WandaVision Cinematographer Jess Hall on Shooting Across Decades, MCU Debuts, and More

WandaVision has introduced fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to an entirely new format from Marvel Studios, turning the studio's standard blockbuster features into long-form television shows. With this extended storytelling, WandaVision has taken fans on a bizarre tour throughout the ages, jumping from decade to decade as Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) continues to manipulate the reality around her.

In support of the show, we recently caught up with WandaVision cinematographer Jess Hall to chat about shuffling equipment from episode to episode, and how he was able to wrangle the most bizarre Marvel series yet. Keep scrolling to see our full conversation!

ComicBook.com: You look at some other behind-the-scenes videos with the other creatives involved with the show and the detail they put into being as period-specific as possible with special effects and such. With you, you deal directly with the technology and camera work — so from a technological standpoint, how dedicated to the '50s sitcoms and '60s sitcoms were you able to get with the work you did?

Jess Hall: There was a definite intention to be very authentic in terms of the eras. We wanted to take the audience on a journey, a sort of nostalgic journey into this bubble of this kind of romantic sitcom world, and then sort of disrupt that. That was sort of the premise of the show. So, it was really important to really have a detailed analysis of some of the original reference material.

But then it was always going to be that mixed with kind of our own aesthetic choices, our own visual sensibility and what we thought was right for the show, so it was never about straight replication. It was always about referencing and then kind of bringing our own artistic choices into the process to create something new and something which was appropriate for our narrative. But the incredible amount of detailed work in terms of breaking down the techniques and the looks that were characteristic of each era. And then figuring out technologically how to do that with my own work.

How many hours of sitcoms did you have to binge through for reference ahead of this?

I looked at a lot of sitcoms. I mean, I guess, growing up I watched UK sitcoms. I didn't watch a lot of American sitcoms, so it was quite fresh to me, some of it. But, it was also about just the filmmaking that was going on in each era to me because I wanted to kind of isolate the common techniques and the equipment that they were using so that I could create a kind of vocabulary for each episode. And that included the lighting techniques, the type of film stock they were using at the time, the lensing that they're using at the time, the compositional choices.

So it was about tone and it was about rhythm, but it was also about specifics. And there was a lot of historical kind of work that was like reading up on the literature of the period of the history of sitcoms and a lot of the technical breakdowns as well. And looking at archive pictures of some of these sets, what they looked like, what kind of lighting instruments they were using. And looking at the history of cinematography within both film and television. And thinking, "What tools were available to those filmmakers at the time to make the images they made?" Because that influenced the choices they made.

You mention lenses and filters of the time. Was a single camera used throughout then just different lenses and such, or did you actually alter the actual camera equipment as well?

No. I kept with one camera platform across the entire series, which was sort of a strategic choice. And then basically I used 47 different lenses. Some of them were custom-made for the earlier periods, so it was really using the lenses and then the color science within the camera to basically take the raw, very high quality 4K HDR signal and put that in a kind of envelope, which was like a period envelope.

That created my monochrome black and white 1950s look, or my 1960s slightly more high contrast kind of look. Or my early color film look from the 1970s. Each of those was a kind of a lookup table — we call them lots — which went inside the color science of the camera and interpreted that raw signal into an envelope. And then the lighting was very specific. I used a lot of period fixtures for the early period. And kept away from modern lighting technology as much as possible until the later episodes. So, that was really the emphasis for me, the camera platform remained kind of uniform.

Obviously, with you and with other cinematographers, you want to put your own stamp on this. But this is your first project with Marvel Studios. From a studio standpoint, did they give you any projects to go back through to put you in the right mindset for WandaVision?

I mean, I think we were always cognizant of the legacy and what had come before because obviously, you're traveling with these characters on a journey. I mean, I've been really touched by the scenes between Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olson in the Endgame, and Age of Ultron. So, these are kind of important connections that you want to capitalize on in terms of the drama. And you don't want to go against the grain, but at the same time, I think the studio is very embracing that this was its own project.

They definitely were pushing some boundaries visually and I think they were willing to embrace what we wanted to do creatively and support it with the great infrastructure that they have at Marvel, in terms of the technological expertise and the people they can bring in to help. So yeah, it was very supportive, just everyone very committed and aiming for the best product.

Paul and Liz have both said as this whole project moves along, there are more surprising reveals. We just saw one at the end of last week and there have been some teases of even larger storytelling over the past two weekends. Would it be reasonable to say your biggest shots are probably yet to come?

I mean, there are two big episodes to come. And I wanted fans to kind of to have the full experience and figure out things for themselves as those episodes come. But yeah, these are two really big episodes. And I think there's a lot to discover in WandaVision still.

You've done film before. This is streaming. Did the different format alter your workflow at all with this?

It did. I mean in terms of the workflow technically we kind of built out a unique workflow at Marvel to accommodate the streaming platform. Like I think I mentioned we were mastering on sat and 4K HDR, which is unusual. And certainly lends itself to a Disney+ kind of platform. So that was kind of amazing, very high-quality mastering and, I think the speed at which it was shot was probably a little faster than a kind of normal film.

But certainly the quality we're aiming for was cinema quality for streaming. That was sort of the objective, and that was what the studio said to me. They only needed to say that once for me to know that I had artistic license to go deeply into every aspect of production and really aim for the highest standards. And then I think as a cinematographer coming into a project where you've got nine episodes, you've now got like six-plus hours of material to play with, so it's like two or three feature films put together, which is also a great kind of gift. You have a lot of time to build connections between episodes and more time to play with, so that was a little different for me as well.

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This interview was conducted prior to the premiere of WandaVision Episode 8. The first eight episodes of WandaVision are now streaming on Disney+.

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