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‘I Saw the TV Glow’ Is Director Jane Schoenbrun’s Honest, Surreal Exploration of Trans Identity — And A24’s Boldest Horror Movie Yet

Writer-director Jane Schoenbrun’s new film, “I Saw the TV Glow,” is set for a buzzy Sundance premiere, shrouded in secrecy, and could be A24’s biggest horror release of 2024. Yet the heart of the film is delicate and intimate, centered around what the trans community refers to as “the egg crack moment.”

Schoenbrun, who is trans and non-binary, defines the term as “when you stop pretending you’re not trans, trying to desperately find every reason why you’re not, and admit for the first time that you are. That moment can reframe everything in your life.”

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“Glow” is, at its core, a deeply personal story about teenagers finding that moment on their own, with Schoenbrun’s experiences and obsessions adding emotional specificity to every scene. The story follows two teen outcasts (Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine) who bond over “The Pink Opaque,” a cult TV show which makes them both feel seen. When their obsession with the show begins to blur their perception of reality, plenty of surreal images take the film in a more impressionistic direction. But at its core, “Glow” is about young people trying to find their way, from an artist who was finally getting a grip on their own identity.

“My own ‘egg crack’ was at 32,” Schoenbrun says. “When I wrote this movie, I was still very early in my physical transition and dealing with that moment in a very visceral way myself. I was doing a lot of reflecting on how the glow of queerness had been there forever. But I was finding the language and courage to explore those parts of myself.”

Much like the characters in “Glow,” Schoenbrun was inspired by the series of their youth, such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The X-Files.”

“All of these TV shows I clung to because I needed a place that felt magical in a way that real life didn’t,” they say. “I wanted to explore both how those shows gave me my first glimpse of beauty and love and gave me something to feel less lonely, but also became a way to hide from reality and the things about myself that I wasn’t ready to face yet.”

Schoenbrun’s breakout, 2021’s microbudget feature “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair,” examines identity and storytelling through a different lens, as a teen finds a community while playing a horror video game online. The film made fans at A24, and the company is producing and distributing “Glow.” A24’s horror output, beginning with 2014’s “Under the Skin” and spanning to last year’s hit “Talk to Me,” has gained cult fandom, and Schoenbrun was thrilled to expand their scope with the company.

“The jump from making a movie for nothing in the woods with 12 people to making a much bigger movie was one I was excited for,” Schoenbrun says. “I knew it was almost going to feel like working in a different medium. I truly believe there are things that you can do on a low-budget movie that you can’t do on the $10 million studio movie. But there are plenty of tools and resources you get that were beyond my wildest dreams.”

Emma Stone, who is a producer on the film alongside her husband Dave McCary via their company Fruit Tree, said she was inspired by Schoenbrun’s creativity and vision.

“We saw ‘Worlds Fair,’ and meeting Jane, they’re a very fascinating person, and it was just a really beautiful script,” Stone said. “It’s a beautiful film, and it’s very personal to Jane, similarly in the vein of the stories that are very personal to the people that we’ve worked with so far with our company.”

Ultimately, Schoenbrun hopes their film makes audiences feel seen and less alone, much in the same way they say their favorite shows and movies “saved my life.”

“We’re operating within an industry that is just completely foreign to authentic trans voices and experiences,” they say. “I think it is a generational thing and I’m one of a few filmmakers trying to speak to a younger generation; a generation that understands, conceptualizes and lives gender in a very different way than most of the people in power in Hollywood do.”

Additional reporting by Clayton Davis.

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