I Saw the TV Glow: Filmmaker and Star Open Up About Hypnotic Coming-of-Age Experience

Genre films provide a unique experience for adolescents, employing metaphorical narratives to explore real-world fears. Jane Schoenbrun’s “I Saw the TV Glow” echoes these adolescent anxieties with a dream-like quality, delving into complex themes of gender identity, depression, and loneliness. The film offers a captivating journey that captures the intrigue of spooky stories while grappling with profound issues. “I Saw the TV Glow” opens in limited release on May 3rd and nationwide on May 17th.

Brigette Lundy-Pain portrays Maddy, a teenager consumed by her love for “The Pink Opaque,” a mysterious series that mirrors real-life shows like “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” When Maddy shares “The Pink Opaque” with Owen (Justice Smith), it becomes their refuge from real-world trauma. However, when the series abruptly ends, a thrilling mystery unfolds, intertwining reality and fiction.

ComicBook.com connected with Schoenbrun and Lundy-Paine to discuss the inception and production of their new film.

I Saw the TV Glow: Filmmaker and Star Open Up About Hypnotic Coming-of-Age Experience
(Photo: A24)

Growing up, what was the equivalent of “Pink Opaque”? A secret world that provided immersive escapism? And what advice would you give to young people who have identified their own “Pink Opaque”?

Despite not being a TV-obsessed youth, Brigette Lundy-Paine held a deep admiration for Seth Cohen in “The O.C.” during her high school years. Adam Brody’s portrayal of the character resonated strongly with her.

“If I could go back and advise my younger self, I would emphasize the importance of self-reflection and solitude. Minimize social interactions that don’t contribute positively and focus on developing your own thoughts and interests. Don’t waste energy on conforming to social norms for the sake of acceptance.”

As a deeply personal film, I believe different aspects of the filmmaking process offered therapeutic benefits. The writing process allowed me to process emotions and experiences, while shooting provided a cathartic release. However, the most therapeutic element may be the release of the film itself, as it enables me to connect with audiences who resonate with its themes. Through these interactions, I gain a sense of validation and community.

Jane Schoenbrun: Definitely not releasing the movie. That’s what therapy is for.

It’s rewarding to share my movie and observe people’s emotional responses, but public appearances and promotion are a different beast. I find an element of enjoyment in engaging in public conversations and banter, but by that stage, the creative process is complete. Promotion, in essence, feels like a distinct aspect.

For personal films that strive for authenticity, it becomes redundant to attempt further explanation. Being trans in society today is a complex experience, and while it may warrant exploration in future work, it is not the primary focus I intend to address.

For me, the writing process is where I delve deeply into exploration. Unlike explaining, I aim to investigate and grapple with personal experiences through writing. For example, I wrote a film soon after beginning transition, when my world was being re-evaluated. As I embraced an uncertain future, the writing became an expression of my experience, capturing the feelings without explicitly describing them.

The most engaging part of the filmmaking process is where I connect most deeply with the personal, leading to a transformative experience. Creating a movie is enjoyable and playful, like playing in a sandbox with other creatives. However, editing the film brings me back to that initial connection but with a focus on refining the experience for the audience, ensuring they have the most profound engagement with the final product.

The scene showcasing Sloppy Jane and King Woman’s performance in a small dive bar evoked intense frustration, as it highlighted the unlikelihood of witnessing such a spectacle in the near future.

Come and see King Woman perform live at Saint Vitus in the next couple of months.

The development of the movie soundtrack involved curating playlists or mix tapes for the artists involved. These playlists served as a way to communicate the film’s themes and atmosphere. It would be interesting to examine whether these playlists had any common threads or themes that resonated across the artists’ responses.

The soundtrack aimed to provide personalized experiences for each artist involved. While working with contemporary artists, the team sought to extract unique origins or identify unexpected sounds, primarily from the 1990s. These sounds were curated to present intriguing paths for the artists to explore and potentially incorporate into their own work.

For instance, Frances Quinlan of Hop Along contributed a new song to the soundtrack. I shared trip-hop-influenced music with her, such as Portishead and Garbage, as I admired her vocal style and believed it would be intriguing to explore that genre in her work.

When curating music, I aim to provide direction that artists can choose to explore. I believe that the most effective approach involves creating a framework and allowing artists to interact as they wish. While some may prefer to follow their own process, I remain present and willing to collaborate, providing space for them to showcase their unique talents.

From the outset, the soundtrack held great importance. It was part of a lineage indebted to both music and soundtracks as art. I aimed for a soundtrack that could hold its own against the best teen angst soundtracks of all time. During the initial pitch to A24, I expressed my desire to create the best soundtrack since “Garden State” and one that would resonate for generations. The process was immensely enjoyable, involving selecting artists and collaborating to infuse the soundtrack with the intimacy of a mixtape, not the impersonal feel of a promotional item.

Out of the numerous intimate conversations between Brigette and Justice’s characters and the poignant monologue near the end of the film, there was a particular scene that resonated deeply with the actor. This scene held special significance due to its personal connection, serving as a pivotal moment in the actor’s anticipation to embody the character’s emotions. Additionally, another scene was identified as crucial, with the belief that its successful execution would ensure a seamless flow for the entirety of the film.

I was eager to film the monologue, having prepared extensively. It was like it had been bubbling up within me. Emma Portner’s choreography brought it to life, and I felt a sense of urgency to capture it, knowing its significance. The monologue encapsulated the entire movie’s arc, and mastering it would pave the way for a deeper understanding of the plot.

After the initial challenges, the remaining work flowed smoothly. While I hesitated over certain scenes, like the one on the bleachers, Jane’s guidance and encouragement helped me overcome my anxieties. I was determined to capture the precise tone, and with their support, I was able to confidently execute it.

The film “I Saw the TV Glow” debuts in select theaters on May 3rd and expands nationwide on May 17th.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Contact Patrick Cavanaugh on Twitter.

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