Lexicon Exclusive

"Insights from a Master"

The X-Files Lexicon Exclusive report on The Vancouver Film and TV Forum, featuring Vince Gilligan, October 1, 2010, by Angie C.
Page editor: XScribe

Vince Gilligan's big break as a writer and producer came via The X-Files. He is known to many as the author of many fan-favourite X-Files (Bad Blood, Memento Mori) and the spin-off series The Lone Gunmen, which ran for one season. Without a doubt his recent creation, AMC's Breaking Bad, will go down in television history as one of the best series ever produced. The story follows Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher turned meth producer, played brilliantly by Emmy winner Brian Cranston, as he--in Vince's words--undergoes a transformation from Mr. Chips to Scarface.

On Friday, October 1, 2010, Vince Gilligan appeared at the Vancouver Film and TV Forum along with Eric Overmyer (Treme), in an informal discussion moderated by Chris Haddock (Da Vinci's Inquest). Gilligan answered questions regarding the writing process, character development, and network television.

Breaking Bad is a Southern expression which refers to someone straying from the straight and narrow, in essence turning "bad." When asked about the role the network had played in the creation of Breaking Bad, Gilligan shared the initial difficulty he had with pitching Breaking Bad. While many network executives loved the story, there simply wasn't a place for such a gritty, controversial story on conventional network television. Gilligan shared that one executive asked, "Did it have to be crystal meth? Couldn't it be gambling?" Thankfully, Gilligan stayed true to his vision and said no. Eventually, Sony Television and AMC would pick up the series. With the support of independent cable channel, Gilligan had the freedom to tell the story he wanted. Breaking Bad made its debut on January 20, 2008.

Unlike story or episode development on The X-Files, which saw Gilligan by himself in his office developing an episode for the week, Breaking Bad is a collaborative effort. A team of writers meet to discuss and hash out what is next for the characters and the storyline. It is through this collaborative effort that new ideas or opportunities for the characters--and the storyline--are developed, many that would not have been apparent through a solo effort. Gilligan credits this collaborative process and the network itself being key to the story he wanted to tell.

In the development of the story, and consequently the characters, the writers are continually attempting to discern the thought processes and "head-space" of the characters. Gilligan shared that some of the questions commonly and regularly posed are: What is Walter (Skyler, Jesse, Hank et al.) most afraid of right now? Where's his head at right now? What is he thinking about what's going on? Where does his thinking take him? What actions are a result of what he's thinking? In conjunction to this, Gilligan shared the experience of what happens as the story develops and the character and the actor begin a symbiotic dance in which the actor informs the story as much as the story informs the character.

It was clear, from the crowd surrounding Gilligan at the end of the session, that a large portion of the audience not only knew of and admired his work, but had come specifically to hear and speak with him. There were a number of "old-time fans," from the time Gilligan was a writer and producer for The X-Files, who had tuned into Breaking Bad because they knew the calibre of his work, as well as industry professionals and hopefuls, who had come to hear from a master. I was given an opportunity to speak with Mr. Gilligan after the event and he was personable, approachable and welcoming. I left with an even great admiration for the man and his work.

Breaking Bad, Season 4, is set to air in the summer of 2011, a decision made by the network. For those of us who are having difficulty waiting, AMC is producing mini-episodes that will run on their website. As well, there is a wealth of interviews, podcasts and videos on their site, all well worth exploring while we "Baddies" hunker down for the long wait.

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