Jac Schaeffer interview

How does an artist put a personal stamp on a project when they’re working within the confines of a massive, interconnected cinematic universe? For Jac Schaeffer, the head writer of WandaVision, Marvel Studios’ first-ever venture into television, the answer is to combine a unique mixture of influences that mean a lot to her and create something new within that framework.

In the wake of the show’s fourth episode, which expanded the scope of the series outside the bubble of the small New Jersey town of Westview, /Film spoke with Schaeffer about how she made WandaVision her own, what Jimmy Woo and Dr. Darcy Lewis see in between “episodes” within this universe, the difference in the way peoples’ return from the Blip is depicted in this series vs. Spider-Man: Far From Home, red herrings, and more. Check out our full Jac Schaeffer interview below.

I’m always interested in how people working inside Marvel are able to put their own stamp on these big projects, so what is it about WandaVision that makes it personal to you and your vision for the show?

Oh my gosh. Believe it or not, I’ve never gotten that question. I love it. What makes it personal to me? I love comedy. I love sitcoms. I also love really weird stuff: I love Lost. I love Twilight Zone. I love Amazing Stories. I love Hitchcock. I think that’s what’s personal to me, the sort of forced cohabitation of these different tones. My early career, it was hard to find my place. A lot of the stuff that I wrote didn’t land squarely in any one category, and I think that’s what clicked for me about this idea and what kept my energy going throughout the last two years: just how cool all of those things are if you serve them all on the same plate.

We saw people return from the Blip in Spider-Man: Far From Home, when a band member gets hit in the head with a basketball after being blipped back into the middle of a game. But the way you chose to show Monica Rambeau’s return here was much more gradual. What kind of discussions did you have about the differences in those depictions?

Yeah, there were a lot of discussions. We, and Marvel, wanted there to be a cohesiveness to the visuals and to the phenomena. But also, this is its own show and the tone of our sequence is obviously very different, and the location is very different. So it was an opportunity in small ways to be separate. Yeah, that’s what I’ll say.

I know you’ve probably been asked a lot about the Nick at Nite inspirations for the various sitcom eras, but did you take any inspiration from any movies or TV shows when it comes to the outside the bubble storytelling for the rest of the series?

Yeah. In terms of the pop-up base and the S.W.O.R.D. of it in episode four, we had a lot of touchstones. Like Arrival was one of them. The current shows that take you to unexpected places – things like Russian Doll was an influence. Actually, that came out as we were writing, but episode four of Russian Doll totally flips the script, right? It’s a totally different deal. That blew my hair straight back. I was so dazzled by that. So there were some influences like that where it was, within a season, big structural shifts.

I have a couple of super granular, nerdy questions for you. How do the television broadcasts work to Darcy and Jimmy? It looks like they’re not seeing exactly the same thing that we are seeing, but are they seeing additional episodes? Are there reruns playing constantly until they see a new episode? Do they just see static? What’s going on there?

There are additional episodes. They’re seeing additional episodes, yeah.

Why did you decide to change what S.W.O.R.D. stands for in the show versus what it stood for in the comics?

That is a decision that has to do with larger story.

Ah, a good tease there. As the show moves through the decades and you start approximating more modern styles of TV, can you tell me if we might see a significantly longer episode at some point this season, maybe even one that reaches an hour or more?

I can’t speak to runtime. I love it when I can just shut down a question because it’s a directive that I’ve been given.

OK, fair enough. I’ve heard you talk about how before you got this job, there were already some existing ideas for the basic premise of Wanda and Vision being in a TV show and ideas for a few cool moments that could happen along the way, but there was no cohesive vision for the series. Was writing Black Widow similar in terms of having to reverse-engineer a narrative to fit a few pre-existing beats?

No, the process there was different. There was a little bit more finding the story on Widow, and then two other very talented writers picked that up and continued on. WandaVision was different in that there was a lot of meat already on the bone with the idea, and then the pitch that I brought in, the larger story of it, is what we took into the writers’ room and enhanced.

You must have known that people were going to be applying ridiculous levels of analysis to every frame of this show, and you and your team put so much care and thought into every little detail. But you probably know that when the first season of Westworld came out, people on Reddit figured out the big twist a week into the season. Did you put any effort into deliberately misleading people with some of those background details in an attempt to preserve the surprise of what’s really going on?

Well, first of all, I didn’t anticipate this, I have to say. Maybe that was naive of me. But I think also, at the time, at the very beginning of the process, how the episodes would roll out was a bit of a question. So it wasn’t a guarantee that it was going to be week to week. So I didn’t anticipate this level of fervor. Also, the order at which we came out – the, if I can say it, the sensation that it’s become is wonderful, but I’m a little overwhelmed by it. And I also, of course, didn’t anticipate the pandemic and anticipate the intense desire for content. I am not on social media myself, so I’m only just learning about the incredibly dedicated people online who pore over everything. That’s all to say that this was a surprise to me and it has been a delight and an adventure. So I didn’t expect some of the theories. But there are red herrings, yeah. But any good storytelling has red herrings.

You were talking just a second ago about how you weren’t sure if it was going to be rolled out week to week. Was the show more specifically designed to be released in chunks, and then the release schedule got switched around?

It wasn’t designed or pitched with any marketing or release strategy in mind at all. The agenda was make every episode awesome.

Looking back on the experience of making this show, what is the thing that you’re the most proud of about it?

I think for a lot of people, the risk of doing a sitcom in the MCU paid off. That people showed up for it, and laughed, and felt connected, and have continued watching. Yeah, that would be it.

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New episodes of WandaVision hit Disney+ on Fridays.

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