×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Bo Burnham, Nadine Labaki on How They Broke New Career Ground

There were a lot of film innovators in 2018, in front of and behind the camera. That long list includes first-time actors such as Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians”), Yalitza Aparicio (“Roma”), and the ensemble in the Chloe Zhao-directed “The Rider.” There were also many first-time filmmakers, including Boots Riley (“Sorry to Bother You”), Aneesh Chaganty (“Searching”) and Lukas Dhont (“Girl”).

The list of groundbreakers also includes Bo Burnham (A24’s “Eighth Grade”) and Nadine Labaki (Sony Classics’ Oscar-nominated “Capernaum”). He’s an innovator because he transferred from standup performer to filmmaker; she took her directing talent a new direction, shaping the script with her first-time actors, shooting chronologically.

Burnham started as a YouTube sensation at age 16. A dozen years later, he won the DGA award for best first film, and “Eighth Grade” is nominated for four Indie Spirit Awards.

“I wasn’t one of those kids who ran around with the family camera, making movies,” he says. “Theater was my first love, and I dragged everything I learned there into standup: sound elements, staging, lighting.

“After 10 years of comedy, I wanted to try something new. As I started to film my standup specials, I realized I had been pointing toward filmmaking all along.

“I gave myself a crash course in filmmaking and I talked to A24, back when they were just distributing. Three years later, A24 began producing and a producer sent the script to Scott Rudin.

“I was able to make a transition because of luck, but I worked hard to justify it; I didn’t take it for granted, I didn’t think it should happen. Just because I had this other career, that didn’t mean I could make a seamless transition.”

As the old joke goes, dying is hard but comedy is harder. “When I was doing standup and was floundering, I was alone onstage,” Burnham says. “But with film, I was never alone. It felt incredibly supportive, and oddly, less stressful.”

After two narrative films, Labaki pushed herself in a new direction with “Capernaum,” casting only non-actors and shooting chronologically.

The film centers on a Lebanese boy accused of a violent crime after his 11-year-old sister is sold into marriage.

“After seeing thousands of children on the street, suffering, this film felt like a responsibility for me, a duty,” Labaki says. “It’s about real struggles, and I needed to work with those who are having that struggle — and not impose my imagination. I’m not entitled to imagine a story, with an actor who would ‘become’ someone else.

“From the beginning, we all knew it was a challenge, but I was very confident this is the way to do it.”

It took four years of research, and six months to film, as they accommodated the first-time performers and sometimes did up to 40 takes. Labaki and her collaborators kept rewriting the script, “to adapt to their personality, their rhythm, to navigate reality to this fiction.”

In one key scene, young Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) fights his parents in a stairway as they are dragging his sister off to her new life.

“This was the most difficult scene, emotionally and physically; we shot the scene for several days, but I wasn’t happy,” says the filmmaker. “So we went back and shot it three months later. The actors were more immersed in the scene.”

The process was “very draining,” she says, but the participants have been overwhelmed by the reaction, including honors at Cannes and the Oscar nomination, she says. “This film was important to them, because they felt they were no longer invisible, that they were being heard. It took a film for them to be appreciated by the world.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • "Weathering With You" directed by Makoto

    Toho Unveils Dual Media Romance 'Love Me, Love Me Not' at Tokyo Market

    Japan’s biggest film company, which produces, distributes and exhibits its own product in partnership with leading media companies, Toho has brought a line-up to TIFFCOM full of present and future hits. The biggest is “Weathering with You,” the love story animation by Makoto Shinkai that surpassed the $100 million mark only a month after its [...]

  • Hit Me Anyone One More Time

    TIFFCOM: Pony Canyon Saddles up FujiTV's Smash 'Hit Me Anyone'

    One of Japan’s five major broadcast networks, Fuji TV has also been a pioneer and leader among the networks in feature film production. This year at TIFFCOM long-time partner Pony Canyon is representing Fuji TV films that have recently hit number one at the Japanese box office. Among the hottest, with three straight weeks atop [...]

  • Martin Scorsese Avengers

    Are Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola Right About Marvel? (Column)

    If you want to shoot holes in the comments that Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola made recently about Marvel movies (Scorsese: “That’s not cinema”; Coppola: “Martin was being kind when he said it wasn’t cinema. He didn’t say it was despicable, which is what I say”), then go right ahead, because they’ve practically handed [...]

  • Women in Motion

    Kering and Tokyo Festival Bring 'Women in Motion' Talk Series to Japan

    Actress Shinobu Terajima, director and photographer Mika Ninagawa, and Japanese-British artist Sputniko! will take part in Women in Motion, on Thursday next week. The event is a special symposium hosted by the Tokyo International Film Festival and global fashion conglomerate Kering, and is the first time that the Cannes-based Women in Motion series has touched [...]

  • Ji.hlava Festival Director Marek Hovorka on

    Ji.hlava's Marek Hovorka on Documentaries With a Cinematic Sensibility

    Nine international documentary films and one judge. That’s the unique competition format for Opus Bonum, the section dedicated to international documentary titles at Ji.hlava Intl. Documentary Film Festival (Oct. 24-29). Films from France, the U.K., Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, Switzerland, India, Madagascar, Egypt and Palestine play in the competition section, and the winner will [...]

  • Tessa Thompson, Justin Theroux and dogs'Lady

    'Lady and the Tramp' Cast on Remaking a Classic, Premiering on Disney Plus

    The divas on display at Tuesday’s special screening of “Lady and the Tramp” were of the four-legged variety. It was a night that brought out A-listers such as Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux, but those stars were outshone by Rose and Monte, the two canine actors who portray the title characters in the live-action remake [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content