Disney+’s WandaVision provided its director, Matt Shakman, the opportunity to pull from many of passions to create the flagship Disney+ Marvel series. He knew the characters from his life-long love of comic books. A childhood as a sitcom television actor gave him the background he would need to tackle the acclaimed limited series’ multiple sitcom eras. Plus, he’s no stranger to directing sitcoms and comedies, having helmed episodes of Ugly Betty, Psych, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Great (2020 Emmy nomination), and more. And those are just the comedies he’s directed. He’s also directed episodes of Six Feet Under, Succession, The Boys, and Game of Thrones, which netted him a Director’s Guild of America nomination.
So, it’s no surprise when the DGA came calling again earlier this year with a nomination for directing WandaVision. That moment seemed to recognize the material was in his blood.
But he refused to shape WandaVision as a carbon copy of previous sitcoms. The property needed to stand on its own, Shakman realized, to make it fully effective.
“WandaVision was this love letter to television. That was part of the plan from the beginning — to take a trip through the history of television,” Shakman explained. “We wanted to make sure that we weren’t just copying individual programs, but that we were creating our own version of of shows.”
Given the bulk of the series takes place in Wanda’s (Elizabeth Olsen) manufactured world, Shakman and team needed to ensure each decade represented felt exactly right. The team focused on production design, cinematography, costuming, and performance styles to achieve that perfect balance. Additionally, Shakman threw the project into a heavy research phase. The team not only watched individual series, but they also interviewed people involved in making them.
No stone remained unturned when attempting to lovingly recreate the various periods.
“We did a really elaborate sitcom boot camp rehearsal period before we started where we looked at old episodes together as a company and talked about how comedy changes and how acting styles change,” Shakman recalled. “We worked with movement coaches and dialect coaches on how people spoke and how they walked. Then of course, once you add the brilliant clothing and set design, it’s really easy to sort of play in that sandbox and believe that you’re there.”
A critically important trait of WandaVision, the visual effects needed to supplement the story, not overpower it. The series, at its core, is an exploration of grief, centered around Wanda Maximoff. She lost her parents. She lost her freedom at the hands of Hydra. Her brother and lover both died during intensive battles.
The series then asked the question, “How do you come back from that kind of loss?”
Relying on elaborate practical and visual effects, Shakman worked with Olsen to ensure her story and journey into grief and back remained at the series’ forefront.
“We structured the episodes based on the stages of grief. It stars with denial and works its way all the way eventually to acceptance. In order to move forward, she has to say goodbye and let Vision go. Lizzy as you know, loves Wanda more than anybody and has been very in tune with sort of the the story of loss and really wanted to take her on that journey. So it was a great collaboration,” Shakman enthused. “It was exciting because, even when we were doing wacky, crazy stuff, those larger stakes were always underneath it. It enriches the crazy stylistic stuff that we were able to do to know that all of these larger themes are at work.”
Once released, WandaVision took on a life of its own. Audiences hyper-analyzed every aspect of the show from its elaborate production design to its seemingly random guest stars. It became a Twitter obsession, something of a puzzle box. Shakman and team loved the idea that something they’d made with such passion was received with equal amounts of fan passion.
Will that passion find its way into some kind of WandaVision follow up?
If so, then Shakman isn’t saying.
“The great thing about this narrative is that it continues on and grows. Characters that we introduced in WandaVision are moving on to Dr. Strange and to The Marvels. I’d be thrilled to be a part of the Marvel Universe in any way that made sense down the road, but I’m also thrilled just to be there on opening day in the front row watching.”
WandaVision streams exclusively on Disney+.