When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Jac Schaeffer was in Atlanta filming her Disney Plus limited series “WandaVision.” She stayed down South for a little while but then, instead of trekking cross-country to her home base in Los Angeles, she went up the East Coast to Cape Cod, where her family keeps a cottage. “It’s a place I’ve come my whole life, and now it’s super important to my family because it was where we were safe during the really heavy COVID times,” she says. Even while surrounded by extended family there, she can carve out writing space for herself in an office above the kitchen. She admits there have been “many Zoom meetings where my kids run through” on their way to or from the stairs that lead to the kitchen, but there is also something calming about the environment too: “The best part for me — for my soul and also for my work — is I take beach walks,” she says. “In the morning, the West Coast isn’t open yet and I walk and think, and it helps with development.”
What a Doll
Schaeffer admits she doesn’t keep a lot of things for decades (sometimes simply because they get lost), but one item that she has had since she was about 5 years old is a set of Russian nesting dolls her father brought back from his visit to what was then the USSR. She keeps it on her desk in her Santa Monica-based office, but it also travels with her from time to time, including when she went in for “Black Widow.” “It was like a visual device that I used to convey the points of my pitch,” she says, noting that that the moment was a “leveling up moment” in her career because it became the biggest film of hers to date. She calls the doll set “a charmed object.
Drink This In
Schaeffer’s new favorite mug features childhood photos of the “WandaVision” writers and lead performers Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany (with him in full Vision makeup) Photoshopped into a grade school class photo. It’s not as random as it may seem at first glance: Every week, that episode’s writer chose a theme for a special virtual screening the writers’ room held. The penultimate episode, “Previously On,” flashes back to 10-year-old Wanda. Writer Laura Donney believes that age is very important because “you’re still guileless,” Schaeffer notes. “So, everybody sent pictures of themselves at that age, and [writer] Gretchen Enders, who is the craftiest craft person you could ever possibly meet, very quickly slapped all of our faces on this photo. And then I slapped it on a mug and sent it to everybody.
Preserving Her Past
In 2009 Schaeffer wrote and directed the independent film “Timer,” about a futuristic society in which people got the titular object implanted in their wrist, counting down until they would meet their soulmate. She still keeps a couple of mementos from that project in her desk drawer: the prop gun used to implant the devices and a promotional key chain she had made for film festival screenings. She wanted the gun “to look kind of scary and kind of medical, but also like it was [used] all the time — like an assembly line thing,” she says, equating it to an ear-piercing gun. “The movie was made for $2 and a pack of gum,” she laughs, so they had no duplicates on set. The keychains had timers that Schaeffer personally programed so that some synced up with each other. Then she would hand them out and “try and orchestrate it so the two people would know that they had the same countdown. There’s something really visceral about it. People would get really fired up.”
When Schaeffer was working on the feature film “The Hustle,” her children were still babies and it was the first time she had to do a lot of on-set work after becoming a mother. A conversation with actor Ingrid Oliver turned out the phrase, “Women pushing film scripts out of our brains and babies out of our vaginas,” which stuck with Oliver so deeply she had it stitched into a piece of quilted fabric and sent as a wrap gift to Schaeffer. Now it hangs, framed, directly in Schaeffer’s eyeline when she’s sitting at her desk working on her new masterpieces. “I love it madly; it cracks me up,” Schaeffer says. But more seriously, it’s also a reminder of how amazing women are: “We will not drown under this; we are going to triumph because we can do both things and it’s incredible,” she says.