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The story behind Breaking Bad

Breaking bad

This past Saturday I went to a great panel at the television academy for Breaking Bad. Hosted by Conan O’Brien (who it turns out is a huge fan and confessed to watching the episodes multiple times) the panel included creator Vince Gilligan and the actors who play Walt, Hank, Marie, Walt Jr., Saul, and Mike.

It was cool to sit in the audience and hear about one of my favorite show’s creative process from some of the people who make it. When I found out Conan was going to host it, I figured he’d try to steal the spotlight, but he was actually a great moderator. He asked a lot of interesting questions and added just the right amount of joking around.

When asked if he had the whole arc of the series mapped out from the start, Vince gave an answer that really resonated with me and it applies to both A:TLA and Korra so I thought it was worth mentioning. He said he had a general idea of where the character was headed from the start — following Walt as he goes from “Mr. Chips to Scarface.” But he was very clear that he didn’t have it all figured out at the start and that the collaboration he has with the writers, actors, and directors added a lot to the show. Other people helped him come up with ideas he never would have thought of.

Same goes with Korra. Bryan and I knew we wanted to take Korra from brash warrior to a spiritual being over the course of her story, but we didn’t know if that would be one season or more. Unlike The Last Airbender, we wanted to make the seasons (or books) more standalone, with one main threat per book. However, we don’t just hit the reset button with each book. Everything Korra does and learns in one book definitely carries over to the next and ties into her overall spiritual path. It’s great to have multiple books to tell her story, as we can dig deeper into the spiritual side of the Avatar and the world.

But there’s no way Bryan and I could have come up with all of this by ourselves. We have an amazing team of producers, writers, directors, and designers all of whom add to the world in surprising, cool ways.

I think there’s a misconception (or a belief) that a TV series or a series of novels should have every piece of the story precisely plotted out from the start. Like Vince said, he didn’t know if Breaking Bad was going to be one season or several. It’s not only presumptuous to assume your show is going to go on for years and years, it’s very impractical. You just couldn’t write all the scripts before production had to start. I think if the foundation of the show is solid — you have a compelling main character (or characters) and you have a vision for what kind of show it will be and the direction its headed, then you can build off of that, episode by episode. (I’m totally oversimplifying the process here, I admit…)

Vince also talked about how Breaking Bad all started with the character of Walt and his story — why would a good guy do something really bad? He gave a similar answers as in this interview from the Guardian:

“I wondered why someone like us, which is to say a basically law-abiding citizen, would suddenly do such a thing. Why would someone make such a radical change in their lives if they were basically a good person, a non-criminal? I think of Breaking Bad as a bit of character study. It’s really about this one man and this one particular set of circumstances, the fact he makes decisions that most of us, myself included, would not. We are telling a story of transformation in which a previously good man, through sheer force of will, decides to become a bad man.”

Everything that has happened in Breaking Bad has stemmed from that character transformation and is part of why people love the show so much. For myself, I do sometimes wonder why I’m cheering for Walt to get away. There’s part of me that hopes he isn’t caught, that he saves his marriage and his family. And I realized that what I’m really rooting for is for Walt to save his soul. I think I (the audience) wants to see Walt realize the error in his ways and become good again, even though I know he’s done so much bad it’s next to impossible.

Any Breaking Bad fans out there? Why do you root for Walt? (If you do at all.)

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