The Writers' Room (2013) s01e01 Episode Script

Breaking Bad

Jim Rash: Breaking Bad, the show that won 43 Emmys, almost didn't make it on the air.
TV addicts everywhere will tell you it's the story of a terminally-ill, chemistry teacher who turns to a meth-making life of crime to secure his family's future.
It's had America hooked for five seasons and its lead actor from day one.
Bryan Cranston: I wanted to get in there and lift my leg on the material as soon as possible.
[ Laughter ] Vince Gilligan: They said, "we buy it, we will be fired.
" Thomas Schnauz: We had no idea how Walt was gonna get out of it.
And then, when it hits you, it's like, "wow!" Now let's meet the people who created one of the most compelling heroes of our time.
Outrageous success, horrible mistakes, last-minute changes.
Creators of today's most ground-breaking TV shows tell all in the place where it all starts The Writers' Room.
All right, I am joined in The Writers' Room with-- I-I'm just gonna say it-- I think the whole staff.
Are we all here, for the most part? Yes.
I have Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, Moira Walley-Beckett, Peter Gould, Sam Catlin, George Mastras, Gennifer Hutchison, and Tom Schnauz.
Well, first of all, I just have to say, it's an honor to have all of you here, and so, thank you for-for being here and talking to us about the show.
Thank you.
Vince, start us off with just sort of the germ of the idea that became Breaking Bad.
Well, luckily, uh, uh, my friend Tom is here, who I've known, uh, longer than any of these other folks.
Uh, we met at NYU Film School.
Uh, he and I had both been on The X-Files, which at that point had been, uh, over for about two years, and we were bemoaning the fact that we were jobless and close to penniless and close to being without, uh, writers' guild insurance.
There was an article in The New York Times about a guy who was cooking meth in a-- in an apartment building, and the meth cook got these little children sick, and there was this, you know, again, two angry old men talking to each other-- "Oh, this son-of-a-bitch.
" "D'you hear what he did to these kids?" And, somehow that clicked in-in Vince's brain, and he called me, like, a week later and said, "Remember that, uh, what we were talking about, the guy cooking meth?" I was like, "No, I have no idea.
" No recollection at all.
But he's like, "Yeah, I wanna-- I wanna try to develop this.
" I was like, "Yeah, go ahead, ya crazy bastard.
" So, you're co-creators, right-- I mean, so-- [ Collective talking ] I get all the-- wait a minute.
If the lawyers-- oh, yeah, there's a lawsuit pending.
That's for sure.
[ Laughter ] My whole family who's out there listening who thinks I co-created Breaking Bad, this is-- I had-- th-that was it-- the germ of the idea in a conversation with Vince, - and then he-he ran and wrote-- - You assisted-- all right, all right, very nice.
So, in the sense of getting into Walter here and Bryan, the character alone in the pilot probably was something you reacted to.
It was amazing.
Uh, it was-- mentioned him in the first page of the pilot episode Uh, a pair of trousers is falling down against the contrast of the blue sky and the red rock, hits this dirt-- immediately r-runs over by a b-big wheel, uh, belonging to an RV driving recklessly.
Cut to the inside.
There's a man only in tighty-whitey underwear and a respirator driving madly.
Next to him, passed out, is another man in a respirator.
He looks behind him.
There's two dead guys sliding up and back in a sea of glass and chemicals.
That's the first page, and it's like, "aah! Aah-- aah!" It-it-it's-- it just catches you right away.
And it-- and it took you on this ride.
As an actor, as you know, you-you start to imagine, uh, yourself in that role, and it seeps into you.
Uh, for me as an actor, I count my lines, and then, I get it.
[ Laughter ] Uh, uh, and then, I decide whether I'm going past page one, so I would've stopped-- when you went in t-to pitch, did you take it around? You know, I had a pitch.
I'm not gonna say which network, and the pitch always was, uh, "We're gonna take 'Mr.
Chips' and we're gonna turn him into Scarface," and I really enjoyed the folks I was talkin' with.
They really liked the pitch.
I'm pitchin' the first episode, and they were on the edge of their seats, and they really dug it, and they said - at the end of it, in the nicest possible way, they said-- - "No!" You know what they said? They said-they said, "We love this story, and if we buy it, we will be fired.
" And, uh, nothing came of it, um, until, uh, the AMC network came along, and at that point, they were preppin' to do Mad Men.
It was about to go on the air, uh, and they said, "We'd like to do your show, um, Breaking Bad.
" That's great-- uh, lemme ask the rest of the-the sort of writers-- what drew you to this project? Moira Walley Beckett: I had seen season one.
