SIFF 2018 : Eighth Grade Interview with Bo Burnham and Elsie Fisher

At the tail end of SIFF 2018, we were lucky enough to interview Bo Burnham and Elsie Fisher about their latest endeavor: EIGHTH GRADE. In it, guest interviewer Delaney Fry asked Burnham how he incorporated his own career into the film as well as how Fisher so naturally portrayed such a relatable character. The film comes out July 13th, but you can read the transcript below or listen to our interview now, complete with Pogs, Dungeons & Dragons, and defining the term ‘Yeet’.

This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

D: So if you want to get started, we have a couple questions for each of you, and we can just go back and forth. You’ve probably been asked this one a lot, but we were wondering how did your own Youtube experience…

B: Am I blue? [referring to highlighter on our question sheet]

D: No, actually the blue questions are our primary questions and pink ones are our secondaries if we get to them.

B: Oh good, I was gonna say, “Boy we’re really living in a retro gendered world. Blue for me and pink for her!”

D: Well you get all the questions and we get two questions for the girls. So how did your younger Youtube experience impact Kayla’s experience in the film with regards to her own Youtube channel?

B: It certainly did. Obviously it engrained some sense of being meaningful to me, but I really did draw more on my current experience with the internet than I did then. I just didn’t think the internet asked that deep of questions of us in 2006. It was, “You have a funny thing? Post it,” and now it’s like, “Who are you as a person on a deep level.” There was definitely some of me in there for sure, but I really set out to explore what I was feeling at the time I wrote it when I was 25 or 24. It wasn’t a story of my past more than it was about my present, so of course it set me on a course of life that was really caring about the internet because it provided me with a lot of success and pain and all that stuff.

D: Elsie, being as young as you are and with your experience on YouTube, how has this movie reflected your own experiences? 

E: I like the way the internet is portrayed through Kayla because it just shows it as it is. It’s just her scrolling on her phone at at 3am and what not. Another part I like is that when I was in sixth grade I had my own really shitty YouTube channel. I didn’t put as much effort into it as Kayla’s did. It was just like Minecraft, but it was really cool for me to portray a character who had their own [channel] and see them struggle in their own way that I could weirdly relate to: to make things and not be cared about. But they’re good for yourself. I cared a lot. I use to post my art on the internet and no one would care, but I would still felt good about it.

B: That should keep going. Leonardo DiVinci probably had most fun painting. It should be for you. Even this [film] should be for us first. Like it shouldn’t matter if it’s seen or not.

E: Yah I don’t care if it’s seen. I use to and I think Kayla cares a little bit if it’s seen because that’s what she wants to do, but in my personal life right now, I stopped caring. I’m like, “Whatever. I’m having fun making it.”

D: And between the two of you who came up with “Gucci”?

E: Me

D: How’d you come up with that? Were you like, “Let me just throw this in?”

E: So I’m a naturally anxious person. This was my first lead and I all the way over in New York [where we filmed], I just had this nervous tick, so I would end conversations with “Gucci.” And then [Bo] started doing it to embarrass me, and then it caught on on set. When we filmed the videos way later, [Bo] wanted me to have a sign off, so it became “Gucci.”

D: I love how it starts so ironically and then it just infects yourself with it.

B: Yah exactly. The thing people don’t realize with inside jokes that kids do is that the they don’t even get them. Just just like doing it. 

E: Yah, people ask me what Gucci means and I’m like, “I don’t know.”

D: One of the best things my parents have asked me is, “What does ‘Yeet’ mean?” and I don’t know how to explain it to them. I can’t stop saying it, but I don’t know… YEET!

B: Is that Y-I-T?

D: It’s Y-E-E-T. It’s from a Vine.

E: Yah it’s from this vine where this kid has a Mountain Dew bottle, he throws it, and he goes, “YEET.” It’s like his brother or mom or something. 

D: And it’s just caught on so whole heartedly. It’s a thing that we’ve seen a lot in college.

