WandaVision was one of several Marvel Studios projects to begin production in the post-Avengers: Endgame era of the franchise only to be shutdown and delayed due to the global pandemic in 2020. The TV series was originally slated to be the second series from Marvel Studios, debuting in 2020, but ultimately became the first series and arrived in January of 2021. The show faced several changes but it still landed tremendously with critics and fans. It answered many of its burning questions before a conclusive and emotionally-charged finale sent Elizabeth Olsen to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness on the big screen as a fully realized Scarlet Witch. For director Matt Shakman, the unprecedented delays and conversations surrounding the show have been quite an experience.
"We were working really hard on the finale before the shutdown," Shakman told ComicBook.comin an exclusive interview. He'll be joining ComicBook.com's Phase Zero podcast on Friday to take a full look back at the show and address the many theories fans have had along the way. "There were some things that we ended up cutting, some scenes that we ended up adding, which is a traditional process at Marvel where you edit it, you show it, you see how things are working and then you have a little bit of additional shooting."
When all was said and done with, a fantastic show was delivered on Disney+. The episodes drummed up quite a buzz week after week, prompting debates over which new addition to the show was the best with viewers all claiming different episodes as their personal favorites. Early on, though, some viewers found themselves frustrated or outright disinterested when the show started as a sitcom starring two Avengers characters with slight shreds of mystery being tossed in to bolster some intrigue.
"We originally wanted to release three," Shakman says of the January premiere. WandaVision released its first two episodes on Day 1, holding the third for the following Friday. "It was always the plan to release the first three and we sent the first three to press for reviewing purposes, but because of the pandemic and the amount of time, we didn't have any time to finish those episodes or the normal amount of time to finish those episodes. So, we couldn't release three on day one and get the finale done. That week would have taken precious time away from us and what we needed."
Shakman is no stranger to big undertakings. On the directors resumé, you'll find two episodes of Game of Thrones, including one which fans hold in high regards: The Spoils of War. It was the show's first foray into fiery dragon battles and saw the Lannister army getting wrecked by Daenerys in the show's seventh season. Still, to craft the big action-packed sequences which pitted some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's most powerful characters against each other, Shakman consulted other members of the Marvel family.
"Definitely talked to other Marvel directors during the process, which is great. It's such a wonderful place to work," Shakman says. "Obviously pre-pandemic, it was easier to have those conversations. Some of them continued even in the pandemic and I'm a huge Marvel fan. So I've seen all those movies multiple times, and so that's in my DNA. I like that stuff a lot. I'm really interested in it as a filmmaker" Ultimately, Shakman landed on dialogue driven fights to conclude the series, as well, delivering an emotional showdown in somewhat unconventional ways for the super hero genre and really landing the arcs of Wanda and Vision in impressive form.
Check out the full, uncut interview with Shakman below, and subscribe to ComicBook.com's Phase Zero podcast to hear Friday's new episode where we will take a deeper dive into the series!
ComicBook.com: You guys went through something unprecedented, having a production through the COVID shutdown and coming back to shoot more. How much of the show did you get to do before being sent home for an uncertain amount of time?
Matt Shakman: We shot two-thirds of the show in Atlanta and a third in Los Angeles. The third in Los Angeles was during the pandemic. It was always planned to be two-thirds Atlanta, one-third LA. So our timing as much as you can say, it was good because it was a pandemic, but we had finished in Atlanta and we had moved back to LA, and we were starting to prepare for the LA shoot when we shut down. So if you could pick a time in the process to shut down, it was actually the best time.
We weren't in the middle of shooting. What we did then was thanks to Marvel and Disney and the amazing tech people, within a week or two, they had set up virtual editing and we pivoted to post-production and pretty quickly we went deep into post-production in terms of finishing VFX shots, working with Skywalker on mixing, working with Christophe Beck on score.
It was very schizophrenic as a director because usually you have a very linear path through a project which starts with breaking down scripts, and script development, and casting, all the way through production, and then post, and then finishing, and then you're done. I was doing all steps at the same time, which was really strange to move from post-production, editing to story boarding, and creatives and planning where we were going to shoot, but in the end was good because if we hadn't done all that, we certainly couldn't have gotten the show ready as quickly as we did.
Because once we went back in the fall, we had very little time after we wrapped, only a couple of months to finish the whole thing and get it on Disney+.
CB: How long was the break before being able to get back to filming?
