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The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of I Saw the TV Glow.

Jane, this film has so much depth and vision. It’s obvious how much thought and work went into it. Can you talk about where the inspiration came from?
Jane Schoenbrun: Thank you. I know, it’s crazy. They take a lot of work. I made my first film right before the pandemic. It was called We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. And I made that film after working in the New York independent film world for about ten years. I think I knew more than most filmmakers about the ways in which the system isn’t necessarily set up to support radical art making. And I made my first film for no money. I made it in the woods with like ten people. I’m glad I did that so I could make a movie that was fully on my own terms. And I’m really proud of it; it was such a deeply personal film, but I think by starting my fledgling film career by doing a project like that, it allowed me to make something this radical with the budget. And through the process of making World’s Fair, I figured out I was trans. I think that film was very much me looking for myself through the process of trying to unpack why I was so scared to make my own work as an artist. By the time I finished that movie and it premiered at Sundance, I had come out, I had started to physically transition, and I was very early in the process. And this was also when TV came out onto the page. It was a very intense time not only because early transition is a very precarious time, but it was like a complete reappraisal of everything that I had thought of as my life as like a 32-year-old married quote unquote straight person. It was also this time of possibility, but in a very fledgling way. Early transition, you’re running very quickly towards something that you kind of can’t even imagine yet. It’s very raw, and so much of what felt raw about it was trying to recontextualize everything that had happened over the first thirty years of my life instead of thinking of it as… just how life is. It almost felt like so many of the things that I thought of as home were actually keeping me from myself, because I knew that the price of entry to that world was repression.

Writing this movie in the first month or two of physical transition while all of that was so present, and none of the good parts of transition had really started yet—like meeting Brigette—I was just really trying to capture it. I was trying not to necessarily explain it to an audience, but to make something that felt as overwhelming and did justice to the complexities of it without watering it down. To aid audiences. I loved television as a kid and it made sense to return to this sort of fixation of being so obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer that I cared more about those character’s high school experiences than I did my own. It felt like a natural way to continue talking about the ways that we cope before we’re ready to see ourselves as trans people.

what felt important to me was really believing in what Maddy believed

Brigette, what was your first impression of the script?
Brigette Lundy-Paine: I had met Jane on Zoom, and I think I read the script right after, and watched World’s Fair at the same time.

JS: At the very same time?

BLP: Oh yeah, I was like [imitates going back and forth between the two]. I was really moved by the script because I felt that it was like being at the mouth of a cave and I was only seeing the very beginnings of what it would mean to me. And I felt the colors and the vibrations of it so vividly and palpably in a way that I hadn’t been reading in other scripts in a long time, or maybe ever. I also just loved the character of Maddy right away, and I loved the way that the teen dialogue was used. It was familiar, but it felt very self-aware. I could just feel how smart Jane was and how I would get to say these things that I’d read in scripts before, like “I’m getting out of this town,” but I’d get to say it with real devastation! And I really loved meeting Jane, which lent itself so much to my understanding of the script, and then there was no turning back.

I really appreciate how earnest your performance is. Did the two of you have discussions about the allegory of the film, or did you play it very directly based on what was in the script?
BLP: We had a lot of discussions about the allegory. Jane and I would meet every week for a while, and they would tell me about the character of Maddy, and their ideas about Maddy, and then they told me the sort of lore of TV Glow and what The Pink Opaque meant within the story and the world of the show. And I think that the trans allegory was very natural for me to play. I always knew that that would be a part of doing this character but what felt more important to me was really believing in what Maddy believed. And really understanding the literal extremes she went to in order to save herself.

The use of color and the look of the film is so unique. Did you have any idea what you were going to see on screen when you were playing it?
BLP: Sort of. Jane is a very detailed and precise filmmaker and so much of the preparation for the film was about the color and the shape of it. Jane and their friend Albert Birney spent two weeks or so in Baltimore. Albert is an amazing artist, and they drew like every shot of the film…

JS: Like twenty shots, okay! That’s all there was. We didn’t count it.  

