EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures Worldwide has just taken most international territories to Bo Burnham’s Sundance Film Festival indie feature Eighth Grade, which in the wake of a fantastic Rotten Tomatoes score of 98% certified is being primed for awards season by A24.
The Scott Rudin-Eli Bush-produced movie, which marks 27-year old comedian Burnham’s foray into feature film directing counts $13.5M at the domestic box office, and was one of the few fiction indie mainstays at the summer’s specialty box office which was dominated by documentary films. While awards and big box office are always wonderful to go hand in hand, Eighth Grade is a reminder of how prestige matters more in the awards race than ticket sales. The pic, which was shot over roughly 30 days, surpassed such Oscar-nominated Sundance faves as Fox Searchlight’s Beasts of the Southern Wild ($12.7M), another summer breakout from six years ago. Eighth Grade played evenly to those under and over 25 per PostTrak at 50/50 with females leading at close to 60% attracting both sophisticated arthouse audiences at such venues like the Landmark at Pico and Brooklyn’s Alamo Drafthouse with 13-17 year olds repping 21% of the crowd in the pic’s first two weeks. Females under 25 and the 18-24 bunch loved Eighth Grade the most with close to an 80% overall positive score on PostTrak. While most studios cry about how hard it is to get digitally distracted teens into the theater, A24 further hooked the demo with its free rating-less screening of Eighth Grade across all 50 states on Aug. 8.
Top critics on RT gave Burnham a near perfect score for his feature directorial debut with New York Post saying “Writer-director Bo Burnham, in his feature debut, skillfully intertwines the timeless aspects of adolescent humiliation and the very particular ways in which today’s tech has changed them” while older critics such as the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern didn’t turn their nose up at the movie exclaiming, “Poignantly funny, wrenchingly wise and meltingly beautiful, Eighth Grade is a not-so-small miracle of independent filmmaking.”
Burnham is arguably something of an overnight success. I tracked him early on in his career; he was there at the birth of YouTube in 2006 posting hysterical of himself playing raunchy but brilliant ditties about the perils of adolescence like “New Math”. His piano ballad “My Whole Family Thinks I’m Gay” caught on fire and he was literally pulled out of his high school class and signed by his then agency Gersh via phone. He was invited to perform at the Montreal Comedy Festival where he caught the attention of Judd Apatow who became a mentor of his scripted work. Burnham starred in Apatow’s TV series Yo Teach…!, his movie Funny People and The Big Sick. Currently at Paramount, Burnham has another teen dramedy in the hopper over there, Gay Kid and Fat Chick with Amy York Rubin attached to direct. The project centers on two high school outcasts who turn the tables on those who are bullying them and their classmates.
Rudin and Bush had been reading Burnham’s screenplays for some time, and took to Eighth Grade‘s original voice about the middle school experience. They’ve nurtured and propelled a number of first-time filmmakers in the kudo season, read Greta Gerwig last year with her semi-autobiographical Lady Bird which yielded five Oscar noms including recognition for Gerwig’s writing and directing and best picture. Like Lady Bird A24 co-financed the film with AIC. Rudin is also behind Jonah Hill’s feature directorial, also a teen drama from A24, mid90s set against the street-skate boarder culture in Los Angeles and starring House With a Clock In Its Walls child actor Sunny Suljic.
The stand-out here in Eighth Grade has been fresh face Elsie Fisher, who Burnham, much like his own discovery, found in an online video of the Despicable Me voiceover actress. He was transfixed by her voice after reading several actresses. “She walked in and the lights came on and then the lights went off,” he told Deadline sister publication IndieWire. “The movie was alive when she read it and just dead every other time. Almost incoherent every other time. … Every other kid, it felt like they were playing Kayla and she felt like she was being Kayla, playing all the people Kayla wants to be, in every moment.”
Eighth Grade is now available to own on digital and will hit Blu-Ray, VOD and DVD on Oct. 9.