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Posts Tagged ‘Breaking Bad’

“We tend to overestimate what we can do in one year, and underestimate what we can do in ten.”
Richard Foster
(Quote often attributed to Bill Gates, but I believe Foster wrote the line years before Gates wrote or said it.)

Screenwriter Dana Fox was 2 for 2 when she followed her career trajectory question to Rob McElhenny on Scriptnotes episode #299 with a question to writer/director Rian Johnson about his career trajectory that led to writing and directing Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

“I was never good or smart enough to get industry work before I made my first movie. I basically wrote Brick right out of college and essentially tried to get it made through my 20s. I didn’t make it until I was 30, but the whole time I was trying and kept almost getting there and it kept falling apart. But I was working some really wonderful jobs like I worked at a preschool for deaf kids for a while, I worked at the Disney channel producing promos for like Bear in the Big Blue House—really good jobs but nothing that was like I was making money doing what my sights are set on. So when I started doing it it was starting with this really personal thing and then I was very, very lucky and able to just kind of keep doing it.”
Writer/director Rian Johnson

It’s also worth pointing out that Johnson graduated from USC film school (same school Star Wars creator George Lucas attended) where he made short films, and continued to make short films after school. When he finally got Brick made for $500,000 it won the   the Special Jury Prize (For originality of vision) at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, and won Best First Film at the Austin Film Festival in 2007. He then followed that success with The Brothers Bloom (2008), Looper (2012), and directed the  Ozymandias (2013) episode of Breaking Bad, before given the Star War reins. A good example of being persistent and building on small successes that brought him to the intergalactic stage.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Stop making the same, safe, soul-less movies and TV shows.”
Part of a memo from the Sony Pictures leak

“We have a new paradigm, a new reality, and we’re going to have to come to real terms with it all the way down the line.”
George Clooney on the Sony hack and canceling of The Interview release
Deadline Hollywood December 18, 2014

Did you get the memo? If not, maybe that’s because the Sony hack was reportedly 100 terabytes of information. A massive tidal wave of information that if was just in paper form would probably take a lifetime for one person to read it all. (Among the information is said to be 47,000 social security numbers.)

My first thought when I heard the news (with a group called Guardians of Peace taking credit) was something an old boss of mine used to repeat often—”There are no secrets.”

I’m waking up, I feel it in my bones
Enough to make my systems blow
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Radioactive lyrics

I do believe that—as George Clooney basically said, and as the Carpenters used to sing— “We’ve only just begun.” Now an unnamed person or group (many believe connected to North Korea, though the government has denied) has taken the next step and threatened further damage to Sony Pictures if they released their movie The Interview—a comedy about a mission to kill the leader of North Korea—and any moviegoers who watch the film in theaters. The December 25 film release has been canceled.

Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Welcome to the new age, to the new age

There has been much speculation about how the leak—and last month’s shut down of Sony’s website—could happen without some Sony—or former Sony—insider. (To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Hell hath no furry like an employee scorned.”) Perhaps we’ll never know the intricate mysteries behind the hack, but some of the information from it has been interesting.

My favorite line being a plea to, “Stop making the same, safe, soul-less movies and TV shows.” And this extended thought:

“Perhaps it’s a generational thing, but I’ve been disappointed with the content of some of the films we’ve been producing lately. I don’t think people who know me would consider me a prude, but the boorish, least common denominator slate strikes me as a waste of resource and reputation. ‘I think the mirror should be tilted slightly upward when it`s reflecting life — toward the cheerful, the tender, the compassionate, the brave, the funny, the encouraging, all those things — and not tilted down to the gutter part of the time, into the troubled vistas of conflict’—(actress/philanthropist) Greer Garson 1990. I think that quote could be adapted to apply to the base elements of some of the films we produce.”

I’ll leave to authorities to sort out the legalities of the hack, and to the pundits dealing with the ramification of Sony Pictures canceling the December 25th release of The Interview. But my charge to all screenwriters and film and TV producers is, “Stop making the same, safe, soul-less movies and TV shows.”

Of course, one could say Sony didn’t take the safe road producing a film that depicts the killing of the leader of North Korea. And I’ll defend Sony Pictures all day long with its AMC productions Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Neither of which were the same, safe, or soul-less. I don’t know the date of the “soul-less” memo—maybe it’s what led to taking a chance with creators Matthew Weiner and Vince Gilligan.

