WandaVision: Matt Shakman Tackles Pretty Much Every Question You Have

WandaVision director Matt Shakman did a zoom chat on Friday with over 100 people attending. These were not members of the general public but writers, novelists, artists, actors, comics creators, and journalists attending. It was part of the "Yale in Hollywood" series, and Shakman, chat host Aman Chaudary and many of the attendees were all friends at Yale University together when they were younger. Shakman has directed episodes of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Mad Men, and Game of Thrones, so he was qualified to direct not only comedy but also action, period drama, and CGI-laden setpieces.

WandaVision (Image: Marvel)
WandaVision (Image: Marvel)

Aman Chaudury talked about the Wanda and Vision comic stories having a queer reading. Their romance was treated by friends and family with disdain. Quicksilver disapproved, saying "Vision wasn't a real man" and so on. This was another example of why LGBTQ and readers of color find solace in Marvel comics.

The show was Kevin Feige's idea from the start. He pitched Wanda and Vision's story crossed with a homage to classic sitcoms. During the Marvel process, many changes are done during storyboarding and conception, writers keep rewriting throughout production to make the story feel organic and alive. The process was closely collaborative, though the true showrunner is Kevin Feige – he approved every single script, design, idea.

The series was intended to be the equivalent of a movie, hence a single director with a consistent vision and style throughout. Shakman said directing a show about Wanda dealing with her sitcom trauma was also his way of coming to terms with his own sitcom trauma. He began his show business career as a child actor, and here he was shooting a meta show about sitcoms on the same sound stages he worked on as a child. WandaVision became his own therapy session. Shakman admits the show might be autobiographical in that his entire life has been in television. He felt the Venn diagram of Nick at Nite fans and Marvel fans might be bigger than we thought and might get even bigger now.

They didn't reshoot anything for the Pandemic. They had already shot 2/3 of it in Atlanta and returned to Los Angeles to shoot the rest on backlots when the Pandemic hit. They spent lockdown concentrating on postproduction work on what was already shot, did more storyboarding and pre-visualization during that period to prepare for when they started shooting again. This saved time in the end as they got the bulk of the technical work done when they started filming the actors on set again.

Shakman and Feige had lunch with Dick van Dyke during D23 where the event was paying tribute to the latter's career in television comedy. Dick van Dyke had no idea what Marvel was. "What's Avengers: Endgame?" Feige told him it was the biggest movie of all time now which shocked Van Dyke. Shakman asked about the slapstick and pratfalls of the old Dick van Dyke Show, and was told of the Carl Reiner Rule: it has to be plausible in real life. Reiner plundered from cast and crew's lives all the time.

Composer Christopher Beck also composed the music for BUFFY and ANGEL back in the 90s and created the different scores for WandaVision. Eric Lopez, who wrote "It was Agatha All Along" also co-wrote "Let it Go" for Frozen.

The main cast – Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn et al – knew everything about their characters' arcs right from the start. This enabled Kathryn Hahn to drop hints, layers and easter eggs throughout her performance. The guest stars weren't always fully informed. Some had zero clue what show they signed on and didn't always get what they were playing till they had it explained to them on set. This included the pizza delivery guy, the mailman, and so on. They had to play it like they were being controlled and terrified of displeasing Wanda. One guest star knew nothing about the show when he booked the role, only that it paid well.

Vision's final speech before he disappears was created on set between Bettany and the writers, just like how they found the "love persevering" line. Bettany felt Vision needed something pithy to say to Wanda that would change how she saw him, and his saying "What is grief but love persevering?" became the moment she fell in love with him. Olsen wanted to explore issues of mental illness, so there was an active collaboration with writers and director to do right by the characters and the themes.

They originally wanted to release the first 3 episodes at once to set up for episode 4 to reveal it all. But the Pandemic screwed up the schedule as they hadn't finished the 4th episode yet. Binging the whole series now would probably be a different viewing experience.

They were happy for the Mystery Box aspect for fans to engage with clues and easter eggs. The aerospace engineer bit was never intended to tease Reed Richards. It was just a throwaway bit for Monica to find a way back into the Hex. This was the one minor detail Shakman said they didn't predict and wish they got ahead of and dispelled.

The shifting aspect ratios were meant to reflect Wanda's reality. Everyone enjoyed playing with the technical shifts in filming the different eras – Period lenses, period light, period aspect ratios were all intended to be part of the commentary. Through her Chaos Magic, Wanda becomes effectively the showrunner.

As a life-long Marvel comics fan, Shakman had read pretty much every comic with Vision and Scarlett Witch. WandaVision is the origin story of the Scarlet Witch but is also the origin stories of Monica Rambeau and Agatha Harkness. Agatha does play a sort of mentor role to Wanda by naming her as a witch and explaining her powers. Shakman's favorite superhero is Spider-man.

Mr. Scratchy was supposed to turn out to be a demon that chased D'arcy (Katt Dennings), Jimmy Wang (Randall Park), and Monica Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) around for a setpiece where the kids saved them but got cut for time. Mr. Scratchy was Agatha's familiar, never planned to be revealed as Mephisto or Nightmare. Just a demon.

Agatha's costume was inspired by beetle wings, elemental symbolism, and classical actress Ellen Terry's Lady Macbeth costume that's on a portrait of Terry in the National Gallery. The recurring image of cicadas throughout the show was a homage to Silence of the Lambs. Agatha's fight with Wanda was a lot of shots and CGI because it was really about the exposition reveal and they needed it to be more than just a long dialogue and not static. Agatha wanted Wanda's power out of greed. She'd been going around stealing other witches' powers for herself to get more powerful.

Actor Phil LaMarr showed up and complimented the show for bringing back Event Television where everyone can't stop talking about it. WandaVision has become the show everyone is talking about. Shakman did not expect WandaVision to be the first post-Endgame Marvel to be released. It was supposed to Falcon and Winter Soldier. Again, COVID changed everything.

The Big Bad was always grief and loss. Doctor Strange was never going to show up as a Deux ex Machina to save the day. Wanda doesn't need someone else to save her. This is her story, and she was going to save herself. The structure of the show is patterned after the stages of grief, from denial to anger to depression to eventually acceptance. Shakman hoped that going back to watch the show again knowing this makes it more resonant.

The inhabitants of Westview being trapped in the Hex reenacting sitcom scenarios inadvertently became an allegory for everyone living in lockdown over the past year. Fan theories are an allegory of fans living through their own Hex: all the theories that didn't come true, but fans were in denial.

As for the rest of the tidbits:

Ralph Boehner was never Pietro. He was just a guy who lives down the street that Agatha mind-controlled to pump Wanda for information.

Jimmy's missing witness protection person is still out there. Shakman: "Stay tuned."

Wanda's accent was widely discussed and planned. Her native Sarkovian accent came out thicker when she was angry or sad. Her accent was also Shakman's favorite running joke in the show.

There is currently no real word on whether there's a season 2 but probably not. It's part of the new paradigm of exploring some characters on shows on Disney+ taking them into the movies, taking them or others back to explore on new shows on Disney+ as part of the living tapestry of the MCU.

For Shakman, making the show has been 2 years of his life. Back to spending time with family and new projects. Indie projects. He's perfectly willing to come back to work on an MCU project if it's the right one.

WandaVision is now streaming on Disney+.

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About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist who just likes to writer. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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