Vince Gilligan created AMC’s multi-Emmy-winning series “Breaking Bad,” about a former school teacher who turns to a life of crime when he is diagnosed with a fatal illness. The show, which bowed in January 2008, will conclude its final season this year.
“In a realistic depiction, there are consequences to every violent action.”
Violence has always been a component of our show. We try to think through these violent moments in great detail — emotionally as well as logistically. And though we intend for them to strike a deep chord with the audience, we never mean to sensationalize them.
When it comes to depictions of violence in entertainment, it seems to me they exist in two basic forms. One is the realistic portrayal, in which there are consequences to every violent action. The other is the cartoony version, where the moment is meant to play as funny or simply cool. For instance, there’s the scene we’ve all watched a thousand times in old movies and TV shows where the hero shoots someone dead, then makes a funny quip and goes on with his day. Admittedly, I’ve written such scenes throughout my career, and may do so again in the future. But I see how a lifetime of that goofy fake stuff could tend to desensitize viewers to the real thing.
When we conceived of “Breaking Bad,” we wanted to create characters who were in the process of changing. In a sense, our show is about how life — and the problems and choices it throws at us — can slowly morph us as individuals. For the most part, the violence in the story is intended to have a transforming effect on our characters.
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We work in a writers’ room and the storytelling is a group effort. We go over every step of the script, beat by beat, point by point, and discuss in great detail what the characters are feeling — their hopes, their fears, their goals and obstacles — throughout the episode. That process applies to the bloody scenes as well. We consider what happens to our characters after an incident of violence. It doesn’t matter whether they were dealing it or being dealt it: We figure there will always be repercussions, consequences to the violent act, for everyone involved. How does it darken them? How does it affect their feelings and behavior from that point onward? These are questions we ask ourselves.
When filming scenes of violence, there’s always a meat-and-potatoes component to the planning. Where do we place the squib? Where should the body fall? A lot of it comes down to choreography, to “dance steps,” as it were. But there’s another element, as well. Violence and high emotions go hand-in-hand — and any emotional moment needs to be discussed thoroughly with our actors so that they can figure out how to play it. Often, they help us writers understand how it needs to be played.