Posts Tagged ‘Methland’

“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

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

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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