By Hogan Short
VANCOUVER – There may be no person on the planet that knows the opportunities and dangers that come with social media, especially when trying to navigate the horrifying realities of junior high school, than Bo Burnham. Coming from the first generation of online content creators, Burnham has a qualified voice to tell this story. He posted his first YouTube video in 2006, then on Vines sharing hundreds of hours of videos and is now part of the old guard at only 28. Channeling his experiences from the first days of YouTube and Vine, Burnham wrote and directed Eighth Grade.
“I knew if anyone could make this movie, I could,” says Burnham. “I just feel like I know what these kids are going through. I wrote a story I knew I could direct and I leaned into what my strengths were, like working with actors and theme work.”
The film follows eighth grader Kayla, a girl who posts advice videos online. Kayla doesn’t have many friends and her videos get little to no views. Despite nobody seeing her posts, the advice is therapeutic for Kayla whether it’s showing her true self or dealing with regret. Kayla is beautifully played by Elsie Fisher and the entire film is held up by her vulnerability. Finding the right lead was first priority for the first time director.
“It was apparent right from the start that she was it, and we auditioned hundreds of kids. Every kid was a confident kid pretending to be shy, and she was a shy kid pretending to be confident, and that was exactly what Kayla is.” When asked why he, a 28-year-old man, decided to use a female to tell his story of the teenage experience in 2018, Burnham reveals how he came to that decision while researching. “I would watch hundreds of videos online to see what kids were talking about. It became pretty clear to me when all the guys were just talking about Fortnite for hours and the girls were talking about their soul. It had to be a girl.”
Social media is used as a diary for Kayla, and Burnham uses this to tell a story of the difficulties of junior high in present day. The existence of social media has created new challenges and Eighth Grade is the first time this has successfully been put on screen.
“I’m hoping to say honestly how it feels to be online and what it feels like to them, less than how it’s changing them.”
The entire movie feels like a wake-up call to the attitude that kids now are mindless drones who never stop looking down at their screens. Burnham explores deeper into what life can really be like as an awkward 13 year-old.
“I’m happy and love for that conversation to be inspired by the movie, but I’m not trying to really say anything,” he says. “We haven’t even gathered the tools yet to have that conversation, and with this film I was just trying to take emotional inventory. Like, there’s more to talk about than just cyberbullying and Russia. I hope this movie is more of an inscription rather than a prescription.”
Eighth Grade is a story that feels exactly like its titular time period. It can be horrifyingly awkward, but also beautiful – a period in your life that often moulds who you are and will become. To develop a story reminding us of those forgotten feelings is rare. Burnham, on his first attempt, has accomplished that for eighth-graders and adults alike.
“We look back on that time and think it was stress free. It wasn’t. It was just as stressful. We just had no freedom and no money. Hopefully people see it the way I intended, and hopefully people can connect with it. It has already grown past my expectation and this is just extra credit.”Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade