Bo Burnham on Capturing the Younger Generation "Narrative" for 'Eighth Grade'

"The Internet is a well of humanity if you dig past the surface of it," says the writer-director of the coming-of-age film.

“I’m from the Internet. I sort of got my start there,” Eighth Grade writer and director Bo Burnham told The Hollywood Reporter's Writers Roundtable. “The Internet is a well of humanity if you dig past the surface of it.”

Burnham’s film Eighth Grade, which follows a young teenage girl recording YouTube videos in her bedroom and the life that happens outside of those vlogs, is the comedian-turned-writer-director’s first feature film, and the “initial impulse for the script” started from watching how the younger generation represents themselves online.  

"The start of it was watching videos of young kids online speaking about themselves and talking about their life, and just transcribing those monologues," he says. "Because I found the way these kids express themselves to be so visceral and meaningful to me and existed in a really sharp contrast of the way I’ve seen young people be portrayed onscreen, which is perfectly articulate, perfectly in command of their own narrative."

Adding, "For me, what it means to be alive right now is to be out of control of your narrative, to be constantly trying to be your own storyteller, your own biographer, your own filmmaker and failing to do that, and these kids were doing it so beautifully and viscerally that I was watching these videos thinking, ‘If this were a performance in a movie, it would be incredible,’" he explained.

Burnham was inspired to create the story of Kayla Day, played by breakout star Elsie Fisher, after seeing "the most pure exchange of material" that teenagers were sharing online.

"Why it was engaging to me was it is so clear that these kids were trying to sound like the cultural representations of themselves they’ve seen in movies," he says. "They were trying to sound like good characters in movies and they were failing to sound like that, and I wanted to do a story about one of those kids."

Adding, "I wanted to do a story about being alive where the main stress of the main character was that the movie of her life wasn’t interesting, because I do think that’s what it means to be alive right now, especially young and online."