Director Matt Shakman Reveals Why Finishing WandaVision Was More Difficult Than You May Think – Exclusive Interview
"Third time’s the charm" carries a few layers of meaning when we talk with Matt Shakman. It’s the third time we’ve spoken with him about his time directing WandaVision, and the first time he didn’t have to dodge spoilers. Also the joke extends to Wanda’s witchcraft, what with "charm" and all. During Looper‘s latest interview with Shakman, the former child star turned director had a lot to say about his time directing the Disney+ smash hit, and a few things to say about other, funnier topics.
During a wide-ranging conversation, Shakman filled us in on what Agatha was doing all along, the final days on set, and making the final WandaVision episode with the clock ticking. He also spoke about his kinship with the young actors on set, directing pastiches of shows he used to act on, and his true feelings regarding the Just the Ten of Us theme.
The location of Westview and Just The Ten Of Us
So I recently just interviewed Jac and I asked her a couple questions, and I want to see your takes. One of which is: where in New Jersey is Westview? Because people all over the state have been asking about that.
I think it’s in commuting distance to New York, which is what a lot of those sitcom towns were. Vision goes off to work, it’s within Westview, but I think it also could have been a commuting town to New York.
She said Lawrenceville, which is down by Princeton, so …
She went to Princeton. So she’s probably biased toward that area. But I also think maybe that’s why Vision picked a plot there, ’cause it’s not too far from the Avengers HQ on the Hudson or whatever. So commuting distance to work.
Especially when you can fly.
[Laughs] That’s right. That’s true. What is distance?
No, I haven’t! They did it?
They did it!
I’ll have to go look!
What’s it like hearing that theme again after all these years?
Because of that Twitter account, I’ve been hearing it a lot in my adult life. I actually like it. I think it’s super catchy.
What Agatha was doing all along and kinship with young actors
So what do you think Agatha was doing all along?
What do I think she was doing all along? Well, I think she was interested in trying to figure out as much as she possibly could about how Wanda created Westview. She was looking for information. She was trying to create moments when she could push Wanda to a breaking point, into a moment when she might reveal something. And then she built all the way up to a point where she decided it was time to reveal herself because she wasn’t getting all the answers she needed.
And so that’s our episode eight direct confrontation, when she takes her through her history to kind of learn: Where did this chaos magic come from? Where did this ability to create reality out of whole cloth come from? Because she wants it.
So there’s a bunch of younger actors in the show. Did you find being a child actor yourself helped you figure out how to direct them?
I think so. I certainly am deeply empathetic. I understand what they’re going through. And I tried to create an environment that is super supportive for them. And it’s modeled on the directors that I really liked when I was growing up working with, that I felt always heard and supported in the same way that the adult actors were, that I had the ability to contribute to the process.
Honestly, I think it’s important for a director to create an environment that is supportive for everybody. And I think the process is the same for whether you’re 80 years old or 10 years old in terms of needing the freedom to try things.
Dick Van Dyke
Speaking of that, I saw elsewhere you mentioned that you met with Dick Van Dyke when this was all starting.
Yes, we did.
Did he ever watch any of this?
Oh, I don’t know! I’m not sure. I hope so!
Now that it’s all over, can you tell us anything that he told you? Any advice?
He was very helpful about telling us how they made the show, ’cause I really wanted to make sure we were mimicking the process as closely as possible. So the way the rehearsal was structured, the way that their live performance taping was done, he was very clear that they did not do multiple versions of a scene. They really only did it from beginning all the way through to the end in front of the live audience.
So it felt more like theater. Unlike sitcoms today, which the comic emcee is there trying to keep everyone’s energy up as you watch the scene for the hundredth time. They didn’t want to do that. They wanted the lightning in a bottle reaction that you get from an audience and actors meeting and doing the show. So that was a big thing. But more than that, it was tone because I wanted to figure out how we could create a world that was grounded.
I mean, you believe in the relationship between Rob and Laura. You believe in the chemistry between Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. And this is a wonderful home. You’re rooting for them much in the same way that I hope people are rooting for Vision and Wanda. It’s an unlikely pair, but they really work and you believe in their love.
And yet The Dick Van Dyke Show has room for tumbling over ottomans and all sorts of wonderful physical comedy, which we wanted to do as well. So how do you create room for both of those things? And he was very clear that the way they did it is that if it couldn’t happen in real life, it wouldn’t happen on the show. And then a lot of the material from the show was drawn from the actors’ personal lives, that Carl Reiner would interview them around the rehearsal room, what had happened in their life, and that would end up in the show.
And so I think if you’re grounding it that way, and we tried to do that as well, then you can do lots of silly things with a meat tenderizer and Vision jumping over couches to get the door and Wanda fainting into Mr. Hart’s arms. All of those things can happen because you believe in the love they share.
Close to home
Around the middle of the season, you guys started doing pastiches of shows that you — in particular — were on. What was it like being on a set that resembled where you started?
Very odd! And the ’80s in particular, of course, was also… the shows that I was on, shows that I watched more when they were happening in the moment, as opposed to Dick Van Dyke, I Love Lucy, Bewitched that were just in reruns and syndication when I was a kid. So this really was my DNA. This was if Wanda had watched all of these shows on DVD with her family in Sokovia.
But the ’80s really was if I was going to create an alternate reality, it probably would be the ’80s just ’cause that’s what I remember so well. And it’s true for Jac Schrieffer too. And I think it’s true for Kevin Feige. It was true for the Lopezes, who wrote the theme songs. It was all sort of our… our world goes back to the ’80s.
