WandaVision cinematographer Jess Hall: Each episode recreates new cinematic language

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WandaVision is the most ambitious Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) entry yet. The streaming series on Disney+ follows the adventures of Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) as they slowly learn that their idyllic life is not quite what it seems. It spans several different time periods (from the ’50s to the present day) as it depicts the two lead characters in various sitcom-inspired settings. However, there’s still a heavy dose of action and adventure in the series. The high concept drama, currently in its seventh episode, has delivered multiple twists and turns so far.
It’s clear that the series itself pays homage to many classic sitcoms, both old and new. Cinematographer Jess Hall had a chat with Yahoo Lifestyle SEA about the many influences on the show, and as a true Marvel fan, he also had a Scarlet Witch figure on hand in her classic costume.
“Dick van Dyke was a big influence,” he said, citing Bewitched (but of course), The Brady Bunch, Malcolm In The Middle, Modern Family, and Family Ties as shows that the cinematography was specifically meant to reference in WandaVision.
A cinematographer, also known as a director of photography, is in charge of the camera and lights on a production set. The role differs from that of a director, as the cinematographer is usually responsible only for decisions related to the visuals of a production. In short, a cinematographer’s job is to make the moving pictures look good.
But paying homage to 70 years worth of television styles was challenging. “You’re recreating a whole kind of cinematic language with every episode. That includes lighting, camera styles, framing, composition and many different aspects of cinematography,” said Hall.
“We weren’t just doing single episodes, we were intercutting episodes, we had transitions from black and white to colour a couple of times. So I felt it was important to have some level of technical continuity there so it didn’t become overcomplicated in terms of execution,” said Hall. “So I stuck with one camera platform and varied my lenses and lighting and the colour science of the camera I was using.”
In particular, the colour palettes were challenging to navigate from episode to episode, when it came to ensuring they were period appropriate. To help in the process, lookup tables (a form of a preprogrammed logarithm) for colours were copiously used and applied to the raw images shot, to emulate the period looks in the show. As Hall explained, they were kind of colour grading on the spot, as they were shooting. “Essentially it’s like putting a filter on, and that filter would be my period look.”
“It’s a lot of colour science work and colour analysis,” Hall said. “It’s really a creative deep dive into cinematography.”
And it pays off, because each episode looks like a sitcom from a different era, which is an astonishing technical and visual accomplishment.
So when it comes to MCU films, which one is Hall’s favourite?
“For me, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame are huge achievements. It’s about the cinematography, but it’s also about the visual effects work, and the combination of those two together. It’s a phenomenal technical achievement,” gushed Hall. “Captain America: Winter Soldier too, which Trent Opaloch shot. I think that has really great cinematography. Those would be my top three.” (Editor’s note: Trent Opaloch was the cinematographer for Captain America: Winter Soldier, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame.)
We leave you with more visuals from WandaVision: