“Better call Saul”, “Bagman”: interview with Vince Gilligan, part one

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Going back to last summer, several people associated with You better call Saul started talking about the eighth episode of the new season in muted tones, referring to its “big” scale and the exhausting filming schedule overseen by the co-creator of the series Vince Gilligan.

This eighth episode, titled “Bagman,” finally aired Monday night and it’s easy to understand the buzz now. Most of the episode is just Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Mike (Jonathan Banks) in conversation, but it’s a conversation held during an epic march through the desert, a march that follows a heartbreaking shootout while Jimmy’s mission is to collect $ 7 million in bail for Lalo (Tony Dalton) is in very bad shape. It’s an exciting and intense over 50 minutes of television.

Gilligan called The Hollywood Report last week for an in-depth discussion on “Bagman”.

This first part of the interview is mainly spoiler-free, discussing the conditions and complications that made filming so difficult. Stay tuned for a breakdown of several key moments to come Tuesday morning.

It’s gotten to the point where I cringe when I see characters making too much contact on TV shows, so congratulations on doing what could be the first real episode of social distancing from TV.

Like. Perhaps. These two certainly distance each other, that’s for sure.

So you enter the season knowing that you will be able to direct an episode. How did it end up being that one?

I put it all at the feet of Peter Gould. He’s sneaky. He is sadistic. He knew I could make an episode and I said [executive producer] Melissa Bernstein the dates I was able to do it, which were dates based on the fact that I was finishing post-production on El Camino. Basically, I would see him for months before they gave me the script for the episode and he said, “Okay. You’re doing episode number eight “and I said,” Great! What can you tell me? He said, “Oh, it’s going to be big. It will be big! “And then I worked in the same office that they use on You better call Saul when I was working on the film, I met a lot of these guys, and every time I walked past the writers’ room, I said, “How’s my episode? And he had that evil smile on his face and he said, “Oh, it’s getting bigger every day. “

So I laughed the first few times he said it, and then I started to get nervous. I looked at Gordon Smith, who wrote the episode, and I said, “Is he just playing with me? And Gordon sat there, arms folded, as usual, just stoic, then just shook his head slowly and forcefully. And then they finally started saying, “Well, it’s Mike and Jimmy. It’s a double with these two guys. And I said, “This is fantastic,” and they said, “Yes, but it’s great. It’s like the Heartbreak Ridge episodes. If it doesn’t kill you, it will break your heart. And then when I finally read it, I said, “Oh my God. They’re actually trying to kill me here. That’s how I got there.

I just spent as much time in the desert as you El Camino, was there a part of you that may have wanted an episode of two people sitting inside in the air conditioning?

No kidding. And, by the way, can I say that all the things of the desert El Camino, it sounds like a lot of desert stuff, but it was the best day I ever had in my life, it was the really big desert day we had El Camino. It was at the Painted Desert. By the way, that’s the difference between movies and TV. I arrived on the plateau by helicopter and then spent this wonderful day. The weather was perfect. I worked with these two wonderful actors – Aaron Paul, of course, and Jesse Plemons. And then I was able to smoke a cigar on the tray. It was before the term “social distancing” existed, but there was enough room there for me not to smoke smoke on anyone. It was the best day of achievement I have ever had.

Cut on the set of this episode. The only overlap is that I was working with two other beautiful actors – obviously Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks. But other than that, it was just pure hell. I went from the best directing day of my life, in a desert, to the worst period of weeks and months, even if it lasted a long time. It was like forever. I’m not exaggerating, it was the most difficult staging I’ve ever done. I’m so proud of it and I’m especially proud of the great work of the team They were wonderful. And Bob and Jonathan were fantastic. Never a hint of complaint, especially from Bob. This guy likes deprivation. Bob Odenkirk likes deprivation and discomfort. He’s crazy and I bless him for that because it makes my job a lot easier. He kept saying, “Bring him on, man! The more uncomfortable, the better. I need to get into the right free space here. Man, it was tough, but I’m proud of it. I wouldn’t want to have to start over.

How many things that turned out to be so difficult and took so long were foreseeable problems and how many were force majeure, unpredictable things?

Oh no. Everything was predictable. And the anticipation was, “This is crazy. It’s so difficult. “You have to understand that we are filming on the wonderful To’Hajiilee Indian Reservation, which we have already filmed, so someone who reads this could say:” What is he complaining about? They shot the same reservation on the pilot episode of breaking Bad! What is the difference? Well, the difference was that To’Hajiilee was about the size of Rhode Island. It could be bigger for all I know. It’s huge, hundreds and thousands of acres, maybe a million. The difference between where we would shoot breaking Bad, still on the To’Hajiilee property, the distance was still an hour away, so by the time we got there door to door it was another two hours. And it was August – it was deadly hot. The very first day on the set, we looked down and there was a tarantula crawling in front of everyone’s feet. And by the way, tarantulas are nothing. You see so many that they get cute.

What is dangerous is the sun and the lack of water. If you fell there without a hat and without water, just on foot, and someone said, “If you walk far enough, you will get to Albuquerque”, you would be dead. I don’t care how hard you are. It’s a deadly landscape designed to kill everything that lives, and how animals and plants adapt to it, I don’t know. I mean, it’s beautiful over there. Everything was therefore predictable. The producers made a magnificent – I will stop saying the word “magnificent”, as it could be like a drinking game – they did a remarkable job. Melissa Bernstein and Princess Nash and Rob Overbeck and Efrain Cortes, our first assistant director, did a wonderful job of keeping everyone safe so that we can all focus on making the best episode we can do.

