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“I Feel Like We Made an Image That I Have Never Seen Before”: DP Eric Yue 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.

Jane Schoenbrun’s follow-up to the 2021 Sundance hit We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is I Saw the TV Glow, about a teenager whose friend introduces him to a late-night TV show that grants access to a supernatural world. The film will play as part of the Midnight section at the 2024 Sundance.

Eric Yue, who shot one of last year’s breakout Sundance hits (A Thousand and One) serves as DP on I Saw the TV Glow. Below, he shares the film’s eclectic reference points and explains how he and Schoenbrun found a visual aesthetic befitting the film’s strangeness.

See all responses to our annual Sundance cinematographer interviews here.

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

Yue: Jane had seen a film that I shot called The Giant by David Raboy and felt that the tone was in a similar visual world as TV Glow. We had talked over Zoom and I gave my interpretation of the script and my ideas for how it could look. We were so deep in our conversation that we kept running out of time, so I think that was a sign that we were aligned in a deep philosophical way.

Filmmaker: What were your artistic goals on this film, and how did you realize them? How did you want your cinematography to enhance the film’s storytelling and treatment of its characters?

Yue: Jane and I wanted to make a film that had a deep sense of loneliness and isolation. We also wanted to tow many visual languages—horror, ’90s television, a coming-of-age movie. The consumption of these different kinds of media and how it’s metabolized are expressed through the camera language and lighting choices. We lit the “TV Show World” to emulate the theatricality of ’90s TV: hard blue shafts of light for night-time and filled in shadows. For “reality” we left the lighting to be a little more natural. At times we would see the world’s blend which relates to themes that Jane wanted to explore.

Filmmaker: Were there any specific influences on your cinematography, whether they be other films, or visual art, of photography, or something else?

Yue: An early influence for us was Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors: Blue. There is a sense of an internal world piercing through the protagonist’s reality which is akin to Owen’s story. The use of light and sound are highly expressionistic, which resonated with the world we were constructing.

There is also a book that Jane gave me called The Poetics of Space, by Gaston Blanchard, where the author theorizes about the relationship of the mind, architecture and space. For example, the attic is a place for rational fear and the cellar for irrational fear. The chest and the grave are sites of secrets, tucked away and buried to become unearthed.

Perhaps the TV set represents a place of literal and figurative projection of ourselves. The emanating light is like a treasure chest both entrancing and intoxicating, becoming a portal of fear and desire. It is Owen’s secret, an alternate universe where he can become anybody.

Filmmaker: What camera did you shoot on? Why did you choose the camera that you did? What lenses did you use?

Yue: We used the Arriflex LT with Master Prime lenses. I wanted to shoot a lot of this film at T1.3 for a shallower depth of field and for the amount of night-work that we had. The variety of lens sizes that Master Primes offer at a T1.3, especially on the wider end, helped me make this decision, as did its sharpness throughout all stops. Pairing these clean, modern lenses with a grainy film stock would strike a good visual balance and give me the most flexibility on set.

I introduced a subtle sense of anxiety in the later scenes with Blackwing Tribe7 lenses, which give these gauzy circular flares when light hits the lens. Combining this technique and a narrow shutter angle gives a sense of uneasiness and panic.

Filmmaker: Describe your approach to lighting.

Yue: In my initial meeting with Jane, I said that I imagined the way it looks is like “when you eat too much sugar and you get a stomachache.” What I meant by that is there is this feeling of nausea for how candy colored everything is. This applies mainly to the latter half of the film, where Owen is stuck in this suburban nightmare. The feeling is similar to when you go to these places like an amusement park where it’s visually and sonically overwhelming and it almost becomes oppressive. It does become tricky to balance this approach while still finding moments of beauty, but I feel that we were successful in finding it.

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

Yue: One scene was set in a big inflatable planetarium, and we wanted the main lighting source to be a projected constellation map. It’s something that we couldn’t really visualize in our head because there are hardly any references for something like this. Ultimately, it all came together on the day, and we simplified our shots in the morning when everything was set up. We used a really high-powered projector, and the constellation map crept across the contours of this character’s face, which created this ethereal quality. I feel like we made an image that I have never seen before and am proud of how it all came together.

Filmmaker: Finally, describe the finishing of the film. How much of your look was “baked in” versus realized in the DI?

Yue: I pushed most of the film +1 stop in processing, so there is a lot of built-in contrast and grain, especially in the darker scenes. The color palette was predetermined during our camera test, where we experimented with different color temperatures which were saved. We did a pre-color session with Mikey Rossiter, who made LUTs based off of the footage and applied them to the dailies. This process helped establish a look early on, so we had more time to be creative during the finishing process.


Film Title: I Saw The TV Glow

Camera: Arriflex LT

Lenses: Zeiss Master Primes, Blackwing Tribe 7

Processing: Kodak Lab NY, Technicolor Dailies

Color Grading: Mikey Rossiter @ Raremedium

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