When a show is as crucial to the next phase of a beloved franchise as WandaVision is, every line of dialogue and every piece of set design is picked over by fans and analyzed relentlessly from one week from the next. That’s why the Disney+ series has a deft production designer like Mark Worthington, who is no stranger to sprawling universes.
Worthington spoke to Screen Rant about how his work on WandaVision compares to his previous design experience, how the eras of the show intermingle with each other, and what he learned about sitcoms during his time on set.
Mark, have you ever been a part of a project where the production design is this analyzed and picked apart by the fans?
Mark Worthington: Oh, yes. I did Star Trek: Discovery, so that is in equal measure. The rabid fan base with the whole Star Trek canon and everything means I’ve been in this situation before.
Everything on the screen has been freeze framed and looked at. How often do you hear theories about the show from your work?
Mark Worthington: You hear it all the time. It’s fun to watch, and that’s part of the fun. It’s never about the absolute accuracy of one theory or another, it’s the fact that the fact that the fans are developing this whole mythology around the things. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all valid. Which some fans don’t like because they want to be right about stuff, but it’s all cool and all great, as far as I’m concerned.
Were you given a mandate by Marvel or Kevin Feige to include certain things in the production design?
Mark Worthington: No. You get a script, like you always do, Jac Schaefer’s script, which is great, and her writers. I keep saying this, but it’s very true: Marvel’s like working for an indie film company, because it’s really handmade stuff. They may make these giant projects, but it’s very handmade. You’re sitting in a room with Kevin and Lou and Victoria – and Matt Shakman, the director, and our cinematographer – and you’re having a conversation and presenting material, and there’s a dialogue.
Obviously, it’s shaped by people who really know the MCU, which is why it is successful. It has to have a kind of creative consistency, and obviously it does, and that’s why it’s successful. But no, it’s an ongoing dialogue. You’re participating, and there’s a lot of back and forth, and a discussion about those ideas and what would make sense and what wouldn’t. It’s a great process, and it’s surprising. I wasn’t expecting that, and it was really a pleasure.
The aesthetics of the show have been phenomenal. Apart from the time period sets, the Easter eggs for Marvel have been strategically placed like never before in this show. They’re ambiguous and layered. Can you describe the process to execute some of them?
Mark Worthington: Part of that is in the script, and part of it comes up as you go along. Suggestions are made from Russell Bobbitt, our prop master, who’s been with Marvel for years. He was a great fountain of knowledge for that stuff. We’ll make suggestions creatively, Matt certainly does, Jac and the writers obviously come up with stuff. And then, obviously, Kevin and the creatives at that end at the studio will also have their own ideas about that.
It’s sort of an organic process of bringing those things up, and then they’re embedded in the show. Jac may go back and put it in a script or whatever when we’ve made a decision about that. It’s actually really fun and organic, and the more you get into the MCU, the more fluent you become, and the more helpful you can become about making sure those things are fun and embedded really well.
What was your favorite era to design in the show?
Mark Worthington: I don’t know that I have a favorite one. We just saw the 80s, so now that’s my favorite. I just saw it on TV, and that isn’t the most obvious era. The mid-century stuff – 50s and 60s and 70s – is really cool. But doing that 80s stuff, which is sort of a 180 from the sensibility of that stuff, was such a pleasure. And surprising, because that’s not necessarily my sensibility, but watching that show was incredibly satisfying.
Getting some distance on it and coming back and looking at it again, I’m going, “Wow, that really works.” To be able to create the tone of each of these eras in sitcoms was just really challenging and really fun.
Of all the different areas, which one do you find the most significant to the story?
Mark Worthington: Again, I know this sounds like a cop out, but every one contributes in its own way for its own reasons. It really does, because the story is so carefully constructed. You start in this very buttoned up, very recognizable 1950s sitcom, with very little variation from that template. And then a few little things drop, like, this is different. And then that starts to become more free, as we’ve seen, and that grows a bit and things change. You’re beginning to see something different.
And then, of course, we’ve opened it up and we’re beginning to understand what’s going on with this MCU component. Equal isn’t the right word, but they all contribute in really significant ways to the nature of the story and the unfolding of the story. It’s fun to watch, because people were maybe even confused at the beginning a little bit. They were like, “I’m not sure what I’m watching. It’s cool, and I love it. But I don’t know.” And now as we go forward, the pennies are beginning to drop as things were introduced.
Without the kind of perfect sitcom at the beginning, the 1980s episode doesn’t make sense. Those two things are completely intertwined. Without that, you can’t have the other. The progression is essential. It’s like the Swiss watch. You if you take one jewel out, the watch stops.
What indicators differentiate the real world from the TV Land that Wanda create?
Mark Worthington: Well, I think it’s pretty bifurcated. In other words, there are elements that kind of interplay, as you’ve already seen. As they’re sending drones, that’s going on. But right now, there’s an inside and there’s an outside, and certain people are coming back and forth a little bit.
But I think the fun is that distinction. There’s a bubble over this town. And if you notice, it’s daytime in Westview in one scene, and then we jump out. It’s continuous action, and it’s night outside. You literally have that difference; she has such control over this world that she even controls when it’s day and when it’s night, I guess. It’s fun.
What famous TV influences did you want to include in WandaVision?
Mark Worthington: Maybe this isn’t directly to the question, but I made a certain assumption about what sitcoms would be like because I’ve never done them. And I assumed they would be easier than they were. I assumed that they were like these simpler objects, and it’s like, “Oh, that’s comedy. That’s easy.” But I was disabused of that notion almost immediately.
There’s a really specific technical set of issues that you have to deal with. Simply, if you’re doing an open set that’s for three-camera show. How does that work? How do you get the camera angles? You have to very thoughtfully put that together with the cinematographer to make sure that you can get what ends up being three-camera coverage in a convincing way that looks like a sitcom. That is not easy.
Those designers and all the technical people working on those shows did an amazing job. And I have an extremely healthy respect for them. I didn’t expect that challenge, and then I was confronted with it.