When Polygon first talked to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series director Kari Skogland at the beginning of the series, we focused on directing: How she used camera placement to communicate the mental states of series stars Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), how Sam’s fight sequences were designed and shot, and why she found inspiration in a French drama about disability and friendship.
But with the series wrapped, we went back to Skogland to talk bigger-picture issues about the finale, the show’s moral messaging, that controversial new Captain America costume, and the little detail she’s proudest of, and thinks everyone missed.
[Ed. note: This interview has been edited for concision and clarity, and contains spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier season 1.]
So much of the finale was shot at night, which is surprisingly rare for an MCU project. What went into the decision to set the finale at night, and what kind of complications did that bring to your shooting?
Kari Skogland: Typically, working at night means bigger lights and more complicated lighting, which takes time. So people on the producing side tend to prefer shooting during the day, because you don’t have to light the world. But we always knew that shooting in New York, using the lights of the city, and the lights of the cars, and the lights down in the tunnels when they go underground, would give it a much richer mood. I really wanted to capture the moodiness of what night brings, and suggest the night before the dawn, to some degree.
When Sam lands, carrying the dead Karli, he’s lit up by the red, white, and blue lights of the emergency vehicles. And a spotlight passes over him and his suit. He really gleams as a first responder, honestly. A hero in a very different light. And it brings us into his speech. All of that night imagery was very much designed to to take us to the place where he was going to talk to the GRC.
A lot of the viewer questions coming out of the series have been about what Sam ultimately believes now, in terms of all the ethical challenges Karli handed him. What do you think of as his ethos when the story ends, in terms of what’s important, or who he is?
I think it all started with him putting [Captain America’s] shield away, because that shield carried by that guy was now no longer as relevant to the community as it had been. So I think the discussion of being a hero, and what a hero is, was always his through line. He was questioning what a hero of the future needed to be. And he never stopped having that counselor-head, of believing in the person, and believing Karli was actually a good person. She just couldn’t get good with the way she was doing things. And so even as she became more radicalized, he tried to harness the energy she had. He refused to fight her in the end scene. I felt like she was trying to get suicide by cop, to become a martyr. She wanted him to kill her at some level. So I think he comes to believe that community, and serving community, is his duty.
Showrunner Malcolm Spellman talked to us before the show about how its core was race in America, but it ended up taking in so many other topics along the way. Do you think there’s a single key takeaway here about race in America?
Well, obviously, racism is at its core. That is the through line, because we have a Black Captain America, which is an unbelievably fantastic shift in what was a classically white iconic symbol. But we also take on justice, we take on our sense of community through imperialism, with shifting borders and refugees, and our responsibility as citizens to community. And Sam says to them, “You can do better. You’ve got the power, what are you going to do with it?” His questions really, I think, come down to moral responsibility and personal responsibility. So there are many other themes that surround that one central racism through line. So we tackled a lot, and I’m very proud that we never backed off of any of those hard topics.
Everybody who watched the show seems to have a strong opinion on Sam’s new Captain America suit. What went into designing it, apart from reflecting the comics?
We have a wonderful design team, and they are very much part of putting all that together. So it took months, obviously, for all the costumes, but in particular, Sam’s. There was nuancing over all the positioning of the lines, down to the inches, because it’s very, very particular. And you also have to take into account Anthony’s physique, and how that’s going to work, because he’s different from Chris Evans. It all had to come together from many different directions, and then it also has to be built. It took a few months just to build it, because it’s about the materials.
It’s a beautifully done piece of art, honestly, but it also has to be wearable. So this was a quite a group — there must be 20 or 30 people involved from beginning to end, with all kinds of tweaks in between. So it was absolutely thrilling to see him walk on set the first time in that suit, carrying the shield, a Black man wearing Captain America’s costume. We all applauded the day he did that.
How much mobility does he have in it? What was it like trying to shoot action with him in that suit?
I think no matter what, there were uncomfortable aspects to it. Because the action sequences also often used rigs [to enable his flying moves], and all that sort of stuff. I don’t know which was more trouble for him, the rigs of the suit. But I think generally he was okay in the suit. We tried to take that into account, that he had to be able to move and do all kinds of things. So I don’t remember him being too uncomfortable, not that he would complain anyway. But I don’t remember him being too uncomfortable. I think the rigs that go alongside the action is more problematic, because he’s hanging upside down, he’s whizzing around, like that. So that stuff is tricky.
How did the rigs play into Sam’s big self-training montage? What was your process on shooting that?
We used a series of rigs to film it, like when he was running, we were on a cart, driving through the woods. Nobody picked up on this one funny thing — one of the shots I really wanted, that was a big deal for me, was Sam throwing the shield into the tree. Because we were shaking the roots of the old [MCU]. You know, it’s all a metaphor. And then we started realizing, “Okay, you’re going to use this shield to train, and bounce it off of things. Aren’t we going to hurt other trees?” We were like, “Well, we can’t hurt the trees!” So we cooked up this idea, “Let’s put these big mats” — they were workout mats and such — “We’ll wrap them around the trees.” And no one’s really picked up on that.
But that was one of our little jokes about how in order to be able to practice, he had to wrap the trees so they wouldn’t be hurt by this shield that obviously, if you pack a punch behind it, it’ll embed itself in the wood, because it’s quite powerful. But then also, we wanted to layer in the idea that he was going to be able to do extraordinary things as Cap. His athleticism was going to be one of his assets. Because he’s human, he’s not a super-soldier. So his athletics and his ability to do different things with the shield, we wanted to push the envelope on all of that. And that’s what you see in the finale.