30 Things We Learned from the BREAKING BAD Writer’s Room at the Writers Guild Foundation

     December 4, 2013


Breaking Bad may be over, but the well deserved victory lap (which will wind ‘round the sure-to-be-bestselling series box set en route to a slew of Emmy Awards next year) continues unabated.  Last night, Collider was on the scene in Beverly Hills at the Writer’s Guild Foundation to see the show’s seven member writing staff reunite to share stories and life advice.

The lively panel, moderated by former The Walking Dead Showrunner Glen Mazzara and featuring Sam Catlin, Peter Gould, Gennifer Hutchinson, George Mastras, Moira Walley-Beckett, Thomas Schnauz, and of course Vince Gilligan was full of insight and laughs as the crew reminisced about abandoned home invasion subplots, alternate character deaths, the structure of the writer’s room, alternate endings for the series, Gilligan shooting himself in the thigh with a dart, and much, much more.  Hit the jump for a recap and the top thirty things you should know.

breaking-bad-season-5-part-2-posterMazzara made for an excellent emcee, quickly sidestepping the awkwardness of hosting a panel for a show aired on a network from which he was fired, before moving on to rich and detailed questions. Unlike most Q&A’s, Mazzara managed to avoid asking even a single pat, EPK-ready query. Instead, he focused on deeper concepts, often adding insightful and wry color commentary as a means to segue between topics.

The writers were in top form too. While Gilligan is known for his humble and personable nature, I was somewhat surprised to see a stage filled with eight drama writers, all of whom were personable and well-adjusted. Everyone had a few good stories, and since the series is finally over, everyone could finally let loose with the really juicy stuff.

After the show there was a reception in the lobby. Free drinks got the conversation started and all of the writers hung out to greet the fans.

TOP 30 (in chronological order):

1.) Vince Gilligan’s student film was named, Mime Pays and it dealt with a gang of clowns kidnapping a mime who is edging into their turf. “It was about twelve minutes long,” said Gilligan. “It should have been about two-and-a-half.”

2.) The writer’s strike might have saved Breaking Bad in some ways. The original plan was for season one to end with a real bang. Gomez was going to be shot and see Walter with Tuco just before slipping into a coma leaving Walter with the task of making sure the DEA agent stayed sleeping.

3.) Alternately, season one was going to end with Walter running down the street, covered in blood, with police sirens wailing behind him.

4.) Another alternate season one ending involved Tuco staging a home invasion robbery on the White clan. “We were gonna leave it all on the field,” said Gilligan.

5.) Raymond Cruz (Tuco) was originally conceived as the ‘Big Bad’ of season two but had to be written out because of a pre-existing commitment to TNT’s The Closer.

vince-gilligan-breaking-bad6.) Scheduling was so tight for Cruz at the beginning of season two that the entire production had to shoot out of order to accommodate him. Cruz’s schedule required them to flip episodes two and five. This caused major headaches in the writer’s room.

7.) Contrary to popular belief, season two was not completely written before production began. In fact, major elements of the season’s closer were up in the air for quite some time.

8.) Gilligan compares Breaking Bad to Gunsmoke, commenting that there are never any consequences in the latter and that the character never felt any guilt or turmoil over the countless men he killed.

9.) “If I had time to write every episode of Breaking Bad, it would have been a much poorer show,” said Gilligan of his writing staff.

10.) The writer’s room would constantly discuss Walt’s motivations. “Why doesn’t Walt just pull out a gun and shoot the guy,” asked Gould. The reason was often that Walt didn’t even own a gun. Many times, the writers would develop an idea for a big set-piece moment for Walter and then discover that it would take them far more episodes to set it up than they first anticipated.

11.) Though the writers generally came to a group conclusion, there were a few times when it was split. Hutchinson and Walley-Beckett were against Lydia having mismatched shows.

breaking-bad-ozymandias-set-image12.) Gilligan was the only writer against killing off Mike. A fact that Gilligan doesn’t seem to remember.

13.) Gilligan eventually told Jonathan Banks about his character’s coming demise while attending Aaron Paul’s engagement party.

14.) The writer’s room was very collaborative on the whole because it meant getting things right the first time. “I hate rewriting,” said Gilligan.

15.) During season one, the three staff writers went out to Albuquerque to work on episodes. “We would follow Vince around on set with a giant noteboard,” said Gould. “Like we were traveling salesmen.”

16.) Bryan Cranston didn’t know that Walter had poisoned Brock until they filmed the last episode of season four.

17.) At certain points during the series run, Gilligan took to carrying around an airsoft gun in the writer’s room. “I never actually aimed it,” said Gilligan. “…Shot it, at least not on purpose anyway.” Gould did get shot in the face by a Nerf dart while returning from a bathroom break, however.

vince-gilligan-breaking-bad18.) Later, Vince attached a thumb tac to the front of a Nerf dart and shot himself in the thigh, just to impress the other writers.

19.) The writers were aware of the internet comments about Skyler White and Anna Gunn but never changed material because of the attacks, which Walley-Beckett described as, “More personal” in the later seasons. Hutchinson noted that many fans didn’t like Skylar because she was an impediment to Walter’s progress in the underworld, but that the attacks were, “Very gendered.” “Gus Fring was an impediment to Walt too…” added Gilligan.

20.) Gilligan considers the moment when Walter meets Jane’s air traffic controller father near the end of season two as the show’s biggest coincidence. All the writers agreed that the show relied on coincidence sometimes but retained integrity because as Gilligan said, “If it’s bad for the character, then it’s Kosher.”

21.) When developing the cartel, the writers were very, very careful to make sure they weren’t using any name that could be connected to any possible real-world group.

22.) All of the Aryan Brotherhood tattoos from season five had to be faked. Apparently, white supremacist groups protect their trademarked logos very aggressively.

23.) The original intro of Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) was set in a hardware store. After asking one of his henchmen to pick a number between one and thirty, Gus would take a freshly purchased chisel and smash the vertebrae that corresponded with the number.

breaking-bad-ricin-bryan-cranston24.) One of the things Gilligan wished could have made it to air was a scene where the audience sees a pair of damaged Oakley sunglasses hanging from the bottom of Walter’s car as Walt Jr. takes a driving lesson.

25.) The studio was generally helpful. There were few bad notes. “Fear doesn’t make anything better,” said Gould. Fortunately, there were some very good notes, including a suggestion to use far less music. Vince’s first cut of the pilot was wall-to-wall music, “That’s how I was trained to do it in TV,” said Gilligan. “You have to tell the audience how to feel.” Fortunately, a studio note came down suggested a more restrained approach, one which largely defined the show.

26.) There were several alternate endings discussed for the series. One involved Jesse attempting to kill Walt, only to come across Hank instead. Somehow, Jesse would kill Hank while Walter was forced to watch through binoculars.

27.) Another idea involved Walter going to prison and Jesse using the giant assault rifle to break him out of an armored prison bus.

28.) Still another concept (and this author’s personal pet theory before the series ended) involved Marie shooting Walter in revenge for the death of Hank. Of course, Marie’s gun would be purple.

29.) Though there were technical advisors, none of the writers seemed to be experts on science. Gilligan quoted Mamet, “I just have to write convincingly, not accurately.”

30.) Vince’s final words on writing: “Mystery is good, confusion is bad.”

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