WandVision is one of the most beautiful shows on TV—here's how they pull that off.
Week in and out, WandaVision has been reinventing the visual style, tone, and cinematography of the show based on popular swings in American television history. It's been wondrous to watch. The show's DP, Jess Hall, was tasked weekly with recreating looks from shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show, Malcolm in the Middle, and Modern Family.
To add even more pressure, this wasn't some gimmick, but crucial to the storytelling of the show. He was creating a safe space, the kind of space Wanda had created after suffering a terrible loss and tragedy. Everything had to look right—otherwise, it would ruin the reality and worldbuilding of the story.
With such a huge task at hand, Hall weighed his options, and eventually went with the ARRI Alexa LF as the show's one camera. That's right, everything you see was shot on that... albeit with some help.
Hall recently sat down with Film School Rejects to talk about his process, telling them, “One of the things that I did very early on was say, ‘I’ve got to simplify this show somehow.’ When you’re working on a production, it’s busy. You don’t want too many elements. I didn’t want a bunch of vintage cameras that we’re going to break down in the heat or the rain. It had to have a bulletproof and efficient system. I made the call to use one camera platform throughout.”
To bolster the Alexa and recreate the shots of old, Hall utilized 47 different lenses. Countless hours were spent researching how old sitcoms were shot, and then they field-tested lenses, some of which had to be made special, to create these looks. They also had to make sure the lenses could be seamlessly shot and then edited together.
Another bonus of the Alexa LF is that it shoots in 4K, so there could be a lot of manipulation in post.
“I had to get into the color science basically,” said Hall. “I had to manipulate it in order to put a window, or my period, into the camera so that it interprets the data and gets me something like where I need to go. On top of that, I can put my lensing and use period lighting. Then, I built a shot vocabulary, a type of composition, an aspect ratio, and all the rest of it.”
When it came to shooting the sitcom scenes, they ran multiple cameras, with each camera op wearing a headset so Hall could direct them. But here's the catch, shooting like a sitcom meant running the cameras for extremely long takes, so Hall had to manipulate the lighting and angles on the go, as the actors worked.
And your lighting has to match, but not have any crossover. You need every angle to look good. And you can't have lights or screens visible, so there was an art to hiding things and making sure each angle worked.
Along with cameras, the aspect ratio changed. Most Marvel is in 2:40, but they tried to mimic old sitcom aspect ratios as best they could, so that changed constantly as well.
All this provided many challenges, but the show was more inventive and really steeped the audience in the world. We got to go onto someone's mind every week, and the reason we believed it was because the cinematography matched the storytelling.
I think the show pulled this off in an incredible fashion. What about you? Let us know in the comments.