mikkel abel’s review published on Letterboxd:
Marvel’s highly acclaimed WANDAVISION (2021) has come to an end and last week I had the honour of interviewing the show’s cinematographer, Jess Hall. A man who has made his way around the movie industry by bringing his talents to highly aesthetic works such as Edgar Wright’s HOT FUZZ (2007), GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017) and TRANSCENDENCE (2014).
With WANDAVISION Jess Hall got to play around with seventy years of TV history, referencing classic sitcoms and pushing just how experimental Marvel can be with their superhero narratives.
WANDAVISION REFERENCES MORE THAN SEVENTY YEARS OF TV. HOW DID YOU RESEARCH FOR THIS NARRATIVE FRAME?
Jess: “We used more than 47 different lenses to succeed at recreating the different time periods and styles. We worked with the show divided into seven looks, and the most important thing was to understand all the references, and how we could incorporate them into our own. I went back in time and looked for all information available on in books and archive material concerning older sitcoms. We constantly worked with camera angles, illumination and how the ‘language’ of the different shows was. We actually made a sitcom-bootcamp to get everybody on the same page.”
WHICH DECADE OR REFERENCE WAS MOST CHALLENGING TO RECREATE?
Jess: “The first episodes set in the 1950’s was definitely the most challenging because they were shot on film and not digitally. Something, I’m normally used to. But normally Disney converts to HDR, but we shot and set the lightning directly for the format. And it’s really hard to unite film and a digital process as many technical variables have to work together. In episode three, we worked with early colour tones on TV, which has difficult to work with getting the best look. To such a degree that we designed our own special lenses to the look we wanted to achieve.”
WAS THERE A DECADE OR CERTAIN REFERENCE THAT WAS CUT OUT OF THE SHOW, OR YOU WANTED TO EXPLORE FURTHER?
Jess: “Not really, I think. We weren’t to strict with how we approached the timeline, but I believe the 1980’s was the only thing we consciously skipped, as we had limited episodes to work with, And that was fine by me, as it’s quite an ugly decade!”
YOU’VE WORKED WITH FEATURE FILMS UNTIL NOW. WHAT WAS SOME OF THE CHALLENGES WITH WORKING ON A TV SHOW?
Jess: "I had to really redefine my visual language, but that made for an interesting working process. In the old sitcoms we’re referencing there’s a lot of cameras filming simultaneously, while the later shows are more static and simple. Of course we did a lot to break the classic forms as you’ll also see with the dining scene in the first episode."
HOW WAS IT TO WORK WITH MARVEL ON SUCH A BIG AND GROUNDBREAKING SHOW?
Jess: “I think the show gives a clear image of how much creative freedom there is at Marvel. We had a lot of support from their creative team and made a series, where every episode feels unique. It was a great process to work with them.”
HOW TO YOU MANAGE TO MAKE A SHOW THAT ALSO HAS TO FIT IN WITH 23 FILMS IN ONE BIG NARRATIVE?
Jess: “We actually shot the show as a six-and-a-half feature film. In that sense it was easier to keep track of continuity and how the show works on its own, while also being the product of the events in AVENGERS: ENDGAME and what Marvel’s films will bring these coming years. It was especially important to put focus on Elizabeth Olsen and let her unfold her talents around specific angles and shots that are repeated through the many films.”
YOUR FILMOGRAPHY HAS MANY DIFFERENT GENRE FILMS. HOW DID THAT HELP YOUR WORK ON WANDAVISION?
Jess: “It felt like my career had led me to this point as the big finale. I’ve made lots of different things, so I had gained a lot of knowledge and experience, which the show needed to create a visual identity. I’ve shot on both celluloid, and made more modern digital films like TRANSCENDENCE and GHOST IN THE SHELL, which proved helpful in shooting WANDAVISION. The project came at the right moment based on my personal experience, and I’m not sure I would have dared to make it five years ago.”