‘WandaVision': How Disney+’s Sitcom-Based Plot Expanded From a Mundane ‘Age of Ultron’ Prop

TheWrap magazine: Introducing the show in an ”off-kilter“ way forced even the most ardent Marvel fans to pay special attention, head writer Jac Schaeffer says

A version of this story about “WandaVision” first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

You’d be hard pressed to find many shows that were more emblematic of the COVID era than Marvel Studios’ “WandaVision.”

The show focused heavily on dealing with grief and loss and was a self-described love letter to television. Not only that, “WandaVision” had the weight of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on its shoulders. It was unexpectedly the first project to launch the hugely popular franchise’s “Phase 4” and ended a pandemic-prolonged 18-month hiatus for the MCU after the mid-2019 release of “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”

We spoke about this with the show’s head writer, Jac Schaeffer.

TheWrap: How do you think themes of “WandaVision,” grief and loss, resonated even more considering the time the show aired in?

It did seem to kind of be like a direct conduit between people’s experiences during the pandemic and during lockdown — their desire to escape into their entertainment — and that is exactly what Wanda is doing in the show. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in my career, where something is just like an emblem of what’s happening, like a complete mirror. I found it to be incredibly beautiful and moving that people took to the show in such a deep way.

Speaking of escape into TV shows. “WandaVision” uses the theme of escape into classic TV. How did you settle on that conceit?

It was (Marvel Studios president) Kevin Feige’s idea to combine the history of classic sitcoms with the characters of “WandaVision.” And Marvel knew that it would be a story about (Wanda Maximoff’s) immense history of loss and her current state of grief because that’s very much what’s in the comics, and that’s what’s in the MCU. That is sort of a defining characteristic of Wanda.

But then it was up in the air. Why sitcoms? I floated the idea that maybe because she was from Sokovia, sort of this war-torn country, that maybe her father was a bootlegger and that he had all these old DVDs. And Kevin really sparked to that idea, because when they were shooting “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” they had these prop tables of bootleg DVDs that were part of a Sokovian little market or whatever. So that was like a very early kernel.

Regarding Vision’s line: “What is grief, if not love preserving?” Did you think that would just hit the chord that it did?

I didn’t. I never would have anticipated the memes and I’ve never thought that a line could be a sensation. When you think of the big lines and in pop culture, it’s like years later: “Nobody puts baby in a corner,” “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” It’s not in the moment — and there was no social media then — so it doesn’t become an instant sensation.

I did feel tremendous pride when we figured out that line. It was a combination of a lot of different people involved in distilling and crystallizing that moment. That encapsulates the point we’re trying to make about grief.

The show was completed during lockdown. What had to change when you went back behind the cameras?

There were small sacrifices. We lost some locations because of the scheduling reshuffling. And things had to move around, and some of the action sequences, like the fight choreography and the crowd scenes, needed to be rethought in order to create social distance between actors. Luckily, we had filmed almost all of the really intimate stuff (before the shutdown), so that wasn’t a big deal. Mostly, it afforded us a lot of extra time to revise and to plan. I would never call a pandemic a gift, but the extra time and the reflection it afforded us to nail the final beats was welcome.

“WandaVision” was the first MCU show on Disney+, which was not the plan. You were the first MCU anything in 18 months, which was obviously not the plan. Did that add any extra pressure?

Not gonna lie, it was intimidating. I was happy that Kevin, Marvel and Disney+ had confidence in the show and were excited to launch it. So that was really great. There was always the design for the show to open in a way that was confusing and sort of off-kilter and required a measure of attention and investment. So yeah, I was worried. But the Marvel fan base is like no other, and their commitment and their devotion is extraordinary. And I feel very grateful for that. And I knew that the diehard fans would hang in and would be intrigued because they like it. This isn’t the first time Marvel’s done something unusual. They’re always striving to change and grow and surprise, right?

Now that we’ve seen “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” (which was supposed to premiere ahead of “WandaVision”) you could almost see how it was designed to be the first one on Disney+. They were really going into what is this post-Blip world looked like, and it’s much more similar to the movies in that there’s this big action set piece.

It made sense to me, kind of on a cellular level, that the TV shows were meant to come out in conjunction with the features and that was supposed to be very seamless, and to show audiences that the series are as big or as exciting or as important as the features. “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is that. So that made a lot of sense. But then in the upside-down world after this incredibly long break, I think it worked out.

When we spoke to Kevin in January, he said that in some ways it was kind of perfect that Marvel Studios’ first show was this love letter to television.

All of us involved in the show love television desperately, because it is our business. It’s our reason for living. We created it with that intense passion and and gratitude and reverence. But then I think we all learned the lesson over and over again during lockdown of how important entertainment can be when you’re struggling.

Over the last year of lockdown, how do you think TV and streaming’s stature in the whole entertainment landscape has changed?

It was a very exciting time to have so much at your fingertips. I remember being a teenager, and there was an issue of Time or Newsweek that was like, here’s what the future is going to look like. And it was like this little animation of a family and the computer was everywhere. You would watch your TV on the computer screen, and I was like, “No that’s not a thing. That’s not where we’re going.” So it turns out Time/Newsweek was totally right. It’s incredible to have so much exciting, challenging content available at home. And it’s amazing that we sort of figured that out before the pandemic. I believe in my heart that we are in an extraordinary golden age of television.

Now that lockdowns are ending and restrictions are easing as more people are getting vaccinated, the country starting to open back up. Do you worry that viewers’ appetite for new streaming content is gonna start to swing the other way for a little bit, as people just want to get the hell out of their houses?

I don’t know. I’m not good at predicting that ebb and flow of lifestyle choices. I think people always want to lay in their beds and watch content. So if they go out at two in the afternoon, and are having a great time until midnight, they’re still gonna go home and be like, maybe I’ll just watch something before I got to bed. So I’m not worried about that.

Read more from the Race Begins issue here.

EmmyWrap The Race Begins 2021 cover
illustration by Jon Stich for TheWrap