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“We Realized During the Edit That There Were Several Options for the Ending”: Editor Sofi Marshall on I Saw the TV Glow

Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine in "I Saw the TV Glow."I Saw the TV Glow, courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Suburban teen loner Owen (Justice Smith) is introduced to a late-night TV show shrouded in mystery by a fellow classmate (Brigette Lundy-Paine) in I Saw the TV Glow, the latest genre offering from writer-director Jane Schoenbrun. Dubbed an “emo horror” flick by Sundance programmers, Schoenbrun’s sophomore feature is having its world premiere in Park City this year, where the filmmaker’s buzzy feature debut, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, similarly premiered in 2021.

Editor Sofi Marshall discusses how she became involved in Schoenbrun’s latest project, how the “independent” section of her local Blockbuster catalyzed her filmic career path and the benefits of working entirely remotely. 

See all responses to our annual Sundance editor questionnaire here.

Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the editor of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?

Marshall: The director, Jane Schoenbrun, and I have been friends for a long time—we actually went to college together. We had also worked together previously on a gorgeous film that Jane produced called Chained for Life. When I read the script for I Saw the TV Glow, I immediately connected with the main character, Owen, who’s a relatively numb, shut down kid growing up in the suburbs. Jane tapped into so many painfully relatable moments from my own childhood, all while beautifully capturing the nostalgia of the ‘90s. Needless to say, we clicked creatively, and we were both excited to work together again.

Filmmaker: In terms of advancing your film from its earliest assembly to your final cut, what were your goals as an editor? What elements of the film did you want to enhance, or preserve, or tease out or totally reshape?

Marshall: Much of Owen’s journey in the film is internal. He’s a quiet, shy kid who’s trying really hard to avoid knowing himself, scared of what he might find. One of my goals was to try to make his emotional journey as external as possible, so that the audience has the opportunity to deeply connect with him. For example, initially at the beginning of the film, there was a much longer, more sprawling opening montage that was absolutely gorgeous on its own, but much less focused on Owen as the main character. Ultimately, we realized that Owen needed to be front and center, so we retooled the opening and cut a bunch of the moments we loved because they were distracting the audience from connecting with Owen.

Filmmaker: How did you achieve these goals? What types of editing techniques, or processes, or feedback screenings allowed this work to occur?

Marshall: We asked questions in early test screenings to track when people felt emotionally connected to Owen and when they felt more distanced. We used the feedback, as well as post screening discussions, to help guide our hand in the edit. Tactically, bringing Owen’s emotional journey to the forefront looked like pouring through the footage, searching for the perfect facial expression or line delivery, or drafting and redrafting Owen’s voice over to deliver just the right amount of information. We also gave ourselves a lot of room to cut or rearrange scenes, which allowed us to sometimes withhold information so that it packed a bigger punch when revealed later on, or conversely, to give more information up front that might change the way the audience engaged with a scene later on. Ultimately, we were able to craft several moments in the film that punch me in the gut every time. 

Filmmaker: As an editor, how did you come up in the business, and what influences have affected your work?

Marshall: In high school, I took a video production class and fell in love with editing. I studied film in college, and knew I wanted to edit feature films. I got my first woefully underpaid feature editing job shortly after graduating and never looked back. As a kid, my friends and I would head straight to the “independent” section of the local Blockbuster and rent the films that had festival laurels on the DVD covers. A ton of those early influences still rattle around in my brain—Welcome to the Dollhouse, Thirteen, Elephant, Ghost World, etc. Otherwise, I love to read—novels in particular—and many of the images that I refer back to are those crafted in my mind while reading.

Filmmaker: What editing system did you use, and why?

Marshall: We cut the film in Adobe Premiere Pro, which has been my go-to NLE for years, using their Productions feature. Since my assistant and I were working remotely, we needed to share timelines and assets back and forth daily and Productions was a lifesaver. Another Premiere feature I knew I would rely on heavily was remix—a tool that lets you re-time music tracks to custom lengths. Music plays a huge role in the film and as we continued to refine the edit, the length of the music tracks changed daily. Premiere also allowed me to cut the entire film remotely. During the pandemic, I developed a simple workflow for real-time remote collaboration that allows me to stream my Premiere timeline. Jane and I were never in the same room!

Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?

Marshall: There are several montages in the film meant to pass time as Owen ages while delivering some key information. It took a lot of back and forth to strike the right balance between focusing on the emotional quality of the montage and the story points that we needed to convey. Add nailing the rhythm and pacing on top of that, and we had a ton of moving pieces that needed to be massaged into a single, cohesive sequence. Ultimately, we allowed ourselves plenty of room to play, going back and forth on including, cutting, or trimming shots over and over again until Jane and I felt we had pretty much tried everything.

Filmmaker: What role did VFX work, or compositing, or other post-production techniques play in terms of the final edit? 

Marshall: While most of the effects in the film were shot practically, many of them were enhanced with VFX. As the edit progressed, it was really remarkable to see how placing even work-in-progress VFX shots into the timeline helped heighten the story. 

Filmmaker: Finally, now that the process is over, what new meanings has the film taken on for you? What did you discover in the footage that you might not have seen initially, and how does your final understanding of the film differ from the understanding that you began with?

Marshall: Something that genuinely surprised me was how differently I felt about the emotional quality of the ending in the script versus the ending of the edited film. I don’t want to give anything away, but I’ll say that sometimes words on the page translate in unexpected ways to the screen. We realized during the edit that there were several options for the ending that differed from the scripted version. Once we settled on the version that felt right, I had to go back to the beginning and rewatch the footage with new eyes, thinking, “Okay, how can I bring people on a journey that lands them here?”

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