And late ’80s for Full House is where Lizzie grew up on the set of her sisters’ show. So it was a strange sort of nexus for lack of a better word for all of our sort of experience.
Details and what the gang’s up to next
People were combing over the show in great detail, looking for clues, and they managed to pick out a lot of them. But were there any clues that you thought didn’t get a lot of attention, would’ve liked to see more attention. or surprised people didn’t pick up on?
People were very sharp. I was so impressed by the level of passion and detailed thinking and theorizing that the fans had. It was so impressive. And we were absolutely sort of addicted to reading everyone’s theories and passing around various memes and TikTok videos.
I think people were very, very clever at noticing what was happening. Obviously we were iterating everything, the magazine that they’re reading in episode one, Glamorous magazine with advice on how to keep your husband is the same magazine in every single era, just updated to that era with the same model on the cover in an appropriate attire from the next era.
That’s happening everywhere. Wanda’s car is a Buick that iterates through time, always red, all the way to the one. I saw several comments being like "The Scarlet Witch drives a Buick from S.W.O.R.D.?" But there’s a reason why it’s been… it’s the same model of car that’s been in continuous production.
So there are a few things that people sort of, I think maybe didn’t pay as much attention to in terms of those kinds of time jumps and iterations, but there was a lot of wonderful focus on it.
I actually didn’t catch that one. So you taught someone new! So what do you think Jimmy, Darcy are all doing now?
Oh, Jimmy’s a hard worker. He’s catching bad guys, of course. Monica, we’ll have to wait and see Captain Marvel 2 to know what she’s up to and what’s going on in the heavens above, as we know with the Skrull pointing up to the sky. And Dr. Darcy Lewis, the top of her field, I’m sure she’s got a lot of people asking for her time and attention.
Chemistry, memes, and music
Everybody on the show was just really funny and they have an easy chemistry. Was that true on set when the cameras weren’t rolling?
Yes. We had the best time. This show was a joy to make. Everyone in the cast and on the crew as well, just kind souls. And we had a great time making the show because of that. I believe in that. I don’t think you need a lot of drama. I think you need a lot of decency. And we had that in spades doing the show, for sure.
You brought it up a little bit — I’m sure I know by now you’ve seen all the memes, the TikTok. Are there any ones that stand out to you?
What is beef, if not cow persevering?
That was pretty good. There are a lot, though. And a lot of really… the "Agatha All Along" remixes were wonderful. Yeah.
The music on the show is just really, really good. How did you guys pull that off?
We had amazing, wonderful, talented songwriters and composers working on the show. I went to college with Bobby Lopez and knew him back then and knew he was headed toward greatness. He was writing musicals in college that were wonderful. And he wrote music for some plays that I directed. And again, a brilliantly talented person, but also one of the sweetest, kindest humans you’ll ever meet. And he and his partner in crime, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, have been the songwriting duo of our time.
And so I called them immediately and said, "I’m doing this crazy project. Would you want to write television theme songs?" And they were like, "Yes!" I mean, they were like, there was no, there was no wooing them. They were in, it was awesome. And they gave it their all and wrote incredible, incredible theme songs.
And then Christophe Beck, who I’ve admired for a really long time, but had never worked with before, was our composer. And he brilliantly evolved from those sort of early ’50s, ’60s sitcom cues to big sweeping romantic themes in our Marvel world. No one could have done it better.
Cut scenes, the last few days, and racing to finish
I caught a little bit of your interview with Kevin Smith, and you mentioned a scene you had to cut, the Goonies pastiche with the rabbit. Besides that, what was the hardest scene you had to cut?
It wasn’t too hard to cut the scenes. I think that there were only a few scenes that had to go along the way. The narrative is pretty tight. That one scene that I mentioned was fun and we had fun shooting it, but it clearly didn’t work as we were finalizing the way the chess board was going to function in the final episode. So it was an easy thing to cut from a story standpoint. There wasn’t too much that was a heartbreaker for me. And I think the finale came together really well.
What was the last day on set like?
We had to say goodbye to Lizzie first, I believe, and then it was Paul. So we were kind of saying goodbye to everybody in our cast as we went. So I think by the time we wrapped, it was just a few of us in front of a green screen. And it really felt like, I guess, not with a bang, but a whimper, in a way. It kind of slowly faded.
The last episode was only finished being put together just a couple of weeks before the final episode. Was that a stressful time at all?
For sure. One of the things about working in the pandemic is that we had a lot of time in post-production between when we stopped shooting. We filmed in Atlanta up to the point of the lockdown, and then we had time for post-production. Then we came back in the fall to shoot the last third of the show in Los Angeles, which was always our plan to shoot in LA because we wanted to be on backlogs, where they had shot these old sitcoms.
But it meant that once we wrapped in order to hit our air date, our post-production was very, very busy and very hectic throughout the holidays and into the early part of the year. And so, yeah, we were finishing these shows with only a few weeks to spare before they had to hit the air.
What’s next for you with Marvel?
Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s next for me in general. I’m going to take a moment to breathe deeply and hang out with my wonderful family. I love Marvel. It was an incredible place to work as a filmmaker. They’re incredibly supportive, lovely people, as well as brilliant filmmakers, all of them. So I had a great time and would love to work with Marvel again. But no, no plans.
Also, did you ever spill any of the information? ‘Cause I know your daughter was needling you about that.
Oh yes! My daughter became a big WandaVision fan and she wanted to know all the secrets. I of course couldn’t tell her anything.
Did you tell anybody?
No, of course not!