And lastly, while I haven’t seen it yet, there doesn’t appear to be anything safe or soulless about Sony’s recent release Whiplash, written and directed by Damien Chazelle.

P.S. Countdown to 2000th special post on January 22, 2015—14 posts.

Related Posts:
‘Mad Men’ Diet & Workout
Breaking Bad’s Beginning
Jerry Maguire’s Mission Statement

 Scott W. Smith

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All stories are about transformation, and that change comes with a crushing truth about ourselves.”
Blake Snyder

Ch-ch-changes
Just gonna have to be a different man
Changes/David Bowie

Chemistry teacher Walter White playing with fire

Chemistry teacher Walter White playing with fire

Are you ready for a chemistry lesson that will transform your screenwriting—maybe your life? I hope so because in less than 60 seconds Walter White not only gives us a glimpse into chemistry, but one that nails the overarching theme of the Emmy-winning Breaking Bad, and at the same time gets to the heart of storytelling—and perhaps the history of the human race.

Can you really do that in just 60 seconds? Well, I don’t know if you can—but Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan did.

“Breaking Bad” pilot script
Written by Vince Gilligan

You can read the full Breaking Bad pilot script dated 5/27/05 online, but here’s how Bryan Cranston as Walter White spoke the words in the pilot directed by the writer Vince Gilligan.

“Chemistry is—well, technically chemistry is the study of matter. But I prefer to see it as the study of change. Now just think about this, electrons—they change their energy levels. Molecules change their bonds. Elements they combine and change into compounds. Well, that’s all of life, right? It’s the constant. It’s the cycle; solution, dissolution just over and over and over. It is growth and decay, and then transformation. It is fascinating, really.”
High School chemistry teacher Walter White in Breaking Bad

“It is growth and decay, and then transformation”—that sentence packs a punch. And as we’ve learned in books, TV shows, and movies— as well as world history— that transformation is not always positive.

Related posts:
Breaking Bad’s Beginning
Breaking Bad Y’All
‘The Farmer and the Tweaker’
TV Vs. Feature Films (Vince Gilligan)
Screenwriting Quote #190 (Vince Gilligan)
Writing ‘Water Cool Moments’
Paying for Transformation (Tip #65)
‘Groundhog Day’ and Cheap Therapy

Scott W. Smith

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“At the core of Breaking Bad is family. It is what impels the show’s lead character, the cancer-stricken Walter White, to parlay his knowledge of chemistry into meth production. He wants to ensure the well-being of his wife and children after his death. No sin too great, no hell too deep. This faithfulness to family is the lifeblood of Albuquerque. Everything that lives in the desert has had to fight to stay alive, and survival requires banding together.”
Madeleine Carey
Albuquerque Really Is Like Breaking Bad

“I don’t know where the idea [for Breaking Bad] came from specifically, but I remember the moment it hit me. I was talking to my buddy Tom Schnauz, a guy I went to NYU film school with—who is now a producer on Breaking Bad and written some our best episodes—we’d both been on The X-Files together which ended about three years prior to this conversation. We were kind of bemoaning our situation of being working writers who at that moment were not working. And I said maybe we should get into another line of work while the gettin’s good, and I think I’d be a good greeter at Walmart. I think I’d be good at that—say hi to people, you know, wave. Talked about working at H&R Block and then he said, ‘What if we just pool our resources and buy an RV and put a meth lab in the back?’ And I laughed—obviously he was not serious. But the idea—as we were talking on the phone just BOOM! into my head was the inspiration. I don’t know what it was, but suddenly I was intensely intrigued by the idea of a guy who’d do such a thing. Suddenly it struck me that what would be interesting to me as a viewer and a writer, would what if it was essentially me? In other words what if it’s a guy who’s never broken the law, or littered or jaywalked,  suddenly finding himself being a meth cook. Doing something reprehensible and illegal. That idea, just BOOM! is the middle of this phone conversation, kinda hit me full-blown. Which is rare because ideas are usually much slower in coming, they don’t usually come in eureka moments, at least for me.”
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan
Interview with Jenni Matz on August 9, 2011

Part of the fruit of Gilligan’s idea during a slow time in his writing career is the 2014 edition of Guinness World Records listed Breaking Bad as the Highest-Rated TV Series. 

