32 NAME CALLING
In the beginning there was not quite a beginning. The first episode of Breaking Bad was a pilot that lasted for 58 minutes, a pitch to the television networks to tempt them to screen and finance the series. The format or the real intentions of the writers and creators became more clear in episode two. The first day in Genesis One Verse One is an exception. Like almost all of our days, this episode in Breaking Bad begins at breakfast. Before this scene appears there have already been credits that let the viewer know what the TV series and its main creator are called. The subsequent teaser lasts five minutes and fourteen seconds. The names of the main actors are revealed in the first scene after the teaser and while we watch and listen to a nuclear family chat over breakfast about something and nothing. Apart from one exception the names in these credits are restricted to those actors who play the members of the White and Schrader families. These two families are connected through the sisters Skyler and Marie. Aaron Paul is the exception amongst the actors identified in these credits. He plays Jesse Pinkman the young man who will become a discrete member of the families of both Walter White and Hank Schrader. Jesse is like Alexander Serebryakov in the Chekov play Uncle Vanya. Jesse is the intruder or agent who will precipitate familial chaos and disruption. He may attract sympathy before the final episode of Breaking Bad but the presence of the catalyst Jesse undermines at least four families.
This is the pending tragedy that is promised as the credits appear over breakfast in episode two. We are introduced to a family that the father allows to be redefined because it is not sufficient for his emotional needs and aspirations. If Jesse has a mysterious power over families, Walter remains the key protagonist. His inability to preserve or honour his family is the crime that will shape everything that follows. The name of actor Bryan Cranston actually appears before breakfast begins. Main man Walter is lying on the bathroom floor and suffering from the symptoms of his cancer. But just in case we think he is the solitary victim the names of the rest of his family will soon follow. These people are all in it together. All of which means that the credits are almost as important to film as the overture is to opera.
Most of us lack direct experience of filmmaking. We experience it in our homes or the cinema as the final product of a collaborative effort by people we will never meet or know. A minority of those impressed by the final product will show interest in the contributions made by those strangers. Critics, academics and bloggers, will write about individual actors, the director, the scriptwriter, the cameraman, the editor and perhaps the music director. After that the attention span of the admirers and critics falters.
There are three sets of credits in every episode of Breaking Bad. During the initial credits, which appear over a table of chemical particles, we are told the title of the TV series and that it has been created by Vince Gilligan. These credits last for eighteen seconds, enough time for the audience to see two symbols emerge from the table and some smoke. The name of Gilligan appears in each of the three sets of credits. The series of credits which begin at the breakfast table and continue through another scene let us know that this episode has been written by Vince Gilligan. In the final credits, which last for 19 seconds at the end of the episode, we discover that apart from being its creator Gilligan is also an executive producer.
In total 76 people are identified as main contributors, nineteen during the credits that begin in the shower with Walt and 47 whose names appear at the end of the episode. Amidst these 76 people are costume designers, sound mixers, script supervisors, assistant directors, camera operators, set decorators, construction coordinators, lighting technicians, special effects people, hair stylists, make-up artists, second assistant directors to the assistant directors, casting directors and assistants, people called transportation captains, re-recording mixers, post-production supervisors and the rest.
In the end credits Vince Gilligan meets other producers. Of these there are many. Producers are the people who will decide what is feasible, what should be attempted and how. Not all these decisions will be based on money. The filming of certain scenes will depend on approval being granted by local officials to producers. Some of the producers will either have money to offer or know how to find some. The network that funded Breaking Bad was Sony Pictures Television but, according to the final credits, two other production companies were involved. Information about High Bridge and Gran Via production companies is not that accessible. High Bridge has an annual income of $140,000 and employs two people. It might have been created to provide Vince Gilligan status and role as a producer or for financial reasons. Gran Via employs at least four people, accepts submissions from scriptwriters and appears to have independent life beyond Vince Gilligan and Breaking Bad. Melissa Bernstein was a producer on Breaking Bad and also employed by Gran Via. Her revelations on the Breaking Bad podcast indicate that she was present during the filming of crucial scenes and made decisions that were important to what happened on film.
Four people had directorial roles in episode two. These would have been accountable to someone which means they would have had a relationship with a producer. Episode two of Breaking Bad has, according to the credits, six producers. These have various titles that include co-producer, associate producer and executive producer. Patty Lin is identified as a producer but without any qualification or added description. Karen Moor has before her name the two words ‘produced by’. The alternative titles are confusing. The less important producers can be used to cover the back of someone somewhere. Producers in cinema and TV tend to be ignored although a handful have left their mark. Sam Goldwyn and David O Selznick are the obvious examples in cinema. Gene Roddenberry is remembered for Star Trek. His dominant role anticipated that of the modern showrunner. A memorable split infinitive also helped Roddenberry to acquire fame.
Credits provide information. As this happens three times per episode and there are 62 episodes, it means the viewers absorb credit information on 118 occasions. Each section of credits is also divided by the screens on which the titles are obliged to appear. Because of status and contracts the names of the key actors appear on a separate screen. Co-stars or the other actors that merit a mention, usually four, share a single screen. Technicians share screens that are more crowded. I counted 27 separate screens showing credits before Netflix decided that was enough of that and went to the next episode. The real total is probably less than 40.
Not all the people mentioned in the credits of episode two participated in every episode. As the show proceeded through five years, other people came along for the ride and some went elsewhere. The success of Breaking Bad enabled nine separate scriptwriters to be nominated for Writers Guild Awards and three directors to be nominated for Directors Guild Awards. Some contributors acquired different roles or responsibilities for specific episodes. Vince Gilligan directed some of the episodes written by himself and also others. Bryan Cranston added production and direction achievements to his CV. The show Breaking Bad may exist as a warning against redefining a family but membership of the production and creative team was not fixed. Some people tire, others reveal hidden talents as work progresses and some poor souls need holidays and a break.
Episode two of Breaking Bad had a running time of 48 minutes and 23 seconds. Later episodes were a minute shorter. This might have been to allow for extra adverts. The teaser after the initial credits provides diversion, a mysterious fragment before the main story. During the main opening credits the additional information on screen ensures that these moments are also different from what follows. The ten minutes and thirteen seconds of episode two that include the teaser and credits contribute to the overall narrative but they are also separate. This leaves just over 38 minutes for the main story and not that much for an audience to remember before the next episode. Within that story there will be unhurried conversations but also montages of accelerated film and eclectic samples of music. Breaking Bad has been acclaimed for its moral depth and complexity and it deserves that praise. But neither does it take chances with the attention span of a modern audience. The tricks used by directors of rock videos are used in Breaking Bad and these are complemented by three sets of credits, two of which usually have distinct musical motifs. There are a handful of episodes that end with credits rolling through silence. Either way the credits make a difference to how we experience the story. All we need to do now is tell Netflix not to make them optional.
Howard Jackson has had ten books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest travel book No Tall Heels To Tango is now available here.