Crafting the Traumatic Sitcom Universe of ‘WandaVision’

Craft Considerations: Watch composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, director Matt Shakman, and production designer Mark Worthington break down "WandaVision."

WandaVision Disney+ Paul Bettany Elizabeth Olsen

Courtesy of Disney+

Curated by the IndieWire Crafts team, Craft Considerations is a platform for filmmakers to talk about recent work we believe is worthy of awards consideration. In partnership with Disney+, for this edition we look at how main title theme composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, director/executive producer Matt Shakman, and production designer Mark Worthington created the many different yet unified worlds of “WandaVision.”

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first foray into television embraced the medium — and specifically the history of the TV sitcom — in a formally playful fashion. “WandaVision” picks up the story of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) grappling with the death of her love, Vision (Paul Bettany), in a highly unusual way. She uses magic to create her own reality where her partner is still very much alive and the two can build a family together — with the slight hitch that Wanda inadvertently puts the entire town of Westview, New Jersey under mind control in the process of creating a suburban oasis inflected by the tones, look, and styles of sitcoms she loves.

“It had to feel authentic,” series director and executive producer Matt Shakman said of the sitcom reality that Wanda creates for herself. “And we also wanted to make sure that there was an integrity to it from era to era. So our rationale for the reason that [the eras were] changing is that certain pressures are exerted on Wanda that forced her to kind of flip the book and change the story.”

Those pressures on Wanda, as you will see in the videos below, are often visual and aural ones. Changes in lenses, lighting, use of the camera, set design, and music don’t only mirror the evolution of sitcom language, but the emotional state of the grieving Avenger.

The Main Title Theme Music of “WandaVision”

It’s only fitting for a show so enmeshed in the conventions of sitcoms that “WandaVision” doesn’t settle for just one main title theme. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez were tasked with creating a version of the theme song for each of the show’s decade shifts, as well as the villainous theme “Agatha All Along,” for which the duo were also nominated.

As they detail in the video above, it was important that a common thread connect all the various versions of the theme song, but at the same time emotionally and lyrically track Wanda’s journey as the artificial reality she’s created starts to crumble.

“We start with these studio singers, singing in very civilized harmony and by the ’90s we’re screaming like a riot girl,” said Anderson-Lopez of the musical progression. And yet, as Lopez pointed out, as the season progressed, the theme songs still needed to establish the tone of a sunny network comedy: “It was our job to paste the smile increasingly harder on this sitcom, which was losing control of its own message.”

The Directing of “WandaVision”

As important as the homages to decades of American television are to “WandaVision,” director Matt Shakman’s ultimate task was to slowly unravel the show’s sitcom premise. Even before the audience fully understands the nature of the world Wanda has created, Shakman used changes in lighting, composition, and camera movement to visually enforce that something is deeply wrong with Westview.

“It was just about shifting into a point of view that felt like it was personal to her,” Shakman said of the “Twilight Zone” moments where the visual language of Wanda’s sitcom world warps to create a sense of palpable dread. “These moments [of divergence allow] the audience to know there’s more going on than you would think. And you’re getting in touch with the lake of trauma that’s underneath all of that.”

In the video above, Shakman talks about the visual tools he used to both construct and deconstruct “WandaVision’s” sitcom reality while keeping the story firmly focused on its heroine, as we slowly learn of the emotions motivating her to become the tyrannical showrunner of her own series.

The Production Design of “WandaVision”

Of all the complicated world-building challenges of “WandaVision,” arguably the biggest were left for production designer Mark Worthington to solve. He had to create settings that would feel perfectly at home in six different decades of television history as well as sets that fit the aesthetic of the Marvel Universe.

At the heart of it all was Wanda and Vision’s home, which Worthington linked by adhering to the same floor plan and layout, even as the furnishing, colors, sensibilities and, of course, TV sets, changed over time. It was important to Worthington to evoke classic sitcoms without mimicking one specific show or letting the design stray too far from Wanda herself.

“As much as these things are homages, what they really are, are memories,” Worthington said of the sitcom spaces. “They are composite memories of these sitcoms that Wanda has made manifest. And so they’re always inflected by her own point of view.”

This point of view is subtle, but always present, whether in wallpaper that shows locations from previous “Avengers” films or in the house’s dead lawn that mirrors Wanda’s frazzled emotional state as she enters the ’90s.

As Worthington details in the video above, the production design’s hints at Wanda’s underlying trauma come to a head when the cheery ’50s set from the pilot reappears in the penultimate episode, but seen through a completely different lens.

“WandaVision” is available to stream on Disney+.

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