BOTTOMS Emma Seligman
B_05405_R (l-r.) Actor Ayo Edebiri, writer/director Emma Seligman and actor/writer Rachel Sennott on the set of BOTTOMS An Orion Pictures Release Photo credit: Patti Perret © 2023 Orion Releasing LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Bottoms director and co-writer Emma Seligman describes her film as a story of “horny teen girls who start a fight club so they can try to impress and hook up with cheerleaders.” One way she knew it was working when she got laughs from the middle-aged dudes on her crew.

“Sometimes people took a while to know what the movie was that they were working on,” she laughs. “And I was so glad when they’d be like, ‘Oh — this is funny. Wait, what’s going on in this movie? This is actually hilarious.”

It is. Seligman and co-writer Rachel Sennott, worked hard to make the film’s charmingly brutal insouciance look so effortless. The film follows two misfit friends played by Sennott and fast-rising The Bear star Ayo Edebiri, who defy all the play-it-safe unspoken rules demanding that queer characters be saintly or victimized or both. Sennott and Edebiri’s PJ and Josie are kind of monsters, sometimes, but aren’t we all.

Seligman, 28, was inspired by the boy-driven teen movies of her youth, like Superbad. “I loved them so, so much. They’re so funny. And those characters are so often so human and shitty and relatable, and allowed to make bad choices, but still have a heart and a soul and a goal.

“I just think we all deserve that. I think every human deserves to see a relatable, complicated, nuanced version of themselves on screen. And I don’t think that I’ve seen it enough for me to feel recognized,” says Seligman. “I know that because when I see a queer female character on screen that’s complicated, and shitty, I feel so excited in a way where I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, OK — this is almost making me sad, because clearly, I don’t see enough of this.'”

Ayo Edebiri (L) as Josie and Rachel Sennott as PJ in Bottoms, an Orion Pictures Release. Photo Credit: Patti Perret © 2023 Orion Releasing LLC. All Rights Reserved.

PJ and Josie feel so ignored or hated by the jocks and cheerleaders at their school — and by their school itself — that they go on the offensive. And make massive mistakes.

“They’re selfish. I think that they’re codependent. I think that they’re impulsive. I don’t think they think about how other people feel,” says Seligman. “I think that that goes to back to being selfish. And they let their hormones sort of make their choices for them. Yeah, that’s kind of it. And I think that — I don’t know — that’s definitely how I felt I was in high school. I didn’t make their choices necessarily, but I was super self-involved. And I don’t really know too many high school students who aren’t that way.”

Emma Seligman on Planning Shiva Baby and Bottoms at the Same Time

Seligman and Sennott met at New York University, and quickly agreed to collaborate. In her early 20s, Seligman did babysitting in the afternoons, and wrote in the mornings, meeting at least weekly with Sennott to work on two separate projects. She remembers a lot of “schlepping around New York with my backpack and my laptop, going up and down the subway.”

“Rachel doesn’t play around. So we were so diligent about meeting all the time to write,” Seligman says. “Someone like Rachel can be so intense: ‘It’s happening, and we’re doing it — we’re making a movie, even if it’s six years from now.'”

Their first major collaboration was Shiva Baby, which Seligman wrote and directed and which stars Sennott as a young Jewish woman who attends a shiva where she runs into her ex-girlfriend and also her sugar daddy — who is with his wife and their screaming baby.

(L-R) Ayo Edebiri stars as Josie, Rachel Sennott as PJ, Zamani Wilder as Annie, Summer Joy Campbell as Sylvie, Havana Rose Liu as Isabel, Kaia Gerber as Brittany and Virginia Tucker as Stella Rebecca in Bottoms, an Orion Pictures Release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of ORION Pictures Inc. © 2023 Orion Releasing LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Seligman and Sennott shot it first as a 2018 short film, and then as a $200,000 feature released in 2020 to a rapturous reception: She was nominated for a Directors Guild Award, and the film won the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award and the National Board of Review Award.

Shiva Baby‘s success brought a lot of questions about what Seligman and Sennott would do next — and the answer was the other project they’d been regularly meeting about, which became Bottoms. Among those who came on board were Elizabeth Banks, an executive producer on the new film.

The budget for Bottoms was in the millions, a huge change from the indie budget of Shiva Baby, which was shot largely in a Brooklyn Airbnb. She was struck by the difference the additional money made.

“You’re like, ‘Whoa, I can’t believe everyone has such a specific role,’ compared to an indie, where everyone’s doing 15 different things and running around with their heads cut off. It’s so set up for you to win. It’s not that people don’t want to support you on an indie, but everyone just wants to know what you want and follow your vision.”

The bigger scale was scary, but also fun: “I was like, ‘Whoa, these lights are big,’ or ‘like, o’Oh my God, we got a crane!’ It was awesome to be able to work with more equipment and special effects. There’s so many more elements at play, at least with this movie, like fog machines and wetting down the streets… it makes everything look so good.”

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It also meant working with people she didn’t know very well — which worked out fine.

“I truly have never worked with so many men in my life. And I remember some of the women on set were like, ‘I’ve never worked with so many women on a set before!’ And I was like, ‘What? There are so many men here.’ I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, everyone’s gonna hate me. They’re gonna think I’m some young woman that doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

But of course she did. Everything went very smoothly, which she credits in large part to cinematographer Maria Rusche.

“Everyone was so so nice. Maria Rusche, my DP, really runs her crew with so much grace — she’s just a quiet, confident, lovely person. And so most of the people on set are working under her, and because she’s this soft-spoken leader, they follow suit.”

She remembers one middle-aged male crew member in particular.

“He said to me, in the nicest, most dad-like way possible, without being condescending, ‘We see you and we know you’re inexperienced. And we’ve got you. We’re here to support you.”

Bottoms is now in theaters.

Main image: (L-R) Actor Ayo Edebiri, writer-director Emma Seligman and actor-writer Rachel Sennott
on the set of Bottoms, an Orion Pictures Release. Photo credit: Patti Perret. © 2023 Orion Releasing LLC. All Rights Reserved.