Now that the show has concluded its five year run it’s worth glancing back and asking if even though Breaking Bad was a gritty look at the meth industry,  did it some way glamorize the drug and even increase usage. According to the article Was Breaking Bad Good for the Meth Business by Brian Braiker the numbers actually indicate that there were far less meth users at the end of the shows run than before it started:

“According to the most recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 440,00 people age 12 and older were users of methamphetamine in 2012. That represents just 0.2 percent of the population and a significant drop from 2006, two years before ‘Breaking Bad’ premiered, when the number of users was 731,000. ‘The numbers go up and down and up and down over the years, but generally speaking, it’s never reached the 2006 levels,’ said SAMHSA spokesman Brad Stone.”

P.S. It’s a good thing Gilligan created Breaking Bad, because that Walmart greeter position he was thinking about became a casualty in 2012 when they first eliminated the 10 p.m. to 7 a.m third shift greeters and I’m not sure they have any greeters now. Or if they do their role has been diminished. Experts said it had to do with a mix of the down economy and competition from Dollar General stores and Internet shopping. If your options are to work at Walmart or create an Emmy-winning TV, go with the latter.

But if you do work at Walmart (or H&R Block) I’m sure there is plenty of inspiration surrounding you for at least enough material for one screenplay. Maybe you saw the photos that went viral this year that were supposedly signs from Walmart management to an employee named Shane.

walmart-shane

Related post:
Where Do Ideas Come From?
Don’t Quit Your Day Job (2.0).

Scott W. Smith

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“I went to Gooding [Idaho] in the fall of 1999 to do a magazine story on that town’s principle industry, ranching. At the time, I didn’t know what meth was; it was completely by accident that I found myself in a place overrun with the drug, though the obviousness of meth’s effects was immediate.”
Nick Reding
Methland

If you’ve seen even one episode of Breaking Bad you know that the AMC TV show is set in New Mexico, but the story has west coast roots—and actually touches on a deeper problem throughout the United States.

“When I originally conceived of Breaking Bad, I intended to set it in Riverside, California. And of course southern California is not too far from the Mexican border either, but when I originally conceived of the show I wasn’t thinking as much in terms of the Mexican drug cartel component. I was thinking more in terms of a homegrown meth business that Walter White was going to establish. But early on, Sony, the studio that produces our show—this was after the script was written, and they knew I was thinking of southern California—they came to me and said, ‘What do you think about us placing the series in New Mexico instead?’ And I said, ‘Well, why are you thinking that?’ And they said New Mexico has a tax rebate for film and television production, and it’s a pretty substantial one.”
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan
Slant Magazine interview with J.C. Frenan 

So off to New Mexico they went on the way to producing what would be a five year run resulting in two Emmy Awards for Best Drama. And embracing the new environment, Gilligan and his team of writers found new creative opportunities for conflict that were regionally centered in a way it wouldn’t be if they shot the series in say Vancouver or Atlanta.

‘The meth component of it, story-wise, really could have been any state in the Union, unfortunately, because there are meth labs probably in every state in the United States, and it is kind of a nationwide problem. However, once we got the ball rolling on our series, in the last four or five years the news of drug violence in a lot of the cities and towns along the Southwest border became more front and center in the national news, so we wound up incorporating more and more into our storyline. It certainly helped at that point that our story happened to be set in Albuquerque, which is only about 220 miles from the border. So we kind of ‘lucked’ into that element of storytelling.”
Vince Gilligan
Slant Magazine

It may have been a happy accident that Breaking Bad landed in New Mexico, but I do believe they would have found fresh story elements no matter where they went. Ever heard of Oelwein, Iowa? Back in 2009 Nick Reding published a book called Methland; The Death and Life of an American Small Town, based on two years of life in Oelwein.

“It wasn’t until 2005—when news of methamphetamine epidemic began flooding the national media—that people began taking notice. Overnight, the American small town and methamphetamine became synonymous. Main Street was no longer divided between Leo’s and the Do Drop Inn, or between the Perk and the Bakery: it was partitioned between the farmer and the tweaker. How this came  to be—and what it tells us about who we are—is the story of this book. And this book is the story of Oelwein.”
Nick Reding
Methland 

I lived in Iowa from 2003-2013 and was warned in my first year to be careful when I wandered off the beaten path with my camera. I lived in Miami when it was the cocaine capital, I lived in Orlando when it led the country in heroine overdoses, and I lived in L.A. when the crack epidemic hit town, but nothing shocked me more than learning about meth and its destruction in small town America.

