‘Better Call Saul’ Season 2: John Shiban on the Artisans Behind the Kim Wexler Montage

'Better Call Saul' Season 2: John

Director John Shiban has only helmed one episode of “Better Call Saul,” but it was a doozy. Included in the action-packed installment was a memorable montage for Rhea Seehorn’s breakout character, Kim Wexler, as she tried to work her way out of her law firm’s doghouse by landing a major client. “[Showrunners] Peter [Gould] and Vince [Gilligan] picked up the ‘Breaking Bad’ love of montages,” Shiban says. “It was really important, storytelling-wise, not only for the arc of her character for the episode but also the season.

“I will give a nod to Rhea Seehorn because she was facing 12 pages of pocket dialogue about legal phone calls, and we asked her to ad lib as we went. We knew we would only use seconds of each take.” The biggest challenge was about “getting the volume of material. On a TV schedule you don’t have a lot of time. You can’t spend two days to shoot 2½ minutes of screen time in a 45-minute episode. That’s where I needed a lot of help from these really talented folks.”

Gould and Gilligan are also known for their attention to detail, and any writer or director working on “Saul” knows there’s no such thing as a throwaway moment on the show. “It makes it more challenging but to me it’s such a pleasure,” Shiban says. “There’s nothing worse in a way than, ‘That was good enough, let’s move on.’ That’s not what I want to do as a director, that’s not what I want to do as a writer. It’s funny when new writers come into the fold and they’re on set. They’re amazed at that. I love that attention to detail and it means something to the audience.”

“Better Call Saul”
Season 2, Episode 5, “Rebecca”

Brett Dos Santos, assistant director
“We had roughly half a day to shoot everything you see. I conferenced with Brett and we figured out we could do four locations all around that stairwell. We wanted four days to pass. That means you have to have four different costumes, hair and makeup, props. There are different times of the day too. It’s a huge logistical puzzle to figure out, schedule and work with all the department heads. That’s where Brett was amazing, he came up with the battle plan and then became the traffic cop as we shuttled [Seehorn] from one set to the next. He was so calm and smooth and on top of everything.”

Arthur Albert, director of photography
“He just has an amazing eye. He works fast and lights fast, it’s always been a pleasure to work with him. Arthur not only did an amazing job of shooting beautifully under pressure, but he was influential with coming up with angles and shots and lens choices on the fly as we were shooting. He knew it was all about the number of different pieces. You can’t make a montage out of the same camera set-up because you have nothing to cut to.

“He also made sure we got the inserts too — like the shots of Kim and her highlighter. A lot of times those are the things people drop. He was adamant, and I appreciate it greatly, that we got our inserts so I could see them and approve them, we could do them together.”

Jennifer Bryan, costume designer
“Jennifer and her team had to manage these four days and the (different) looks. She had to manage these four days and the times and the looks, each has a sub-look — jacket on, jacket off, depending on the time of day. Has she been working? Has she been out to lunch? All of those issues had to be monitored and kept track of. And yet the color and look of the characters’ costumes is very important. She did a great job of keeping Kim’s consistency as we’re telling the story, so not only does the audience feel a sense of time, but it’s always Kim.”

Mark Hansen, propmaster
“Props had a crazy time, starting with the Post-It notes. A lot of meetings on the Post-It notes. Not only for logistical reasons, but also for storytelling reasons. Color is very important to the look and feel of the show. There were a lot of debates. I picked colors, I showed them to Vince and Peter — they liked one color, they didn’t like another. We went back and forth with the colors a bit.

“And all of the names that Kim has written on them. One of my pet peeves is a generic name and phone number, the 555. You can’t put somebody’s personal phone number up there, it has to be cleared by legal. Props had to coordinate this crazy process of getting names and phone numbers in different parts of the country because they’re different law firms. It has to be a law firm Kim’s firm could do business with because they’re in New Mexico, or since Kim went to the University of Pennsylvania so this person is in Pennsylvania. It was this nightmare of logistics and research over something that is literally on the screen for a millisecond.

“But particularly the fans of this show are going to be pausing it and looking at that name. These things have to make sense and they have to tell the story. The night before, the prop folks had to make [the Post-Its] and make multiples. They had to handwrite them and it had to look like Kim’s handwriting.”

Kelley Dixon, editor
“It’s my job and the job of Arthur and Mark and Jennifer to get as many great bits of footage, great ingredients. Kelley is the chef who makes the meal out of it. I dug up the Gipsy Kings song. We were all throwing ideas around and I remember hearing that. I thought ‘My Way [A Mi Manera]’ will tell [Kim’s] story in a great way, but being in Spanish you’re not listening to the lyrics, you’re just getting the emotion. We didn’t have the rights to it when we shot, we didn’t know if we could get it, music can be really expensive especially for famous bands. We had maybe a half dozen songs we sent to Kelley and said, ‘It could be one of these.’ She said from the beginning, ‘No, it’s “My Way.” ’ Ultimately our music supervisor made a deal and it worked out. Kelley cut to the music — took all the footage, blew things up, sped footage up, all in an effort to tell the story with those images.”