MS: We had to wait quite a few months because people wouldn't figure out what the safety protocols would be. We wanted to make sure that everyone was safe and it took months before we could figure out how a set would look in COVID. And we were one of the first to go back and we had no incidents and it was very safe and everyone did very well, but sure, it was a very different environment. And I have to say, I was really grateful for the two-thirds that we had done in Atlanta.
We had formed a really strong bond as a crew and a cast. Everyone got along so well, there was so much trust and we had done bits and pieces of everything. So they kind of knew what the tone and the style was. It's really hard to direct comedy when you're wearing a mask and a visor.
We did have some actors who only joined us in LA a young Julian who played Billy. We actually didn't work together at all when I wasn't wearing a mask. And he asked me at one point, he stopped you staring at me and I was like, "What's up?" He's like, "What do you look like?" This is a very strange time we were all in, so it's hard. Because I think a lot of the communication between actor and director is non-verbal, if they can see my face... It's the gestures, it's all of that in addition to articulating what you want, that contributes to movement and tone.
CB: Did the shutdown or the delay or anything like that prompt any changes to the story of the show? Was there anything would have happened and didn't or was added to adapt to protocols?
MS: Yes and no. I mean, we were working really hard on the finale before the shutdown. We were re-breaking it and rebuilding it. And we were rewriting as we went along, a lot of the scenes were changing day-by-day. Sometimes day of, that's just the processor you're in it and especially when you are building towards a finale, it's really hard to get that chess board to work all those pieces to come together in a satisfying way.
So we had longer time to land that, some of the elements of the finale because of the pandemic, but we were already in that process anyway. So pandemic or not, we sort of, I think would've ended up in the same place.
There were some things that we ended up cutting, some scenes that we ended up adding, which is a traditional process at Marvel where you edit it, you show it, you see how things are working and then you have a little bit of additional shooting. So we ended up putting some of that a little bit of additional shoot into the LA portion of it.prevnext
CB: You have experience in paying homage to series have influenced the story you're telling. Specifically, on Psych you directed episodes that incorporated casts of shows you were paying homage to and stuff like that. Did that influence your work here? Was that part of your pitch to get WandaVision?
MS: Psych didn't have anything to this job. I don't think.
I don't think that that Marvel had watched that show as much. I love that show and I'm so proud of the work we did, especially the Twin Peaks episode, which was a real passion project for James Roday And for me, we loved that show growing up. And I worked on Psych season one and we bonded over theater and over Twin Peaks, over all sorts of things will be said, "If the show's successful enough, one day, we're going to do a Twin Peak episode." And then we got to do it and there was so much fun to bring that cast together.
But this show did it, I think by its bizarre nature needs somebody who did comedy and drama and action and understood sitcoms. And so I strangely checked all those boxes in a weird way. This is the job of a lifetime and I'll probably never find one that fits as well again.prevnext
The Release Style
CB: WandaVision released two episodes on its premiere day. Was that any sort of reaction to maybe like an anxiety of whether or not people might accept the sitcom of at all? Or is that just strictly, "We just want to release to for timing purposes"? What went into that decision?
MS: It's actually the opposite. We originally wanted to release three. It was always the plan to release the first three. And we sent the first three to press for reviewing purposes, but because of the pandemic and the amount of time, we didn't have any time to finish those episodes or the normal amount of time to finish those episodes. So we couldn't release three on day one and get the finale done. That week would have taken precious time away from us and what we needed. So, we actually pivoted and released just the first two, but the original plan was to take it all the way to Monica's expulsion from The Hex, which might've answered a little bit more for some.
I know there were some Marvel fans who were like, "Where's my Marvel?" You know? And, "This is too much of a slow burn, what's going on?"
There would have been a little bit more there, but I'm really proud of the way it came out and it was always a question of how long can we live in Wanda's world? And slowly sense that there's something else outside of this because she's in denial. She doesn't know how she got there. Vision doesn't know how he got there. And we know now how they got there. And how long can you tease that out before you break open the world and see you and see what's happening outside of Westview? So that was kind of always the plan.prevnext
CB: The Evan Peters moment, coming to the door as Pietro, was probably the first really big shock of the show. Was there ever a consideration to have Aaron Taylor-Johnson come back and play that role? Furthermore, any talk of having James Spader have a voice of Ultron play a part since that's a key part of Wanda's story?
