In a new, digital-centric age, navigating and surviving the perils of middle school deserves more than just a certificate and a pat on the back. The recently released film entitled ‘Eighth Grade’ artfully and dutifully depicts the real-life struggles young teenagers face on a day-to-day basis.
Eighth Grade follows the story of a young teenage girl as she faces the challenges which unfold throughout her final week of what was already an incredibly difficult year of eighth grade. We had the opportunity to sit down with the director and producer of the film, Bo Burnham, as well as the star of Eighth Grade, Elsie Fisher.
The Knockturnal: What are you hoping audiences take away most from the film?
Bo Burnham: Just feelings. You know, if they feel, that’s all I really want them to take away really. Most movies will preach at you and tell you what to think, I really hope you come away with a lot of feelings and then have a little talk in the ride home, but I won’t tell you what to talk about.
Elsie Fisher: I hope people just relate to Kayla and feel –not that they feel great about it, but understand that it’s normal for them to feel anxious and weird. Not only in the eighth grade, but all the time, and just feel less weird about feeling weird.
The Knockturnal: The film is told from a female perspective, how do you think it would be different had it been told from a male’s perspective growing up in this day and age?
Bo Burnham: It would’ve been about Fortnite and probably nothing else. I don’t know. I mean at this age, I watch tons of videos of kids online talk about themselves, and the girls just ran a lot deeper. They were talking about sort of soul level issues, and the boys just sort of talked about their life and rock collections or whatever. I think it evens out at some point, but the girls are a little bit more deep and existential, and so the movie gets to get a little more deep. And that’s a generalization, but it happens to be true as well.
Elsie Fisher: Yeah I think exactly what he said. I’ve dealt with a lot of boys my age, and they’re just not as deep.
Bo Burnham: I was nothing like her when I was that age. I didn’t really become self-aware until I was a sophomore in high school. She’s blooming into self-awareness. That didn’t happen for me till I was 15 so.
The Knockturnal: So this is you first directorial role, what was that like moving from YouTube to the Big Screen?
Bo Burnham: It was good. I’ve done stand-up for a long time and just wanted to collaborate with people and not look to myself for inspiration. I was just tired of myself and working with myself, and only saying things out of my own head and own voice. And that’s what film really is. It’s so exciting. It’s just such a collaborative medium, so that was what’s most exciting, and it was a challenge, but it was something I was really ready for. Just to get out of my own head.
The Knockturnal: Obviously, while we’re going through it all, everything seems pretty dramatic and life or death. Do you have any moments that you can now look back on and smile/laugh at or recall as a pivotal moment of growth?
Elsie Fisher: Yeah I had a crush on my friend and I talked about it on this app, Miitomo, which was out at the time. Like they ask you questions and like who’s your crush and I’m like ‘it was her,’ and she screen-shotted it and sent it to me and she was like ‘I saw this!’ and I wanted to die at the time, and now we literally talk all the time. It was very funny. It worked out!
Bo Burnham: I think I knew these things were pivotal while they were happening. One of these things I thought were pivotal like my life is changing forever. Like this pool-party didn’t go well, but they weren’t so much maybe in hindsight. I think it all sort of feels pivotal. You know? I just sort of remember the whole experience being moment-to-moment feeling pivotal.
The Knockturnal: Do you think there’s anything that teachers or faculty can do to sort of ease the process of growing up in middle school and how to navigate technology and it’s place?
Elsie Fisher: I think teachers are already trying very hard. It’s not easy to deal with kids that are in middle school or even high school. Just communicate with your students, I guess though. That’s the one thing that’s like though when teachers don’t form relationships with their kids. It’s understandable though because they’re dealing with hundreds of kids, but just try to think in their head and empathize with them.
Bo Burnham: Yeah I think that’s right. I think where the world needs improvement is in the people running the apps. I would never tell teachers what to do, I kind of feel like they’re trying and they know kids as well as anybody. I just feel like it’s the part of people in Silicon Valley and things to be little more responsible, and realize that this thing affects kids. What you’re doing is powerful. The teachers understand that. The teachers understand the kids emotionally. I can ask them to be more patient, but I would never be as patient as a teacher is, so it’d be completely hypocritical.
The Knockturnal: Do you have any advice for kids that are about to embark on this journey or are currently going through it?
Bo Burnham: I’d just say go easy on yourself. Forgive yourself a little. It’s going to be difficult, but just communicate with the people around you, and forgive yourself. It’s not always going to go well and that’s okay. And find strength in the fact that getting through a tough thing is really helpful for life. So it’ll either be good or be bad and you’ll learn a lesson. That’s my advice to me when I was that age.
Elsie Fisher: Also chill out as he said. You don’t have to be completely self-actualized, but you know, try to be comfortable being who you are and don’t like suck up to be –don’t try to be someone else. Be yourself! I mean honestly… it’s cliché, but it’s cliché for a reason because it is good advice. Just be yourself.
Check out the trailer for the film below!