In 2021, the words “Sunday best” don’t mean as much as they used to — unless you’re lucky enough to have been present at a live taping of an episode of “WandaVision.”
Director and executive producer Matt Shakman wanted the show “to feel like a time capsule, that you were walking back in time,” he said. So, he asked everyone who got to attend the series premiere taping of the Disney Plus series to dress up for the occasion including the crew.
“In the ‘50s,” said Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Wanda, “people would wear their Sunday best to a taping.”
This proved complicated for some of the crew members. “We were all running around in dresses the whole day while we moved cameras and lights and entertained an audience and puppeteer things,” remembered visual effects supervisor Tara DeMarco.
“But it was really fun, and I think that adrenaline that everyone felt really added to it. I think the actors felt that way, too,” Shakman added.
Olsen certainly did, noting that costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo “was giving people pins and hats and scarves and adding things. We had bowties on so many of our crew men and women, and it was perfect.”
Taking an eagle eye to the first episode from “WandaVision” for Variety’s Making a Scene, presented by HBO, the cast and crew of the first Marvel series breaks down all the work that went into recreating the beloved ’50s sitcom trope of bringing the boss home for dinner. And what that means in the world created by Wanda Maximoff.
“Wanda was creating this construct to create a world where she could have these family issues that seem so small and menial and you can fix them and at the end of the day everything is fine,” Olsen explained. “But in her life she couldn’t see anyway to fix her issues and the pain that she was having.”
“There are small problems, but you can get over them, that’s what sitcoms are,” Shakman agreed. “Whatever the crisis of the episode is, the boss coming over for dinner, they’re such low stakes compared to the end of the world, defeating Thanos or half of the the universe going away in a finger snap. That’s what Wanda is hungry for. She’s hungry for small, easily addressable problems because she’s had a lifetime of unaddressable ones.”
In order to lend a sense of continuity to this brand-new Marvel series, Shakman worked closely with production designer Mark Worthington to create a floor plan for the set that would stay the same throughout the series even as the plot later jumped across decades.
“It was really important that we had something to hold onto,” Shakman said.
Because so much of “WandaVision” is about television and Wanda’s memories of watching television with her family, that floor plan was centered around a TV set, a couch and a fireplace.
“Couches are iconic in sitcoms,” Worthington explained. “It’s amazing how important they really are. We built that couch just so it was the precise size we needed. We were extremely careful about all that stuff, and that the upholstery had the right texture, to feel right. The piping. And pillows — very important, interestingly.”
Despite the astounding visual recreations and elaborate wire work, when asked which moment in the first episode they were most concerned about, the answer was unanimous: the choking scene. In fact, the dinner scene was so important to landing this episode it was a part of Shakman’s pitch to president of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige.
“The whole show is the tension between the sitcom reality and the grief and trauma that Wanda is trying to reconcile with,” Shakman said. “There’s this undercurrent, throughout the entire series and in the early episodes, it finds these moments where it manages to poke through where it manages to get through Wanda’s carefully constructed reality.”
This choking scene would be the first of the many “Twilight Zone” moments to pepper the series, so it had to land just right. Slowly the lenses change, the cameras push in, the sound of a ticking clock replaces the previous laugh track. The audience is taken inside Wanda’s world, quite literally, as the camera spins around to show that there’s no more live audience, but a wall behind Vision’s (Paul Bettany) head.
“Unlike all the visual effects that we’ve seen so far with jump cuts and wire gags, now it’s more of a modern visual effect where [Vision’s] hand fazes into the neck [and] pulls out the strawberry,” Shakman said. “And then, boom! We’re back to sitcom.”
Watch the full conversation above.