Bottoms director Emma Seligman on making 'a teen sex comedy with queer girls at the centre'
The Canadian director’s latest film follows two high school best friends who start an all-girl fight club
Emma Seligman isn't even 30 yet and she's already been compared to Steven Spielberg and Orson Welles.
The Canadian director's debut feature, Shiva Baby, received a ton of awards and nominations, including the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award, various festival and critics' accolades and a place on numerous best-of lists.
Her latest feature, Bottoms, is an unabashedly queer romp. It stars Shiva Baby's Rachel Sennott (who co-wrote the script) and The Bear's Ayo Edebiri as high school best friends who hatch a scheme to lose their virginities to cheerleaders by starting an all-girl fight club.
"I just really wanted to make a teen sex comedy with queer girls at the centre of it because I love that genre so much, and Rachel really wanted to make a comedy for women that was horny," Seligman tells Q's Tom Power with a laugh, adding "I don't know if I can say horny [on the CBC]."
As you might expect from the film's unhinged premise, producers and studios were hesitant to green-light Seligman's script, or even let her pitch it to them.
There was no, 'OK, we'll do it if you make it less violent, or less gay or, or less sexual.'- Emma Seligman
"Honestly, we just got a lot of polite nos," says the director. "We didn't even really get to the stage of pitching it, but our producers at Brownstone — Elizabeth Banks's company — just responded really well to it … and then the same thing happened with our studio, Orion, which is like a lower budget arm of MGM.
"Every other studio didn't even want to let us pitch it to them, which is fine. But once we found our people, each step of the way, they were like, 'Oh, I get it.' There was no, 'OK, we'll do it if you make it less violent, or less gay or, or less sexual.' So it was pretty easy once we found our right partners."
WATCH | Official trailer for Bottoms:
According to Seligman, the only thing that's different between the film's original script and its finished draft is "just how absurd it is."
"I think when we first were writing the script, it was even more nonsensical," she tells Power. "We really didn't care to have the audience care at all about the characters or their emotional growth. I think we felt that too often in female comedies, a sort of emotional arc and a deep care for the friendship is shoved down the audience's throat when we really just want to be entertained, and laugh and watch them make questionable choices.
"So that's the only thing that changed with some gentle encouragement from our producers in studio: to ask us what are these characters going through and how are they feeling and what is going on in their friendship? But other than that, it stayed just as bloody and gay as it was originally written."
With how hilariously violent Bottoms is, Seligman had to learn a few new skills as a director, like choreographing fight scenes.
"It was really fun, honestly," she says about planning the stunts. "I mean, it's very challenging, but I hope to always do something new and different that pushes me beyond my comfort zone."
Seligman says the most important response she's received to the film has been from "young queers who have said that they feel represented by it."
"I've even seen something online going around like, 'We need more girl failures, not girl bosses.' And so I think that seeing and hearing from queer teens and young queer people who've responded well to the movie and feel seen in it makes me really, really happy…. That was my only goal: to try to make some queer teen feel seen and represented and just laugh."
The full interview with Emma Seligman is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Interview with Emma Seligman produced by Lise Hosein.