Methland begins quietly and solemnly, with a ballad of cultural invisibility. Reding, a loyal native of the Midwest who’s frankly sentimental about its past and starkly lucid about its likely future, invites his rushing readers to gaze down at the ‘flyover country’ of America and see not a grid of farms and county roads but a patchwork of failed institutions and aspirations”
Walter Kirn’s review of Methland
New York Times 

Around the time Breaking Bad first hit the air in 2008 I did an interview in Chicago with a former drug dealer from Atlanta who just when I think I’d heard it all said in the interview that when he was doing meth he could stay awake for days and sometimes had double digital sexual partner days. (Even if you somehow didn’t consider that bad behavior, you’d have to at least say that’s not a healthy lifestyle. Yes, he was HIV-positive.)

So the timing was right for Vince Gilligan to unleash Breaking Bad into the world. The story of a high school chemistry teacher at the end of his rope will never be confused with a Disney fairytale, but it hit home for millions of viewers living through  the fallout of a major financial crisis.

“The writers and I really do try to incorporate what’s going on in reality into the series. As we are set in Albuquerque and as Albuquerque is about 200 miles from Juarez, and currently in the news there’s so much unpleasant and unfortunate drug violence along the border, a lot of which is due to the meth trade, we do find ourselves incorporating those elements into the story. We want to portray reality as well as we can portray it, and the reality of any ongoing meth concern in Albuquerque would involve some dealing with the border trade and the competition from drugs coming from Mexico. Anyone who is trying to make a go of a drug business would have to see that as competition and would have to deal with the cartel members who were dealing in central New Mexico.”
Vince Gilligan
Slant Magazine

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #190 (Vince Gilligan)
Writing ‘Water Cooler Moments’
TV vs. Feature Films (Vince Gilligan)

Scott W. Smith

 

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Back in 2010, J.C. Frenan of Slant Magazine asked Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan this question, ‘You’ve worked in both television and feature films. Do you have a preference for either one?’

Vince Gilligan: I would have to say television, because once you are on a writing staff, or once you create a television show, for as long as that show exists you know that you’re writing, you know that your work will get produced. The same can’t be said for writing for features, unfortunately. Write a movie script, you can put your heart and soul into it for months, for years, and peddle it around Hollywood and ultimately it may well go nowhere. I’ve experienced more heartbreak in the movie business than in the TV business.

In the next day or two we’ll take a road trip of sorts and see how Gilligan went from Richmond, Virginia to New York City to Los Angeles to Albuquerque, New Mexico on his way to becoming a two-time Emmy winner.

Related posts:

Screenwriting Quote #190 (Vince Gilligan)
Writing ‘Water Cooler Moments’
Aaron Sorkin on Failure   “Breaking Bad is the rare success I’ve had in my career.”—Vince Gilligan

Scott W. Smith

 

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Just a few days ago Breaking Bad in its final season won its second Emmy for best drama. The AMC show averaged over nine Emmy nominations per year in its five-year run. And who knows how many ‘water cooler moments’? Here’s one from the season four episode Problem Dog written and directed by Peter Gould.

“One thing I like about our series [Breaking Bad], one thing we strive for is to create ‘water cooler moments.’ That’s certainly not an expression we created, but the way we define a water cooler moment is: Is it a plot development or is it a scene in which people can gather around the water cooler at the office and discuss what the scene meant? Not simply get them talking about it, but have them discuss it and argue over what the scene meant, what it forebodes, perhaps, for the future. And all of this to say that I personally have no particular political or social axe to grind, because I think that stories that set out to do that become kind of didactic or polemic. Stories about characters are always more interesting to me, personally. There is no deeper social indictment at work here, at least not consciously. However, when I speak of water cooler moments, I like for the audience to have the ability to perhaps argue that there are [social or political prerogatives]. I like for people watching our show to have different viewpoints on what exactly the show means. And Walt’s behavior—I like folks being able to argue over his behavior. Is he completely wrong, or is there some rightness to his cause?”
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan
2010 Slant interview by J.C. Frenan

P.S. The last part of that reminds me of the quote by the playwright Ibsen who said it was enough to ask questions. The wrestling with those questions is what people think about after watching a movie, play or Tv show. And if you’re fortunate to strike a nerve it leads to people standing around the water cooler talking it. I don’t know if they had water coolers back Shakespeare day, but I’m pretty sure they had some kind of version of water cooler moments even back in ancient Greece.

Scott W. Smith

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