As much an homage to the American sitcoms WandaVision is, Jess Hall is all-too-familiar about the attention to detail it takes to retain the ever-changing format through the passage of time. The cinematographer spoke with Collider about the series' evolution with each episode. It borrows elements from series like I Love Lucy, The Brady Bunch, Full House, Malcolm in the Middle, Modern Family, and more. It all starts with respecting the series' aspect ratio.
"I mean, I sort of knew from the beginning that if we're going to do this properly, we would embrace aspect ratios as an aspect of the period work," Hall said. "But I think there was always a question in my mind of whether, with the new streaming platform, whether that was going to be acceptable to the producers and whether the fan base would really accept it. So I think there was in my mind that desire for it because it was very authentic, and I was going for authenticity, and I think the show, in general, was aiming for that. So it felt like the right decision, but it was a conversation until relatively close to principal photography started as to whether we were going to be able to do 4:3, and eventually the decision was to go 4:3 for Episode 1, 2, and 3."
Hall also broke down the storytelling advantages framing provides. "And I was really, really delighted by that for a number of reasons, partly because it was authentic, but also because it gave me an opportunity to use aspect ratio as a dramatic tool, using the contrast of that within the series to kind of heighten these moments of transition," she continued. "And also because the science of the lenses that I was developing with Panavision for the first three episodes, they kind of worked better with a square format because I was able to kind of get this sort of even falloff around the edges, which was very period-appropriate. It was a conversation from the beginning and a reality relatively close to when we started shooting."
Finding the Right Lenses for WandaVision
One of the challenges that emerged in the era of high definition and 4K resolution is finding the proper lens that would match up what production was trying to achieve while not losing quality. "So, we're walking with one camera platform, a very high-resolution Alexa large-format camera, 4K HDR finishing, the highest quality finishing," Hall said. "But then we were trying to replicate or reference this early film look — so that was slightly, you know, a misfit there. I knew that I had to do stuff in the camera, work in camera, to get that look, and one of the things was to do it through the lenses. So I did a bunch of testing with period lenses, but they were quite fragile, and there was only so much I could manipulate them. So we actually ended up constructing our own set of lenses for that. I [used them on Episodes] 1, 2, 3, and actually, we used them on 5 as well. And they had very specific characteristics — they kind of bloomed the highlights, and they were soft, and they had focus fall off from center to edge. And a certain amount of lens coverage. All of which were elements that we could kind of dial into custom taste. I worked with Dan Sasaki of Panavision on developing and building those, so that was a really exciting aspect of the production."
For more on how Hall breaks down how the series ultimately transitions to match MCU framing, breaking down episode 7's "It Was Agatha All Along," and what to look forward to in the final two episodes, you can head to Collider. New episodes of WandaVison stream Fridays on Disney+.