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‘Eighth Grade’ director Bo Burnham: ‘Facebook is dead’

The writer-director talks social media, influencers and the slow death of Facebook

Isabelle Aron
Written by
Isabelle Aron

Teenage YouTuber. Stand-up comedian. Film director. Bo Burnham hasn’t exactly followed a traditional career trajectory. As he makes his directorial debut with ‘Eighth Grade’ – a film about being an awkward teenager (which obviously involves a lot of time on Instagram) – we ask him about his YouTube days and how to make a movie about social media without being cringe.

Social media has changed massively

‘When I was on YouTube in 2006 it was a bulletin board where I posted videos of me singing songs. If I’d had to exist in the world that Kayla [in ‘Eighth Grade’] does – of talking about yourself and presenting your soul – I don’t know what I would have done.’

Facebook is done

‘I’d originally written Facebook into “Eighth Grade” but Elsie Fisher [who plays the main character] let me know that Facebook is dead – no kid uses it. There’s a generational gap between me and people three years younger, which is like, “Wow, you had Twitter in high school? That’s crazy!” [Formats like] vinyl, cassettes and CDs used to change every ten years; with social media, it’s every six months.’

Social media is setting the world on fire and putting it out at the same time

It’s not just about influencers

‘Everyone points at all the loud, annoying people on the internet [as representative of their] generation, but this isn’t a generation full of narcissists, it’s a self-conscious generation being told to express themselves. I feel for them.’

The most interesting videos aren’t the viral ones

‘I’m digging into the rawer version of the internet, not the one where a person has a million followers. I’d watch videos with 12 or 13 views of a girl monologuing about how to be confident.’

Elsie Fisher as Kayla Day in ‘Eighth Grade’

Instagram is really tough to fake for a film

‘We had to make hundreds of fake Instagram accounts, which was a nightmare for the props department. Even figuring how to reset DMs to do another take and making sure the clock on the screen is right when it’s daytime outside and we’ve blacked out the windows. It was not easy.’

Social media could destroy us – or save us

‘I’m ambivalent about social media. It’s sort of setting the world on fire and putting it out at the same time.’

‘Eighth Grade’ opens Fri Apr 26. Read our review here.

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