Director Emma Seligman’s raunchy, violent follow-up to Shiva Baby, which stars co-writer Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri, follows its protagonist’s efforts to win over cheerleaders by starting an all-female fight club at their high school. It’s a hilarious endeavor, one that features a number of impressive stunts.
Below the Line spoke to stunt coordinator Deven MacNair about working with a group of actresses trained primarily in comedy, and how the film’s sets proved advantageous to being prepared to shift from rehearsal space to actual shooting locations.
MacNair also detailed how her stunt work closely overlaps with intimacy coordination, a field that she’s been a part of since it first began, and the overall challenge of ensuring that violence in comedy plays the right way.
Below The Line: Had you heard of or seen Shiva Baby before finding out about this project?
Deven MacNair: I did. I did my own little research on it, yes, and I absolutely loved Rachel in it. Absolutely.
BTL: Do you think that gave you the proper expectations for what Bottoms was going to be?
MacNair: It helped me realize where we’re going, is the right way to say it. I think Bottoms took it to a different level, of sexuality, and well, just a different level.
BTL: Do you enjoy the process of doing what I would describe as comedy stunts, or do you feel that it’s all stunt work, and that’s just an element of it?
MacNair: That’s a great question. You got me there, Abe. I like all of it, let’s face facts, and I usually don’t get to make the choice, or I can make a choice is probably the right way to say it. To me, this one was a little delicate, because, yes, it’s a comedy, but there is some violence. Violence should be respected, and where are we going with this? To me, it was a really a difficult challenge for Emma, our director, and I thought Emma just did it great, because there’s a lot of laughter in that movie.
BTL: That’s an important distinction, right? It’s not that the stunts themselves are comedy, it’s that there’s something funny about what’s happening, but everything is still very real. And this is a very bloody and violent movie.
MacNair: Right. Oh yeah! Especially the Tucker and Hazel fight was very violent and made you really think, wait, is this funny? Is this uncomfortable? And the answer to all of that is yes.
BTL: I assume you’re also working a lot with actresses who are used to doing comedy and don’t tend to have stunts involved in a lot of their work.
MacNair: Yeah. These actresses were really excited to get started and start the stunt rehearsals. They were like, “We’re going to stunt rehearsal, let’s go!” They were really excited. And as we went through our training, they just kept getting better and better, and I had to really stop and remind them, look, you guys are looking great and you’re looking badass.
Now here’s the unfortunate part. We’ve got to go backwards again, because your first day of fight club, you better not look badass. So remember how green you were and how awkward punching was just a few days ago in our first rehearsals, because we can’t have you looking too good at first. You’ve got to look like newbies, you know? So that’s when their awesome acting skills really come into play.
BTL: Is there an advantage to having most of these big, intense stunt scenes happen in a gym or a place where people would typically be fighting like this?
MacNair: Ooh, good question. Yeah, it gave us the space to recreate that in rehearsal, because a lot of times when we do rehearsals for stunts, let’s just say it’s around a kitchen table and then there’s a water cooler, and we don’t have any of those available to us for the rehearsal. We do a lot of pretend like, oh, pretend this is the water cooler, and pretend this is a table, and it’s a box. It’s just a box that we made from Home Depot, and we do a lot with boxes. But you’re right. The fact that this was on a football field or this was in a basketball gym, a very blank space, really helped with having our rehearsals be as real as on the day of filming.
BTL: For those who haven’t seen the film, I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a big climactic football field scene that feels like that had to be the most involved part of the film.
MacNair: Oh yeah, we worked on that. We were on nights for that. We were on nights – wait for this – for days. For days at a time, for weeks at a time. We’d start at 6:00pm and then go until 6:00am. And we had to fight the sun, because getting all those shots in and then watching the sun come up, it was hard.
BTL: You’re the stunt coordinator – did you do any of the stunts yourself?
MacNair: I did, hilariously that you asked. You can barely see me, but in the very first scene where they’re at the fair that the PTA moms put on, I’m in the background on a football, a mechanical football, and I’m riding it with a bright Barbie pink sequined hat on. I’m riding a mechanical football, and I laugh because, when I saw that, I said, “Guys, that’s a stunt.” And I told the producers, “Who do you want? What kind of person do you want? Do you want it male, female, black, white, Asian? Who do you want?” And they just looked at me and they looked at each other and then they passed me an eight by ten. And by the way, I don’t know where they got that eight by ten, and it was an old eight by ten of me, and they were like, “What about this lady?” And I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” So yeah, if you go back to the first scene, there is a lady in the background riding a mechanical football, and that’s me.