B: I’m gonna have to check that out. 

E: It’s so stupid.

D: Yah, but’s so beautiful. It was what the internet was meant to do. 

B: The internet is meant to be indescribable.

D: So next, kind of from both of you: when you look out into the audience, it’s a huge age range. We had people standing up and talking yesterday [at the SIFF screening] who were in seventh and eighth grade themselves, both boys and girls. And then we had people who were 70 years old.

B: These two [screenings] were particularly good. I think the festival had a really good range. 

D: Even with this huge age span, we’ve seen a huge positive response to it, Obviously, [Elsie] has won the Best Actress award and the Gold Space Needle [for Best Feature], so when you two were making this film, were you trying to make it applicable or were you gearing it more towards a heartfelt story that ended up being so applicable to all of us?

B: I had a vision board that just said “Golden Space Needle” and I was like, “How do I get here?” *laughter* Our approach was not to be relatable for the sake of being relatable. The hope is that the more specific, the more universal it will be, but I just wanted to be honest, truthful, not manipulative, just portray things as they are, and hopefully it will resonate with people. I felt that [Elsie] resonated with me and I’m not her. If I’m feeling connected to this story and I’m not circumstantially like her, then other people can too. I think the feelings of anxiety, how you view yourself, how the world views you, and then going from how you perceive your own self versus how you articulate them are common [sentiments]. Everyone’s pretty awkward, but I’m so glad I’m not that awkward anymore. Every social situation is incredibly loaded, and awkward things are happening all the time. Like, have you been in an elevator? Everyone spends half their day blushing, so for me as an audience member, I wanted to make a movie I want to see. When I feel that someone is trying to relate to me, which a lot of things recently have been trying to occupy that nostalgia space, I’m like “Ugh, I get it.” POGS, RIGHT?! I don’t really give shit, I just want it to feel real. [Looks over to Elsie] Pogs were an old thing.

E: I know what Pogs are.

B: You know what Pogs are?!

E: I vaguely do. I mean I grew up in a very dated town. I grew up with VHS and no internet. I didn’t get internet until I was like…

B: She would not have been of age. She was born in 2003. Yah you should not have [known about Pogs].

E: Yah but I are grew up with VHS, and I was like, “[An entire movie] fits on this [tape]?”

D: Craziest thing for me was trying to explain how CDs and DVDs work because I still don’t get it. I think it’s magic. 

B: Well vinyl is really confusing because you scratch it and then it makes the sound? Huuuuh? Literally makes no sense.

E: I remember though at my school we didn’t even have projectors. We had the light thing [transparency projector]. That was weird. I sometimes have weird dreams about where did it come from because no else my age knows what I’m talking about. 

D: So Elsie, the film ends really beautifully with that hug [from her dad played by Josh Hamilton] because the whole time watching it I too wanted to reach in for a hug. How did you begin to connect with Hamilton and develop that authentic relationship?

E: We hung out off of set with Josh, myself, and my own father…

B: Did you go to the Statue of Liberty or Museum of Modern Art with Josh?

E: Well we got ice cream and then Josh kind of left us there at MOMA. Like he walked with [me and my father] there and was like, “YEET.” Yah, but it was basically hanging out with him and we did a little bit of stuff like that. Then we had rehearsals of the scenes we were in, and those were the only scenes we really did because that relationship is so familiar and boring to Kayla.

B: Everything else we wanted to capture [in the film was] the nerves, but with [Kayla’s] dad, she was so comfortable to begin with so that had to feel super bored [at the dinner scene]. 

E: But with the fire pit scene it had to feel different. It’s not all boring, so maybe boring isn’t the right word. It was just about getting the scene to feel right with him by doing it over and over again. Like we did the dinner scene a hundred million times? Four billion? 

D: And it was so perfect. I just saw my sister in you.

B: You have a younger sister? 

D: Yah I have three siblings, so for my younger sister, I saw the most of her in you. 

