Vince Gilligan Talks Albuquerque at Direct2Series Location Panel

Vince Gilligan
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Showrunners say the right locations are critical to the branding and success of TV drama series

“Location, location, location” goes the saying in real estate, but it might as well apply to film and television, according to panelists at Direct to Series: Original French Content for the Global Market, taking place at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood on Nov. 1-2.

Shooting at the right location was critical to branding “Breaking Bad,” according to showrunner Vince Gilligan (pictured). The AMC series was all shot in New Mexico.

Other pros who spoke on the matter were Nicole Ameln of Entertainment Partners; Olivier-Rene Veillon, CEO of the Ile de France Film Commission; Danielle Gelber, EVP of Wolf Films and producer for “Chicago Fire”; Tony Salome, location manager at CBS’ “NCIS: Los Angeles”; Franck Philippon, writer of French drama series “No Limit;” and Michael J. Bassett, an exec producer/writer/director on Cinemax’s “Strike Back.”

Variety deputy features editor Peter Caranicas moderated the panel, which was organized by the French Embassy in the United States and the French Consulate in Los Angeles, with support from PGA and DGA.

Gilligan said that “Breaking Bad” involved the city of Albuquerque as a prominent character, and the city even put on the funeral for the infamous Walter White after the show’s end. However, Gilligan said the series was originally slated to shoot in Riverside, Calif., but the financial incentives New Mexico offered were “too good to refuse.”

He said that they had the idea of trying to pass Albuquerque off as Riverside, but rejected it, and he was glad they did.

“I’m very happy that we wound up in Albuquerque, because I think it really helped make the show a post-modern sort of western,” he said. “And I’m very glad we didn’t try to fake it as being southern California. If we did, it would have been a mistake.”

However, it wasn’t easy pitching the idea to many Albuquerque residents, as many didn’t want to be associated with a show about a meth dealers.

“In the early days, we got a few of people saying, ‘No, I don’t want anything to do with a show like that,’ he recalled.

Albuquerque’s chief of police also looked askance at the idea, fearing the show would cast a negative light on the city.

“Strike Back” is shot at multiple locations on many continents, which can occasionally pose problems. Bassett described an action sequence shot in Johannesburg, which was supposed to take place in Colombia, and so the steering wheels were on the right instead of the left, and cars were driving on the wrong side of the street.

“You finally go, ‘Nobody’s looking at that,’” he said of the small problem. “I’m just going to swallow it, because they should be looking at the action on the ground.”

Salome, who manages location for “NCIS: Los Angeles,” said the violent nature of the show has made some L.A. locations hesitant to want to be in the show. He described an incident that occurred on a recent episode about a dirty bomb; they wanted to shoot the bomb scene at the famous mall on Hollywood and Highland that attracts tons of tourists, but the powers that be objected.

“They didn’t want any kind of violence or gunfire and didn’t want anyone thinking that anyone would even consider putting a dirty bomb at Hollywood and Highland,” he said, and added that they eventually rejected the proposal all together.

With “Chicago Fire” set in the Windy city, Gelber said that they’ve never considered shooting anywhere else, and that the tax incentives certainly help.

“We really set out to do a show about heroism and hope in America and we wanted to show a really, iconic blue collar city and one that wasn’t one of the coasts,” she said. “We really couldn’t do it without the state support that we had.”

The Direct2Series program will continue through Nov. 2.

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