They had their abbreviated first season 'cause of the writers' strike.
And, um, I was absolutely obsessed with it.
Peter Gould: Eh, the fact that it starts off with, these pants flying through the air, and it starts off with this-this kind of enigmatic opening that-that-that circles around to the very end.
Uh, it was the fact that it was re-- it was a real film maker's script.
And, that really appealed to me, uh, and then, you know, meeting Vince, I could tell that, you know, it was about, uh, making a film and not just-- not just generating, uh, story material.
And, that was-- that was-- that was-- there's a strong point of view, really, that-that excited me about it.
George Mastras: It-it had a independent film feel to it.
It just felt so completely different than the stuff that your agents would throw at you, and it's just-- it spoke in the silences, and, uh, yeah, just, you know, the-the-the visual aspects of it, and-and the writing was really, uh, you know, stood out.
I hadn't heard the pitch of, uh, "'Mr.
Chips' to Scarface.
" I just knew that what I read was brilliant and remarkable, and I got my agents to-to move the meeting up in the week to be one of the first, because I know that, like any other actor who's-- you smell the meat, and they would wanna chomp down on it.
Chomp on it, especially now.
And, I wanted to get in there and lift my leg on the material as soon as possible-- and-and mark-mark it with my scent, and, uh-- Please, please, let's make that an acting term now.
[ Laughter ] Because I get so tired of, like, "Oh, lemme get in his skin-- lemme find out.
" I'd like, "Let me lift a leg on this and see what I can do.
" 'Cause I realized that what he was saying was, uh, didn't have a precedent-- that to change a character, uh, in a television series has never happened before in the history of television series, when you think about it.
To actually allow a ch-character to change-- it's always been about stasis.
About-- and that's the comfort that most people find.
They tune in-- there's, you know, Thomas Magnum.
He's so handsome, and he always gets, uh, he g-- every-everything in moderation.
It's a small reset.
Yeah, there's Archie Bunker.
What a nut he was, and all these-- and a-all these characters are all about staying the same, and this was all about allowing us to change-- and he even said, and he didn't know it was gonna work.
It was-- it was really an experiment from the beginning.
And, that was the struggle.
Because it's about a guy who keeps changing, the struggle, I think for all of us, well, when we were breaking into stories was, "Where is he now? What's gonna"-- and that was always the question.
The endless question of, "Where's Walt's head at?" All: Yeah.
Days and days and days of that before we would even be able to break a plot point.
Where is he on the continuum? How bad is he now? How bad is he gonna get? Right.
Oh, nice, the-the-the gradient.
Sam Catlin: For awhile there, it felt like we were ahead of the audience, where we'd be like, "Oh, my God, Walt, he's such a bastard!" [ Laughter ] I love that you guys would be like, "Well, that Walt, he's really up against it.
But gosh-darn-it, he had to make some hard choices.
" - That's right.
- That is true.
But then, eventually it just got to be like, "oh, man.
" By then, we-- I think we'd sorta had 'em.
Yeah-- I think you do have everybody by a certain point, because I-I think of when he allows Jesse's g-girlfriend to-to choke.
We'd lightened that up considerably from the first version.
All: Yeah.
Oh, really? Originally, the idea was that he was going to, eh, uh, shoot her up for an over-dose, or-- he was going to actually kill her as opposed to just allow her to die, and this was a-- this was a big argument in the room because it was-- the balance on the show was always taking him just far enough without taking him too far, too fast.
Mmm-hmm-- mmm.
So, does she just accidentally die, and he just misses it, and then, it's like he has to have some responsibility.
I think it ended up being kind of the perfect balance, uh, and especially the way that Bryan played it, it just-- it's like, I almost believe that if it had taken just a-a second longer for her to die, he might've stopped it.
Boy, it was a heartfelt moment.
I-I-I was going through the-the turmoil that Walt was going through, this, "do something-- save her.
She's a-a, you know, a girl.
" "She's ju-- look, she could be my daughter.
He's, you know"-- and then, at one point, involuntarily, I saw my daughter's face-- instead of Jane, - and she was choking to death, and that was-that just, uh-- - Took you.
Yeah, just it-- I didn't want that.
I wasn't trying to conjure that.
It wa-- just happened, and it was like-- [ Choking noise ] And it just caught me.
Coming up, I ask the most important question Who pissed off who the most? I'm guessing Tom.
He-he pouts for a long time and then, drinks his tea.
[ Laughing ] Jim: Welcome back to The Writers' Room with Breaking Bad.