BLP: And then later, Jane and Eric [Yue] did the same thing with photographing every shot.

JS: Yes. There are some big differences between making a movie for no money and making a movie with actual resources. But you do lose certain things—I missed a lot of what I got to do with no money and the nimbleness that that buys you. Not in terms of what you end up seeing on screen, but in terms of, mechanically, what a crew can pull off. Because having a lot of people in different departments makes nimbleness harder on set. Shout out Elias! But I knew that what it did buy me was this opportunity to paint and create beautiful images and worlds that aren’t just like, “oh I like that building so let me go shoot it.” And, yeah, Albert and I made these collages that he then animated, just tinkering with the most detailed little things, like the color of the green of the grass, and when the TV is burning…

The green of the vegetables in the grocery store when Maddy and Owen reconnect was really beautiful too.
JS: Well, that was actually just a location scout find. I had a totally different idea for that scene, and we were on our way out, and then I was like, wait, there’s something weird about this place. And it was the giant vegetables printed up on the wall!  I was like, I must film that.

BLP: What was Owen going to make with those leeks?

JS: Soup?

BLP: Soup!

JS:  He eats raw leeks. It’s free from the midnight grill.

Speaking of actually having a greater scale and a greater budget, what was the coolest special effect that you got to deploy in this film?
JS: I mean, I loved making the monsters. From the very beginning, I remember thinking, for the next film? Let’s go monsters. Just getting to create monsters from scratch and in the way that we did it with a lot of practical makeup effects and people in the makeup chair for like ten hours for one shot. Watching that process come to life and really trying to take a creative role in it was so rewarding. One thing that was very important to me with special effects in the film—whether it was practical or CGI, because we did a bunch of both—was that I really wanted it to feel handmade. The goal wasn’t Marvel-like, state of the art contemporary quality. The goal was something that feels within the realm of my personality. The CGI people made the mistake a few times of showing me an early rendering before they were done, and then they would have their fleet of amazing animators make it look really good. But I always took a camera phone picture of the earlier version that they had showed me over Zoom, and I would tell them we had to bring it back to that. So I forced them to take the 2024 state of the art work to like 1994 state of the art. Whether I’m conscious of it or not, I think I’m pulling from this lineage of seeing weird stuff on the internet and what sticks with me or haunts me are indelible images that aren’t necessarily showing you the most or the clearest view. It’s fuzz and it’s atmosphere and it’s distortion. With Mr. Melancholy, especially at the end of the movie when you see him, that was one that we tinkered with obsessively to try to make it look both really good and impressive, but also… wrong in some way.

Can you two talk about working on that pivotal scene at the planetarium with Brigette’s monologue?
BLP: The transition from teenage Maddy to Maddy coming back was delightful to prepare for. There’s three Maddy’s. There’s baby Maddy at fourteen who’s sort of an emo skater kid, hasn’t quite landed in the physical world but knows she has something to protect. And she has complete childlike wonder about The Pink Opaque show. And then second Maddy is like Courtney Love, she’s angry and punk. She’s experienced abuse in the home. At least we assume she has an abusive stepfather. I can never actually tell if she’s joking about him breaking her nose. But she’s definitely familiar with violence in a way. Then, when she comes back at the end, she’s been completely transformed into a different being. As she says in the monologue, “I’m me again.” And what that “me” felt like to me and Jane, what we talked about, was this creature that’s almost crawled out of the gutter. But she also feels to me a little cowboy like Harry Dean Stanton or like Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy, but less plucky. She’s got something to say. The planetarium scene was broken up into five sections, I think. Emma Portner, who played the monsters, did some choreography on it, and that was super effective even though it was so simple. We worked on it for a year. I had a lot of time with it so I knew it really, really well. By the time we got there, I was able to just open my mouth and it spilled out.

JS: Bridge is such a wonderful performer and human being and when I met them it was very early in the process, and I wasn’t even thinking about casting. I was just incredibly moved to have the opportunity to explore transition and evolution of self with them and give them the freedom to build the character. Watching them, I realized that it was amazing.