It was hard. I think everyone felt it. Everyone thought, “We need to have enough water for everyone. We must have enough shade. We need to have a cooling tent or two so you can dive in and spray a cool mist of ice water. Everyone should have sunscreen. Everyone must have hats. “You think you are going to be thirsty and that is how you will know you are dehydrated, but the trick is that you do not feel it, so people walk around yelling at everyone drinking water . In a beautiful way! But you forget when you are wrapped up in your work. You are not really thirsty and then suddenly you have the worst headache you have ever felt in your life and you get nauseous and you start to see double and then you twist because of dehydration. He’s the main killer out there, just the sun baking your brain under your hat like a microwave potato!

And then there are the cacti! Cholla cacti with sharper needles than sewing needles and longer! I said to our AD: “If I fall into one of the things, I just want someone to shoot me in the head”, because they are like torture devices. It’s amazing what nature has done through evolution in the desert.

You’ve obviously built up a lot of loyalty with the network and the studio, but is someone trying to tell you when you’re in pre-production about it, “A desert is a desert, Vince. Can’t drive 15 minutes outside of Albuquerque and just shoot somewhere nearby, is that easy? ”

I tell this story as if I had nothing to say about the place where we were filming, and it is a very good point that you make. We started very close to the studio. In fact, the scene where Jimmy first meets the Cousins, near the well with the dirt road, this place that plays like a desert – I mean, it’s technically desert – is visible from our studios , and it was great that we could put this close. But you’re right, I do that a bit ironically, but I would say that I blame everyone, but I had a major role in the choice of locations. But by far, the best we saw were the most distant. Go figure. Murphy’s Law!

We thought it was going to be difficult no matter how you cut it up, because even if you are in sight of your base, you are still outside all day. You cannot enter and exit an air-conditioned building. It’s funny. Being in sight of the soundstage in a strange way aggravates, because you cannot go back. The clock is still ticking and the money is still flowing. But it was potentially more dangerous when you go out in the boonies because you’re a lot further from the nearest hospital in case God forbids someone to get hurt, but my producers just gave me the job too easy as they could. They had traced everything. They are really brilliant and very hard workers, and all that really matters at the end of the day is to keep everyone safe. They had GPS in all the places we went so that if we had to bring a medical evacuation helicopter, they would know exactly where to land it and the site was already prepared. We had an ambulance standing there in the boonies. Above all, everyone has worked diligently to make the whole as safe as it could be humanly.

We had a snake wrestler. I guess we still have that. But there was someone who picked up rattlesnakes and put them in a bag. It was a very sweet young woman who did that, she is a herpetologist, and I said to her every day: “How many snakes have you caught today? And she would say, “Not yet” and I would say, “Well, you are only paid by the snake, so you better get there! I was kidding, of course, but finally I said, “Where are all the snakes? She just looked at me and said, “It’s too hot for snakes. So snakes are smarter than us. We actually put on a T-shirt for the episode: Too Hot for Snakes.

When you have a failed episode in the desert in this show, look back or think back to “4 Days Out” to understand what Saul desert episode looks like a breaking Bad desert episode?

I love this episode. Whenever we’re on TV – damn it, I’m going to watch one of them – it’s a favorite in particular and it was Michelle MacLaren’s first episode for us as a director and what a great episode it was. But if I watch an episode like this, I will mainly watch it to know what not to do. And by that, I mean it was already done so perfectly, I want to find new ways to do it. It was a very different set, because with that there was a plant cover, more low grass, if I remember correctly. It was a bit of a meadow where the desert herbs were just below your knee. It was very pretty and it was also very sorry, but it was actually a very different area not too far from our Q Studios sound scenes. At the time, we still hadn’t proven ourselves in terms of, “Is this show worth breaking every week? She struggled because she had to film everything within sight of Q Studios, and she did a great job with it.

But I didn’t really watch it. Above all, I just watched the script that Gordon and Peter and the writers gave me. Gordon Smith wrote this excellent script, and I mainly read it, contemplated it and tried to find the best way to film it so that I would bring to the film all the grandeur that was on the page. Or digital, I guess. The ones and the zeros. It was the main thing I thought about, what role I could play to not hurt anyone, and how to make the best episode possible. So it’s just a lot of reading and re-reading the script, actually.

As you go through the script, these are obviously the most intense scenes that Jimmy and Mike had together on this show. Is there anyone who makes sure that we see them and the dynamics that we see playing and evolving aligns with what we know about these characters and their relationship on breaking Bad?

Oh absolutely. Gordon was there by my side during the whole shoot, and he’s watching over him and looking for the script. I missed him all the time and he came very, very kindly to me and said, so as not to embarrass myself in front of the crew, and say, “I think there may be something here that we want to have “and I would say,” Oh yeah! Right! And in fact, Jenn Carroll, our associate producer, she was there too and wonderfully helpful. She and my assistant Melissa Ng were both there and picking up things that even Gordon sometimes forgot like, “In this episode it happened and in this episode like that, so maybe you want something to subject… ”It was very useful to me. Essential.

There are so many things to focus on when you realize, and often I have them behind the monitor with me. Very often I will ask them to look at the monitor when we are doing a scene with a lot of people in it, a lot of extras. I would say, “Keep an eye on these people here in this corner in case they start looking at the camera or looking silly, please tell me, because I’m focusing on the star . There weren’t as many here, because it was mostly two guys in the middle of nowhere, but I count on them all over the place. And all the rest of the crew! Our AD and Marshall [Adams], our director of photography and Paul [Donachie] and Matt [Credle], our cameramen. You count on everyone. Whether administrators want to admit it or not, it’s not a one-man or one-woman job if you’re honest about it. It’s just a collaboration and you surround yourself with the best people you can and count on them to the fullest.

Come back Tuesday morning for the second part of Vince Gilligan’s interview, with all the details on the car rollover, urine consumption and more!

You better call Saul



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