MS: Yeah, I mean, there definitely were conversations about bringing Aaron Taylor-Johnson back early on, I think Kevin [Feige] talked about this publicly. But it was ruled out fairly early on and we've already got Vision from back and so Agatha is bringing Pietro into this world, fake Pietro, into this world to further her agenda. And so having that be a recast Pietro worked on our meta level, but it also made sense thematically when we were talking about grief, which is that grief clouds your judgment, you're willing to believe things you wouldn't. You're living in this fantasy of, "If this is my brother, even though I don't know or feel that he's my brother, I'm willing to accept it because I miss him so much."
It worked on so many different levels that ultimately I'm happy with the decision that we made. I know there's some disappointed Quicksilver fans out there but...
CB: Whether it was things like Evan Peters coming in, or the line about the "aerospace engineer" that became a phenomenon, hexagons and all these things that became such big conversations... Was there a sense of, "This is going to be a question?" Or did a lot of those things kind of be like, "We didn't ask these questions. Why are they asking these questions?"
MS: Both. The hexagons, why hexagons? We wanted people to be asking that question. Jimmy is a stand in front of the audience and we hoped he would be when he's writing on that whiteboard, "Why hexagonal shapes?" Right? It is a question and it is, it's a play on Hex. It's Wanda's witchy spell that she's cast over Westview so it has a reason. And we want people to think about that.
Ultron, some mischievous person added James Spader into our IMDB page years ago and he's never been at the show. Ultron, I mean, the character is referenced to course, Geraldine brings him up. He's an important part of Wanda's past, but he didn't have a role to play in the story that we were building.
The aerospace engineer's one that I have to chuckle at because Monica mentions just that she's got a plan and she's reaching out to somebody who can help her with... And we reveal the plan is this Rover. And we did end up doing a new version of that scene with her and Darcy changed a couple of dialogue bits, so that was clear what her plan was, that she wanted to try to get into The Hex because what we had originally shot wasn't quite as clear. And that's where we added that aerospace engineer line. And so it ended up hitting twice and people just rand with it.
CB: I'm going to shoulder some of the blame for that. I was certainly out here shouting, "Somebody's coming!" I was certainly not helping to keep the attention on Monica's super hero evolution which is where we should have been looking. I'm sorry!
MS: No, somebody was coming, Major Goodner!prevnext
The Final Showdown
CB: My favorite fight was Wanda and Vision's dialogue in their house. Still, you end up culminating with the big action scenes of Vision versus White Vision and Agatha against Scarlet Witch. Did you look at any Marvel movies or talk to any directors or anything to get the inspiration for how to pull off fights with the most powerful characters in the MCU?
MS: Definitely talked to other Marvel directors during the process, which is great. It's such a wonderful place to work. And there's so many different, great projects happening under the same roof. Obviously pre-pandemic it was easier to have those conversations. Some of them continued even in the pandemic and I'm a huge Marvel fan. So I've seen all those movies multiple times, and so that's in my DNA. I like that stuff a lot. I'm really interested in it as a filmmaker.
What we wanted to do was ultimately have those fights become unexpected fights. Fights of the mind more than fights of the body, right? So you have questions of identity happening in both fights. You have the Visions battling over who is the real Vision, the one who has the memories and the soul or the one who has the body. And ultimately you're going to end up with a hybrid of them in White Vision when he's woken up. But all the fisticuffs and all the blasting ends up really becoming about identity and who am I?
And the same thing is happening in the sky, right? Agatha is saying, "I knew who you are. I know who you are." And Wanda is like, "I am not this thing that you're telling you that I am." Until she finally has to embrace it, that this destiny is there. And she says to her, "I don't need you to tell me who I am. I know who I am." And so both fights conclude with sort of a battle of the mind over body.
CB: Now is the time where you tell me the next place we're going to see White Vision in the MCU. Where does that happen?
MS: I'm a West Coast Avengers fan. So I hope he's got some sunglasses hanging out by the pool.
CB: I know sometimes there are instances where the next movie's director, we take a scene from that. Did you work with Nia DaCosta or Sam Raimi on those or did you fully shoot the scenes yourself?
MS: We shot that as part of the main stuff on WandaVision, so yeah. But he was definitely aware as was Nia who is directing Captain Marvel 2. They were watching cuts and see what we were doing. Because as I mentioned, it's this relay race we got to pass the baton on. And so they're inheriting how we're framing Monica's powers is and what that Scarlet Witch costume looks like and all. So that they know kind of what the building blocks they have for the films that they're building.prev