B: And she’s how old now? 

D: Now she’s eight-teen. She just graduated high school yesterday, so very exciting. I had her grad party right after the movie, so I had to ditch setting it up, but I was back for the fun part… But Bo, being that you’re so musically inclined with you music and comedy, how involved were you with choosing the film’s music, specifically for Aiden’s? 

B: Oh yah. For Aiden’s [music], it was this band called ‘Hurter Baiter’ which is this Swedish, weird techno music…

E: I am Swedish. My family is very Swedish. 

B: Perfect, that is incredibly fascinating *sarcastically*. You look very Swedish. Anyway, back to my question, I wrote a temp score for the movie that I didn’t want to use, but I was just trying to feel out the film. I had a few months before the movie had started to think about things and I wrote a lot of music just to explore the movie in a different way. Then I stumbled upon Anna Meredith’s music who was an incredible electronic music composer. She was a classically trained composer out of London and she’s just amazing, theatrical, and big. We wanted the music to be visceral and feel like foreground music that made Kayla’s experience bigger than it is rather than this mandolin, staccato string, indie tween score that makes everything cute and small because the movie is not cute to [Kayla]. It’s not small to her. Music is just a great subconscious way to make things more visceral and intense. 

D: I would say I totally felt [those emotions] in the movie where it may not be a big deal to us because we are just watching it, but the part where the music got louder and louder made me feel it more and more. Along with the music, Kayla has a lot of mannerisms that are really noticeable such as the crossing of the arms or slouching and I was wondering if you just know how to do that naturally or was it something you two had to coach a little?

E: Nah, it was just good old Fisher anxiety mannerisms. That’s just me. That’s just how I do stuff or at least how I use to. I’m trying to be confident with thing like… power posing.

D: Do you do power posing? 

E: No, but i probably should. 

B: Posture is good. Walk down the street with your chest puffed out and it feels good. I try to do that because I’m so tall and I don’t want to slouch. It’s very psychosomatic to have good posture. But yah the mannerisms shouldn’t be conscious. We didn’t want her to be like Winston Churchill [all frumpy like], and be like, *Churchill impression* “I’m Kayla” because it would be less effective. 

E: The only one that felt a little bit conscious was when I held my arm [across my chest], but I just kept doing that because when Fred, who plays one of the high schoolers, pointed it out [as something from a different generation], I decided to stick with it. But everything else was just natural. 

D: Well we are almost out of time. I just wanted to leave you with a general question at the end. Sometimes we ask very specific questions, and you don’t get to talk about something you’re very passionate about, so is there a story from the film, any fun fact about yourself, or thing you’ve just been dying to share that no one has asked you a question about that you wish someone had? 

E: Ummm, I don’t know. I like playing Dungeons and Dragons.

D: We’re [pointing to Megan] in a D&D team together! What do you play? 

E: I play a tiefling bard.

D: What’s your instrument?

E: I have a ukulele and an electric guitar. It’s super exciting. I’ve been playing with my friends for about a month now and we’re actually making a podcast out of it now. It’s really exciting. 

D: Oh that’s so beautiful. Well, hopefully we’ll find it when it comes out. Do you have a name for it?

E: Yes, it’s called “X-Treme D&D.” I’ve been writing a bunch of music for it. It’s very fun. 

D: See that’s the kind of stuff people never get to hear about. 

B: Yah, I can’t top that shit. Um, I don’t know…

D: How’s your dog doing? We were told by a friend to check on your dog.

B: He’s doing great. He’s doing real good. Bruce is a good guy. He turned three. He’s chilling out. He got in a little fight with his sister and he had to get staples in his head, so he’s a little staple head right now, but those are coming out soon.

D: Does he have a little cone? 

B: Oh no, they’re on the top of his head so he literally can’t get there. He’s just a little staple head boy right now. 

D: Very cute. Well we could keep going, but we won’t waste your time. So I think we’re good from here. We appreciate you guys talking to us.