The most exciting filmmakers are those who meticulously curate the tone and craft of their work. Directing every episode of a television season, as “WandaVision” executive producer Matt Shakman recently did, enables an artist to have a level of control over their work that television rarely provides. “WandaVision” is the first project in Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Marvel Studios’ first plunge into the world of streaming. Taking place after “Avengers: Endgame,” Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) attempt to live a normal life, only to find themselves traveling through the decades in various sitcom-esque scenarios.
It’s fitting that Shakman should find his way back to the world of sitcoms given his days on the “Growing Pains” spinoff, “Just the Ten of Us,” but an added advantage is his accomplished career as both a stage and television director for nearly 20 years. From “Mad Men” to “Succession” to “Game of Thrones,” Shakman has directed some of the most acclaimed episodes of several of television’s greatest shows across multiple genres, most notably “Spoils of War” from “Game of Thrones” Season 7. His collaboration with Kevin Feige and screenwriter Jac Schaeffer on “WandaVision” perfectly aligns with his desire to utilize and experiment with the genre-blurring nature of the stage in combination with complex tonal material..
“We’ve had a great deal of fun playing with style and genre and tone as a way to tell a better story,” said Shakman. “I think tone is one of the great mysteries. I love experimenting with it, and I myself gravitate towards stories where the tone is not super clear. I come from theatre, [and] Shakespeare’s sort of the God of the theatre, and he did this too, [starting with] Comedy of Errors, and The History of Richard III, but by the time he was done, his last few plays are The Tempest and Winter’s Tale, which are these amazing combinations of genre. They’re thrillers, and comedies, and history, and tragedy all wrapped up into one. I think that’s what’s happening in streaming right now, too. I love stories like that because they’re closer to life than anything else.”
“WandaVision’s” modulating tone isn’t only what makes it such a unique venture. The craftsmanship behind its loving recreation of the classic sitcoms that inspired it, including “I Love Lucy,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and “Bewitched” is also a remarkable accomplishment. Shakman spoke about the research that went into doing this.
“Authenticity was key, and that lent itself to special effects. We spoke to Dan [Sudick, special effects supervisor for ‘WandaVision’] and realized that [he] actually knows this stuff inside out. Dick Van Dyke was a great resource for figuring out how [his] live shows went, and then we went on a deep dive looking at old prints of ‘Bewitched,’ ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show,’ etc. We wanted to go back and see what were these creators, these filmmakers trying to achieve visually back then so we can recreate that, too.”
Our conversation with Shakman goes even deeper into the way “WandaVision” was constructed, as well as what it was like to work with Olsen and Bettany portraying familiar characters in a wildly unfamiliar setting, and an important lesson Dick Van Dyke taught him about getting authentic reactions from a live sitcom audience. Have a listen to hear from one of the key creative voices behind “WandaVision,” Matt Shakman.
“WandaVision” hits Disney+ on January 15.
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