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Bottoms Director Emma Seligman on the Queer Comedy, Her Approach to Its Fight Scenes, and Why More Money Really Does Mean More Problems

After breaking out with the very Jewish comedy Shiva Baby in 2020, director Emma Seligman and actress Rachel Sennott drew the attention of Hollywood and quickly reteamed for MGM’s Bottoms, a queer feminist high school comedy about a group of girls who start a fight club under the guise of self-defense with the aim of — what else? — winning over cheerleaders.

Seligman and Sennott co-wrote the screenplay together, just as they did for Shiva Baby, only this time, instead of being joined by Molly Gordon, they’re joined by their other NYU cohort Ayo Edebiri, who is arguably as busy as any actress in Hollywood right now.

Sennott and Edebiri lead a young ensemble that’s game for just about anything — Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber, Nicholas Galitzine, Miles Fowler, Ruby Cruz, Summer Joy Campbell, and Zamani Wilder — as well as former NFL star running back Marshawn Lynch, who plays the “club’s” advisor.

Bottoms is one of several raunchy comedies that have launched out of SXSW of late, including Joy Ride, which opened earlier this summer. It had one of the year’s best openings in limited release, and the film expands into roughly 700 theaters this weekend with the wind in its sails thanks to strong word-of-mouth and good reviews.

Above the Line recently spoke to Emma Seligman, who said that writing the script was a five-year process, and they were rewriting it right up until they shot the film last year. Seligman also opened up about some of the challenges that came with having a larger budget to direct her sophomore feature, which was shot with an “incredible crew” in New Orleans, which came with its own set of unique trials and tribulations, including termites.

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Ayo Edibiri, Emma Seligman, and Rachel Sennott on the set of Bottoms/Patti Perret/Orion Releasing

Above the Line: It’s so nice to see you again, Emma. So tell me, what was the genesis behind Bottoms?

Emma Seligman: It’s so nice to see you, too… I just wanted to make a movie that I could see myself in, growing up in the world of high school sex comedies, but also, high school adventure, hero’s arc kind of fight-to-save-the-girl stories. I started writing it with Rachel, who is such a talented, funny comedian. She brought her sort of absurdity to it and then we went from there.

ATL: How long did it take to work on the script?

Seligman: We finished our first draft within a year. We weren’t writing it every single day. I was writing Shiva Baby at the same time. We took a long break in between. But then, of course, we wrote multiple drafts after that, once we started feeling ready to get notes. We were rewriting it up until we shot, which was last year, so it was a five-year process.

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Bottoms image via Orion Releasing

ATL: How much room was there for improv in the film?

Seligman: A ton. Almost too much, to the point where I was getting nervous about how difficult it was going to be to edit because we were having so much fun and going off the rails.

ATL: Bottoms obviously represents a change of pace from Shiva Baby, as there’s a lot more physical action. In what ways were you looking to challenge yourself as a filmmaker on this one?

Seligman: I wanted to challenge myself when it came to visually representing actual bad, bloody, gnarly fighting. I didn’t want it to look super fake and I didn’t want to throw in a bunch of stunt doubles. I wanted to figure out, with my amazing DP [Maria Rusche], how to actually make these girls look like they’re really kicking each other’s asses, and see them grow from being bad to good, and having the style of the filmmaking reflect that. Working with special effects, working with VFX, and just literally the stunts themselves, were all challenges I was excited about.

ATL: Outside of that, what was the most challenging aspect of the production?

Seligman: I think just the sheer size of it. It was so many people, so many more locations [than] I was used to, so many extras, and a huge, huge crew. I think that when there’s more money, there [are] always more problems in terms of more things [that] can go wrong. More equipment, more people… COVID.

I think that the biggest challenges came from just my inexperience and inability to understand when a problem was happening [or] why it was happening, but I knew that [it] was going to happen. It was just a matter of letting go and trying to learn on my feet.

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Marshawn Lynch in Bottoms/Orion Releasing

ATL: What was it like filming in the New Orleans area?

Seligman: It was fun but also challenging. Everyone there was amazing — [an] incredible, incredible, local crew. There was just a night where there were flying termites that were dying in the sky, literally mating on us, and they covered all of us. They’re attracted to light, so obviously, a film set is a hot spot for them, so that was interesting.

I had a really good time. It was fun to be in a city [I’d] never been to before and to spend four months there and get to know the people. The surroundings were really beautiful and definitely something specific to working on a film production that I’m grateful for.

ATL: How thrilled were you to get back to SXSW this year for the premiere of Bottoms after missing out on the opportunity to have an in-person premiere for Shiva Baby in 2020 because of COVID?

Seligman: It was a dream to be at South By, and quite surreal. I felt like it more than made up for the missed experience with Shiva Baby. I think I felt, leading up to it, I didn’t want to jinx it. In my mind, I was like, I can’t let myself get excited [about] it because I don’t know if it’s going to happen, even though there would be no reason to suggest that it wouldn’t happen at that point. But it was a dream. Playing at the Paramount on Saturday night, it was unexpected, and the audience there was incredible.

I feel like, going to film festivals — I ran into you at Tribeca — going to film festivals again has reminded me what I missed out on with Shiva Baby that I didn’t really feel [at the time] because I was still doing virtual Q&A’s and stuff throughout 2020. [But] it’s been a wonderful, wonderful experience getting to actually show the movie with real audiences, including at South by Southwest.

ATL: Yeah. There is nothing like waiting in line and hearing the buzz about what’s good and what you should clear your schedule for.

Seligman: Exactly, yes. Yeah. It’s a wonderful environment to be in. Yeah.

ATL: Especially for comedy movies — getting to share that feeling of discovery with an audience is not the same as watching by yourself when you’re home alone.

Seligman: There really isn’t [a comparable feeling/experience]. It’s nice to know that people were still watching so much during COVID and that Shiva Baby found its audience online and whatnot, but there’s nothing better than hearing an audience laugh in a theater, whether it’s your movie or not. When it’s your movie, it feels so validating because you’re like, “Oh, my G-d, I think this was worth it.” [Bottoms] was worth all the hard work and everything. South By definitely delivered on that, for sure.

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Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edibiri in Bottoms/Orion Releasing

ATL: With the double strikes going on at the moment and actors not being able to promote the film on social media or take part in press, are you worried about the film not finding an audience?

Seligman: Not really. I should be, probably, but I’m not because [with] Shiva Baby, no one knew who Rachel was and we barely had press on that, and our audience found it. I trust that our audience will find Bottoms as well.

ATL: What do you hope people take away from watching the film?

Seligman: I just hope that they laugh. I just hope that they have fun. They don’t need to think too deeply about it.

ATL: It was so good getting to see you again and it was so great bumping into you two months ago during Tribeca. The last time I saw you in person was probably South By in 2018 because we did a Zoom interview for Shiva Baby in 2020 and I remember my internet cut out or something.

Seligman: Yeah, I remember that. Yes. It’s coming back to me… it was so fun running into you, and yeah, I’m so glad we got to do this… I look forward to talking to you next time.

ATL: Congrats again on the film. It’s so much fun.

Seligman: Thank you.

Bottoms expands into hundreds of more theaters this weekend courtesy of MGM.

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