her part, Fisher, who graduated eighth grade, shot the film a week later, and headed back to high school a week after the shoot wrapped, didn’t view tapping into the character as work–even down to the “stumbly” lines of dialogue.

“I mean, Kayla and I are very similar. I really related to this portrayal of teen anxiety. Kind of in the same way Kayla is, I wasn’t bullied. I was more, like, ignored. And because I’m socially anxious, I channeled that into being weird. So, I’d opt out,” she shared with Variety.

Fisher hopes other eighth graders can “maybe feel less weird and anxious” after seeing the film.

As for why Burnham chose eighth grade in particular to focus on, “there are a lot of high school movies and not a lot of middle school movies,” he said. “By the time kids get to high school, I think they’re a little bit blasé and over it or have a 1,000 yard stare from the war of middle school. So, I was interested in [eighth grade] because you really are still a child. You’re trying to become an adult, but you’re really a child. Your body’s exploding and your mind is mashed potatoes. It’s crazy.”

Fisher added, “I feel like kids are starting to have adult bodies and feelings, but they’re still very much not mature. And I think that contrast is a lot to deal with at an age where you start becoming self-aware and that leads you to worrying about your sense of identity.”

Producer on “Eighth Grade” Chris Storer, who is a frequent collaborator of Burnham’s, wants kids to realize that, “they’re not alone and everyone has the same anxieties they do. I think I would have felt better hearing that as a kid.”

When Burnham began writing the first few drafts of the script in 2014, he immediately knew it was a project he wanted to direct. “I wrote it to direct it,” he told Variety. “I tried to write a story I felt played to my strengths, which were young people and the Internet.”

As he shared in a post-screening Q&A alongside his stars Fisher, Emily Robinson (Olivia), Daniel Zolghadri (Riley), and Jake Ryan (Gabe), “I feel like a nervous kid on the Internet and I feel like an out-of-touch old dude that has no idea what she’s going through.”

Burnham hopes that the hyper-realistic story resonates not only with middle school viewers, but with all ages, ultimately.

“I hope everyone can just see themselves in Kayla and identify with her. Why can’t an epic story about the human condition be about a 13-year-old girl walking into a pool party and not just some dude with a sword?”

After the screening, the evening continued with a full-on middle school dance in the gymnasium, with a DJ blasting “Mambo No. 5” as partygoers like Dylan O’Brien and Alia Shawkat grabbed some punch.

Guests were also welcome to a slew of food trucks in the basketball courtyard outside including The Grilled Cheese Truck, Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, and King Kone in between trying their hand at karaoke and carnival games.

Other attendees stepping back into their middle school days were Robbie AmellItalia Ricci, Taran GillamGillian JacobsNick KrollSarah Ramos, and Vella Lovell.

“Eighth Grade” hits theaters Friday, July 13.

More Film

  • Carlos Almaraz Playing With Fire review

    Palm Springs Review: 'Carlos Almaraz: Playing With Fire'

    Though he passed away three decades ago, Carlos Almaraz’s reputation as a major American painter — which was just getting started when he died of AIDS in 1989 — promises to continue to gain traction with the years. Documentary tribute “Playing With Fire” by his fellow-artist widow Elsa Flores and Richard Montoya mostly transcends standard [...]

  • Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano's 'The Specials'

    Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano's 'The Specials' Already a Gaumont Sales Hit (EXCLUSIVE)

    Following the widely successful “C’est La Vie,” Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache’s (“The Intouchables”) passion project “The Specials” (“Hors normes”) starring Vincent Cassel and Reda Kateb, has already lured major buyers in key territories. Gaumont, which delivered the largest number of French B.O. hits overseas in 2018, has pre-sold “The Specials” to Germany, Austria (Prokino), [...]

  • The Realm review

    Palm Springs Review: 'The Realm'

    The notion that government is one big con directing money into already well-lined pockets is confirmed and then some in “The Realm.” Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s “Michael Clayton”-like thriller has struck a chord in Spain, where the persistence of corruption in the post-Franco era is a popular topic bordering on obsession. But are examples of corruption just [...]

  • Fig Tree review

    Palm Springs Reviews: 'Fig Tree'

    It’s a question integral to much of the current international immigration debate: When war breaks out, who gets to flee and who’s left with nowhere to run? As a child, writer-director Aalam-Warqe Davidian was among a majority of Ethiopian Jews who emigrated to Israel. In her loosely autobiographical feature debut, a teenager facing similar circumstances [...]

  • Jeff BridgesJeff Bridges, who stars in

    Film News Roundup: Jeff Bridges Wins American Society of Cinematographers Honor

    In today’s film news roundup, Jeff Bridges is honored by cinematographers, the “Arctic” filmmakers get a first-look deal and releases are set for “Vault,” the Seth Rogen-Charlize Theron comedy and “What Lies Ahead.” BRIDGES HONORED The American Society of Cinematographers has selected Jeff Bridges as the recipient of the organizations’ 2019 Board of Governors Award. [...]

  • Cate Blanchett's 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette'

    Cate Blanchett's 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette' Moved Back to August

    Annapurna Pictures has moved its Richard Linklater literary adaptation “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” starring Cate Blanchett back five months from March 22 to an Aug. 9 release. A rep for Annapurna explained that August has served well as a launching pad for release of female-skewing films such as “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Florence Foster Jenkins” and [...]

  • Kumail Nanjiani Issa Rae

    Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae to Star in 'Lovebirds' Romantic Comedy

    “The Big Sick” star Kumail Nanjiani and “Insecure” star Issa Rae will topline Paramount’s romantic comedy “The Lovebirds.” The project will reunite Nanjiani with “The Big Sick” helmer Michael Showalter, who’s on board to direct from a script by Aaron Abrams, Brendan Gall, and Martin Gero. The project goes into production at the end of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content