One of the things I love about this show-- and I wanna talk about the slow, sort of measured pace of some scenes.
Vince: My natural inclination was not to do everything slow and measured.
My-my-my inclination in the early days of Breaking Bad was to throw the kitchen sink at it, unpack three seasons worth of plot in, uh, what was gonna be nine episodes.
Tom: Vince's tastes in films, too, I think played into this.
I mean, his love of westerns, has influenced this show greatly.
It's the moment before the shooting starts.
You're in that hang-fire moment of tension where you're waiting for it to happen.
That-that's what turns me on.
Bryan: Well, it's interesting because when we first start a show, the actors don't know really what we're getting into, but also the writers, we didn't-- they don't have the natural experience of how it's played out, until you actually see it.
Talking about with Aaron Paul, about how he was going to be a temporary character.
Oh, yes-- yeah.
When they saw Aaron's work, and they-- you had to have a different opinion.
And, honestly, I saw it within-- well, the pilot was a 14-day shoot.
I saw it within five or six days, and maybe the first day or two of-of workin' with Aaron Paul, and I said, uh, "hey, uh, Aaron, you know, I got a funny story to tell ya.
I was-- we were gonna kill ya off at the end of the season.
" He was kinda freaked out by that.
And, he's-his face-- just his face-face was-- he went pale.
- Well, because-- - You think it once, you can think it twice, and he was-- [ Over-lapping chatter ] Because-- it was kind of a long, blank look where's he's, like, "is he kidding? - He's not kidding.
" - Yeah.
Well, and I thought I was doin' him a solid.
I sa-- I-I was saying, "no, no, you're missing my bigger point.
My bigger point is you are so very good.
" You've proven yourself.
We'll kill you off in the beginning of the second season.
Don't worry about it.
You've bought a few episodes.
Moira: That's when Bryan starting punking him and telling him just, "I gotta sit you down", and, you know-- yeah, and-and just kept-- "It's been great, buddy.
It's been great.
" I-- it-- I know outta your head, you were like, "this is gonna make him feel really good about his work," but outta this actor's head-- mmm-mmm-- you go home and you go, "I don't understand what that meant.
" "Was that cryptic? I'm dead-- I'm dead tomorrow.
I don't know.
" Take us into the, sorta, The Writers' Room, and then, your all process.
Do you map it out, like, this-- are expertly mapped out thing? Well, we talk globally at the beginning of every season for a long time.
But typically, I think people give us credit for havin' everything plotted out Bobby Fischer-style, like 30 moves ahead.
And really, I think, is it safe to say what we're-- what we-- I think what Bryan said earlier about reading the script and not knowing where it's going, a lotta times I think we felt that, too, is that we'd get Walt and Jesse into an RV together with Hank outside, and, we had no idea how-- To get him out.
- How was Walt was gonna get out of it.
- Yes.
Peter: The thing, though, about that kind of problem-solving that's great is if the problem is our problem as storytellers, that's one thing, but if it's the character's problem, then it's a great thing to be working on, because if it's-if it's us saying, "oh, you know, we wanna get him into this situation.
How are we gonna make him do this?" That's one thing, but if we have the character in a situation, like he goes to Tuco's, and we need to figure out how-- in George's episode, how he's-how is he gonna turn the tables on Tuco, and I think it was Genny's first day in the office, uh, w-was-wasn't it? Was it? Gennifer: Yeah, um, I started on the show as a writer's assistant-- uh, Vince's assistant-- a writer's assistant, and I came in on my first day, and they were like, "okay, so we need a crystalline substance that will explode upon impact-- find it.
" [ Laughter ] And, I was like, "ah!" And, uh, did a little research and, uh, found it and-- All: Fulminated mercury.
Yeah, fulminated mercury.
Let me get this straight.
[ Chuckles ] I steal your dough, hmm? And then, you walk in here and you bring me more meth? [ Laughing ] This is not meth.
I got some right here.
Wait, wait, wait! Okay, let's-let's cue at the right time.
And, get the instinct.
Now, let's-- now, what are we gonna do? I'll give ya one of these.
That should be-- that should be your ad on this-on this show, is that we-- [ Imitating explosions ] [ Laughter ] We do tend to break very organically, and we do tend to not just choose, like, random pop points, and it's all very much what the characters are telling us to do and what we think would be interesting.
There was a whole season where our biggest problem, as I recall, was how do we keep Skyler in the house with Walt? Why isn't she going to the police? And, this was-- this was literally-- this was literally-- What was that discussion? - What-- - It was endless.
