Westview. The bizarre and wonderful microcosm of white picket fences, “peachy keen” pant suits, and Mary Tyler Moore hair flips. For the uninitiated, this idealistic suburbia plays home to a wishful-thinking, reality-bending witch named Wanda and her density-changing android husband named Vision in Marvel’s hit show WandaVision (now streaming on Disney+).
Presented in nine 30-minute episodes, each is inspired by a famous American sitcom; The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, The Brady Bunch, Family Ties, Malcolm In The Middle, Modern Family, the list goes on.
“We did a tonne of research and came up with our own WandaVision version of a 50s sitcom, a 60s sitcom, a 70s sitcom,” says production designer Mark Worthington via Zoom from Atlanta. “We wanted it to be particular to our circumstances. We didn’t want people going, ‘Oh I know that sitcom and that’s not right, they got that wrong.’
They got it so right. At its heart, WandaVision’s retro frontier tells the tale of one woman’s struggle as she plays warden to her grief-stricken world. How far will she go to protect her family? How desperate she will she become to rid a threat? As we’re watching, we’re realising both Wanda and this little quarantined town of Westview isn’t all that different from our current locked-down lives. Restricted to our hometown’s radius. A force bigger than ourselves is controlling us. We’re mourning better days.
Ahead, Worthington details how he and his team built Westview, how the crew filmed the series amid the COVID outbreak, what television might look like in the future and – if he was put to the task – how he would design a set that adequately represents 2021.
GRAZIA: Congratulations on the entire series! What an ending! Marvel really took a risk with the formula of this show at a time when the world needed something to fill its mundane days. When you were approached by the studio and you saw the premise (nine episodes, each set in a different era), could you foresee the amount of work ahead?
MARK WORTHINGTON: “Oh, I think so. I got called by Matt Shakman, the director, who’s an old friend. He called and said it’s a Marvel project, so I had something else in mind. Obviously when you think Marvel there are certain assumptions you make about what that means. And then he described WandaVision to me and I was like, this sounds crazy and amazing. And so I think we understood the challenge. You’re never prepared on any big project for what you end up having to deal with; the winter weather in Atlanta, COVID-19 dropping right into the middle of our shooting schedule. All of these things are utterly unpredictable and we were able to navigate all that. But yeah, I think you do get a sense of the scale. And then of course you get gobsmacked by what the surprises are.”
GRAZIA: Tell me how COVID-19 effected production…
WORTHINGTON: “Well we were shooting the show in Atlanta at Pinewood and at different locations in Atlanta. Then we came out to do backlot work in LA and we ended in Atlanta at the end of February. We were prepping for a week and a half and that’s when COVID-19 hit and we worked remotely at first before shutting down. We ending returning to work with new protocols in place. We must have been one of the bigger shows back first in LA so it’s a bit harrowing, we were like ‘how is this going to work?’ And actually, I don’t know that we had any infections at all, it was amazing. We were lucky and the infection rate was lower then, so obviously it worked well and everybody did their due diligence. Everyone was super careful, we were able to finish shooting the series and everybody had a really good attitude about it. So it was a challenge and it provided real difficulties but at the same time, it was sort of inspiring that we were able to actually work positively and safely under those conditions.”
GRAZIA: The set essentially plays the third character to Wanda and Vision. We’re constantly looking at the set for clues. It’s a different way of experiencing a television show. Where did your research begin?
WORTHINGTON: “Part of the research started with us looking at how we could approach this. As you can see, we didn’t pick one single sitcom as inspiration. I mean, there were references in there, we looked at the whole era, we watched a bunch of sitcoms and we’ve all grown up with them. There are probably several of those sitcoms playing right now. Somebody’s watching them as we speak. So we wanted to evoke that era – the essence of a 50s sitcom for example – and find those elements but not land on any one. Because it had to be particular to our circumstances and also, it’s distracting to have one sitcom. Because then you’re looking at it and you’re going, ‘Oh I know that sitcom and that’s not right, they got that wrong.’ You don’t want that, you want it to be particular. We did a tonne of research around all of them and then came up with our own WandaVision version of a 50s sitcom, 60s sitcom, 70s sitcom and so on that we hope evokes and triggers those memories for people so that they’re comfortable.”
GRAZIA: When we’re watching we’re talking about TV of Yore. Well, I want to ask you about your opinion of TV of the future, “Yonder Vision”, if you will. The world has just undergone and is undergoing a huge shift that has drastically affected the TV and film industry, as you said. What do you think your role as a production designer might look like in the future?
WORTHINGTON: “Well, it’s funny. Technology is changing things really rapidly and people get scared. Humans will still be designing sets in the future. It may be on an LED screen, but we’re designing and we’re making it. That process is sort of still fundamental. So I think people are getting scared and saying, ‘My job’s going to go away.’ Well, not if you’re willing to embrace the technology and understand that your role and what your providing is still the same essential idea. We’re creating stories and we’re creating environments for those narratives. So fundamentally, I think the core of the job remains largely the same. And then it’s the technological expression of that and the instrumentality that is changing and one just needs to be flexible and embrace that so that you can continue to tell these visual stories.”
GRAZIA: If you were to design a set for 2021, how would you go about it? What would you include because I feel like we all need little quarantined towns like Westview.
WORTHINGTON: Well, I think that’s interesting.
“What part of 2021 do you want to express? Do you want a piece of escapism? And interestingly, WandaVision is that and it’s not”.
And we’re beginning to see the real world and what’s happening. But that’s the thing. Escapism is really a wonderful thing. I love watching vintage movies. Everything is so terrible in this world that you want to go to something that has a more positive feel or has a nostalgia to it. But on the other hand, you may want to tell a story of the reality of what’s going on right now. Obviously, this has been a really eventful four years and we’re coming to a part of that where it’s changing. What does that mean? Do you want to talk honestly about what that means and where we are? That would be another story I’d be interested in telling.”
GRAZIA: What were Elizabeth Olsen and Kat Dennings like to work with?
WORTHINGTON: “They were fantastic. Incredible actors as you can see the range in this. I mean, not that you didn’t see it before. You did, obviously, the both of them. But what a pleasure. They’re both lovely and so positive and so complimentary of the sets. They would come onto the sets and be very like, ‘Oh my God this feels totally like this sitcom!’ so it was gratifying that our scenery was able to help them provide energy for their performances.”