BTL: Does that happen a lot that people don’t realize that certain pieces of a film that you’re already working on involve stunts?
MacNair: Yeah. Or they don’t realize maybe how complicated it is or the risk factor. And just things that can go wrong. So I’m just there to remind actors, actresses, and the director of, like, “Hey, this is what we can do and this is what we need to talk about and figure out a safe way to do some things.”
BTL: Looking over your credits, I was intrigued to see that you also work often as an intimacy coordinator. Those are not two things I would have thought would go together.
MacNair: Oh, they really go together. I have found myself as a stunt coordinator, being a female, doing a lot of rape scenes, so I did a lot of rape choreography for a lot of films. It easily transitions into intimacy coordination. Interestingly enough, I made sure that I would not be the intimacy coordinator on Bottoms. There was another person doing intimacy coordinating, because I like keeping the lines. I’m a stunt coordinator on this show, and that’s where I stay in my lane, and then intimacy coordinating is a completely different lane, and I don’t want those two to mix.
BTL: Well, it seems like they’re both about making people feel more comfortable with things that need to look real, but definitely aren’t.
MacNair: Absolutely. And choreographed, and no surprises on the day. That’s where intimacy coordinating has come in, where, before, it made people so uncomfortable, even just your average love scene. Oh, so and so is going to undress somebody and they’re going to take off her bra. It’s like, “Oh, we’ll figure that out on the day.” It’s like, “No, no. Let’s talk about this. Let’s figure out each move, and let’s make sure each actor is completely comfortable with it before we start filming.” Because we’ll make adjustments, just like we would in stunts.
BTL: Do you think that the field of intimacy coordination has really progressed a lot over the years?
MacNair: Oh yeah. I’ve been with it since the beginning. 2016 is when it actually became a term in our, in SAG-AFTRA’s world, is probably the right way to say it. I’ve been a part of it since 2016. And when we started, agents, managers, didn’t know about it. To be fair now, in their contracts and in their riders, especially their riders, the actors’ riders, there is a sentence that says an intimacy coordinator will be present for any closed set scenes. So it’s the actors that are propelling intimacy coordinating into the next realm.
BTL: I feel like Bridgeton was one of the things that sort of gave it a little bit more visibility recently.
MacNair: Right. And then there’s the SNL skit on intimacy coordinating, which just cracks me up. It does crack me up.
BTL: Is there any any hint of accuracy in there or it’s really just so far from things?
MacNair: The SNL skit, which is hilarious, they keep going, if you’re comfortable, let’s talk about doing it this way. And that part is, of course, true, and then, yeah, they take it a little extra. But it still makes me laugh. We can laugh at ourselves.
BTL: As I was looking through your other credits, back to the stunt coordinating work, what stood out to me was Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss.
MacNair: Oh my god, not many people – continue, continue.
BTL: I saw it at Tribeca and it definitely had the whole title, including something about Storsh, which I guess, by the time they released it, they trimmed off a few extra words there.
MacNair: Yes, and when I worked on it, it was called Corpse Tub. That was the whole name of it, and I love that name.
BTL: I’m not sure I can think of a comedy where more people die violent deaths in such a short amount of time. It must have been a blast doing those stunts.
MacNair: It was the sweetest film. It was a very, very indie, very sweet film. I’m sad it didn’t get more play time. It might be this sleeper hit that in ten years, everyone’s going to be like, “Have you seen it?” I don’t know. We’ll see. We’ll see where it goes. I love that it’s just a sweet film. Thank you.
BTL: It shouldn’t be, but it is, yes. Well, so that and Bottoms are definitely dark comedies. Do you prefer comedy versus drama when you’re doing stunt coordination?
MacNair: I like the variety. I definitely like the variety. It’s an easier day when you’re on a comedy, right? Usually. Bottoms is this fine line of, they’re using violence, but in a comedic way, which I struggled with because if you don’t get it just right, it’s not going to read well. That’s where I’m very impressed with Emma and the director of photography, Maria Rusche. They did just a fabulous job balancing everything.
BTL: Do you have any genre or project that you feel like you haven’t had a chance to do yet that you’d love to try?
MacNair: Ooh, god, great question. I did one where we did the whole film, it’s called Soft and Quiet, in one take, the whole film in one take, and I want to revisit that idea. It’s almost like a live production, except it’s on film, and really it’s a dance between the camera, the camera lady in this one and the actors, and how we can do a whole film with one take. I want to revisit that.
Bottoms is now playing in select cities and will expand nationwide on Friday, Sept. 1.