And, were there fights? Who fought? [ Over-lapping chatter ] Who pissed off who the most? I'm guessing Tom.
Tom? Tom.
He's strong as a chip.
[ Over-lapping chatter ] So, you can't fight him? Yeah-- he's very-- Tom-Tom does-- Tom is-- he-he-he's like the immovable object.
You know, when he decides what he thinks the way it sh-- the way it should be, then that's-that's it.
So, whether it's a good idea or not, you're like, "I'm sticking to it.
" [ Over-lapping chatter ] He gets-- he starts pouting.
He-he pouts for a long time and then, drinks his tea.
Yeah, and we just ignore him, really.
[ Over-lapping chatter ] - You wanna go that way, I-- - It should be partly my show, too.
I mean, go ahead, Vince.
Who-who's who in the room? 'Cause I always feel like there's-there's a role for writers in a room.
Um, I mean, I would say as far as character and story and all that, we're-we're pretty evenly matched, but I would say Peter and I tend to be sort of the cheerleader types in the room when everybody's like, "ugh-- we're never gonna get it.
" I tend to be like, "we've been here before, guys! Like, remember when we had that plane crash thing, and we thought we'd never get out?" - Yeah-- so that's kind of-- you need that person.
- Yes.
It's-it's invaluable.
I'm-I'm so negative myself.
It's-it's invaluable.
When he's literally banging his head against the wall, I mean, I'm serious, it will be, "remember when?" And he'd be like, "no, I don't.
" And then, on the set, he will figuratively bang his head against the wall.
When, eh, when he's directing, and you ask him, "okay, well, what about that?" And he'll go, "ah-- aahh.
" He'll take his hand, right-- right? [ Over-lapping chatter ] I'm the one who usually pitches, "let's all put on matching reeboks and black track suits.
And just, you know, heaven's-gate it," you know.
[ Laughter ] Is that just a bail on everything, 'cause you cannot figure it out.
Light the fire.
I like the person who's-- what a great story it would've been, you know? You know, it would be the unfinished TV show-- - in the entire writing-- - There's still time.
We could do this right now.
And then, the writers all-- a group suicide, and, you know, it would-- it'd be a hell of an ending.
You'll never have a better ending.
You know, people would watch.
Coming up, how Breaking Bad's creator reacted to the show being a smash success.
I-I can't believe this show ever made it on the air.
It has all the ingredients of failure.
[ Laughter ] Jim: Welcome back to The Writers' Room with the creators of Breaking Bad.
Such an important part of Breaking Bad is the character of Albuquerque.
How do you approach that? Vince: It came to me early on, the-the folks at Sony, and they said, you know, "we realize your script here is written for Riverside, California.
" The-the original script was indeed set in Southern California.
"Uh, what do you think about New Mexico instead?" And, I said, "well, what about it?" And, they said, "well, there's a 25%, uh, rebate the state is offering to-to induce Hollywood, uh, productions to relocate.
" I can't imagine the show without Bryan Cranston, and I can't imagine the show without Albuquerque.
It has indeed become a character on this show.
Sam: There is something about the urban center surrounded by wilderness.
You could be in this real city, American city, and drive 15 minutes, and you're out on the surface of the moon.
Moira: The landscape, uh, the desert, and the sky informed so much of how we got to tell our story.
Lemme ask you th-the other-other sort of point that I think you tackled-- the disappearing middle class.
It-- you know, I honestly think, uh, we-we get a lot of credit for sort of, uh, giving this sort of social, uh, criticism or commentary.
For me personally, I think it's the story of this one guy, uh, and-and it's the story of a guy havin' the world's worst mid-life crisis.
At that point, I was about to turn 40, and, uh, I was already thinkin', "God, I'm gonna have a hellacious, mid-life crisis.
" But, so what about doin' a story about a guy who's actually having an end-of-life crisis? But, I studiously avoid puttin' politics into, uh, into anything I work on because it doesn't matter what your politics are, you're instantly gonna polarize half your viewers or-or-- you know, because we're-- it's like the whole damn country is split right down the middle.
Would you guess that you had a feeling that this was a hit, or did it take you by surprise? - Oh, God, no.
- No.
I feel like, nowadays, with the show having-having done as well as it has done, I feel like I sound disingenuous when I say I can't believe this show ever made it on the air.
It has all the ingredients of failure.
[ Laughter ] Now, this is completely just for my own, selfish enjoyment.
Let's imagine what Breaking Bad would've been if the-- one of the broadcast networks had picked up Breaking Bad.
So, let's talk about how we take what you've all wonderfully created and make it network-appropriate.
Gennifer: I have your title.
