How a Fight Club Starts in ‘Bottoms’

The director Emma Seligman narrates a sequence from her film featuring Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri.


‘Bottoms’ | Anatomy of a Scene

The director Emma Seligman narrates a sequence from “Bottoms,” featuring Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri.

Hi, my name is Emma Seligman. And I’m the director of ‘Bottoms.’ [MUSIC PLAYING] So in this scene, PJ, who is played by Rachel Sennott, and Josie, who is played by Ayo Edebiri, are about to walk into their first Fight Club meeting. And they’ve spent their time trying to convince hot girls to join the club. But they’re about to discover that the attendees of the meeting are not who they expected. “I love David Fincher.” “Oh my god.” “Well, see.” “I guess Sylvie’s cute if she lost her braces and stopped huffing paint.” “She’ll never stop huffing paint.” So for this scene, it felt important to me to really set up the stakes of what these girls are setting out to do in that they have no idea what they’re doing. So I wanted them to feel the anxiety of all these girls who’ve come expecting to learn self defense looking at them for advice and tips when they made up that they know how to fight. “We’re going to start with dropkicks, tackling, a little bit of knife play, then punch bucket, which is when we throw you in a bucket and we punch you until you bleed.” “Before that, perhaps stretches, icebreakers, and trust falls.” What was written into the script here was that PJ is reminding the girls that they went to juvie, which is a lie and a rumor that’s been started at school. And she’s using the fact that these girls think that they went to juvie to her advantage. And they’re making up stories. And so here she’s asking Josie to pitch in and tell a story of her own from juvie. “Juvie was insane. Once a girl tried to kill me with rat poison, so I took her outside and I punched her ‘til she died.” Josie isn’t as good at lying. And so she makes up this story that kind of goes out of control where she killed a girl. Rachel and Ayo are quite amazing improvisers and had fun making up different versions of what that was, as well as improvising the way that they egg each other on. Rachel certainly improvised how she convinces Josie to throw the punch. “What’s the problem?” “There’s no problem, I’m just — I’m just not going to do it.” “Come on, they want to see the punch.” “They don’t want to see it.” “They want to see — look at them. (WHISPERING) They don’t want to.” “They want to see the punch.” “Who am I going to punch?” “Punch me. Just punch me.” “Punch you?” “Yeah, come on.” “I can punch you?” “Yeah, I know how to take a punch. Something people would always say, ‘PJ knows how to take a punch.’ Come on up. Oh. Ah.” It took quite a few tries to land selling this punch. Getting the angle right, and getting the fist appropriately matching where it needed to go to block Rachel’s nose was quite challenging for some reason.

By Mekado Murphy

In “Anatomy of a Scene,” we ask directors to reveal the secrets that go into making key scenes in their movies. See new episodes in the series on Fridays. You can also watch our collection of more than 150 videos on YouTube and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

In the comedy “Bottoms,” the first rule of fight club is: Learn how to lead a fight club.

PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) have begun a self-defense group at their high school, mostly to meet girls they hope to sleep with. But the small wrench in their plan is that they have no idea how to fight.

In this scene, the two hold their first meeting with a few potential participants in the gymnasium. And to say that they wing it is an understatement. Narrating the sequence, the director Emma Seligman discusses building up the characters’ anxiety, desperation and faux confidence through improvisation.

Read the “Bottoms” review.

Read an interview with Seligman.

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Mekado Murphy is the assistant film editor. He joined The Times in 2006. More about Mekado Murphy

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