Okay, what's the new title? "White Lies.
" "White Lies.
" [ Laughter ] - Yeah-- Jason Priestley would be-- - A much hotter-looking actor than Bryan.
What was that? A much hotter-looking actor than Bryan.
Yeah, there'd be a sexual component somewhere, an attractiveness.
You mean there wasn't? [ Laughter ] Coming up, secrets from the cast and crew's final wrap party.
Hmm-- my penis.
Where do I get a tattoo that not even my wife will see? [ Laughter ] Jim: Welcome back to The Writers' Room and Entertainment Weekly's The Last Word.
We're now joined by Jess Cagle from Entertainment Weekly.
- Welcome, Jess-- - Thank you very much.
What was it like for you guys shooting the last episode, emotionally? I'll start with you, Vince.
I mean, it's been such a gigantic part of your life.
What-what were you feelin' that day? Vince: That last day? Um, there were a lotta tears, and I was wondering why I wasn't tearing up myself, and it's because I think - I was in shock.
Bryan: - Cold and heartless.
You were so glad it's over.
You birthed the show.
It's still, uh, slow-slowly dawning on me that, uh, that it's comin' to an end.
I-I miss this writers' room.
Uh, it's a sad thing to end something that you loved.
Moira, what did you do? How were you feeling? Did you celebrate? Moira: We were shooting my episode on the last day.
We had a pick-up day, so I got to be there, and it was-- Yeah, massively bittersweet and nostalgia-laden and lots of tears, and we popped some champagne in the desert.
During the-the last few days, there were so many questions about how do you feel? It-it's the last, uh, you know-- it's too much to take in.
You're almost not able to process it all, in due time.
I even-- I got a tattoo on the very last day.
[ Chuckling ] - Oh-- you're serious? - Yeah-- I got a tattoo.
There were a bunch of guys on the set who-who were going to get tattoos-- crew guys.
You know, I'm gonna get a "B-- BrBa.
" Or I'm gonna get "No Half Measures" or something like that.
But I'm an actor.
Where do I get a tattoo? You know, I don't want anything to show, so I decided to get it, hmm-- on the penis.
Where do I get a-- [ Laughter ] Where do I get a tattoo that not even my wife will see? [ Laughter ] - Somewhere it won't show-- - Yes.
This won't hurt at all.
[ Laughter ] So, I did get one right there.
Oh, wow! And, it's, um-- it's the-- yeah.
The Breaking Bad.
" Yeah, it's our-our logo.
And, uh, and it's for me.
Someone said, "but if you put it there, no one's gonna see it.
" I said, "I'll see it.
" This is for me, this is for me.
I'll-it'll catch my eye, and I'll, uh, yeah, man, that is-- it's the-the greatest role I've ever had in my life.
And, um, and this reminds me of it, so-- my-- like, my own little talisman, yeah.
For any of the rest of you, when you woke up the next day-- right after your-- after your last day at work, what was the feeling when you woke up in the morning? Tom: It's been a steady depression.
[ Laughter ] And, that's what I was worried about.
That's why I'm bringing it up.
This day is unusual for me because I actually put on pants, so, lucky for you.
We're grateful.
Gennifer: I think there was a s-- I mean, there is a sense of relief because, like, Tom and I, um, we're definitely there for the last day in the writers' room.
Vince actually let me pin the very last card to the very last board, and there was that sense of relief because so often, especially when you start a season, you're like, "oh, God, we're never gonna get to the end.
How do we do this?" And so, knowing we got to the end, I feel really proud of what we m-managed to do, and I'm so happy that we ended it on our terms-- and then, of course, I went into my off-- we celebrated, and then I went into my office, and I cried for, like, five minutes, because it was like, "oh, now it's done.
" So, I think it's, um, bittersweet because there's the mix of, like-- because we got to choose when we end, um, it really allowed us to end on our terms-- but then, of course, it is like, "oh, what next?" And, you know, I-- we'll all have great jobs in the future, but we'll never have this job again, you know.
I can't even believe we got this far-- sixty-two episodes of TV.
I woulda never thought it.
No-- I-- in this day and age, to go to two seasons is a huge thing.
And, to be able to tell your story from beginning to end, - it's-it's a gift, you know? - It's a gift.
I wanna thank all of you for being a part of this and so many great stories of Walt and his journey.
Uh, if you want more of The Writers' Room, go to sundancechannel.
com I am Jim Rash, and we'll see you next time in The Writers' Room.
And now, we all look at each other like we fell in love.
[ Laughter ] Oh, I see.
That's a good-- yeah.