7 Lessons ‘Breaking Bad’ Teaches Indie Filmmakers: The Heisenberg Method Part 1

Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad

Who would have ever guessed a decade ago that a TV show about a terminally ill high school chemistry teacher cooking Meth for this family would be such a magnificent hit?…Ok so granted even that as a pitch sounds awesome! Breaking Bad is one of those rare TV shows where everything just works perfectly. The script is fabulously well written, the ensemble of actors bring out performances that would make even old school Actor’s Studio stalwarts drool with envy, the cinematography is flawless. It’s just a fantastic show.

Of course then watching it as a self-confessed film buff and filmmaker I was chuckling to myself at the analogies the lead protagonist has with an indie filmmaker, earnestly trying to break into a ruthless industry and eventually move up the ladder to make films with the big boys.

So without further ado, here’s what Breaking Bad teaches the up-and-coming filmmaker. See my translation of the dialogue between Walt and Jesse.

{WARNING SPOILER ALERT}

For those interested this all kicks off about 16 minutes into the show.

In the very first season episode 6 Walt and Jesse discuss how they should proceed with their business making meth (which I’m using to mean making films).

Lesson 1: Be Tenacious About Your Goal

Jesse hands Walt about 13k…minus expenses! Walt asks Jesse how much meth did he sell, and Jesse responds:

Jesse “nearly an ounce.” (One short film, didn’t make it to any festivals either)

Walt wonders why he only sold “nearly an ounce” when they made a batch of a pound (16 oz in a pound).  (We have a feature script here why are we making short films)

Jesse defends himself saying “Yo’ I’ve been out there all night slinging crystal, do you think its cake moving a pound of meth one teeth at a time?” (This industry is tough, its not easy selling short films or making them for that matter.)

Walt rather naively says “So why’re you selling it in such small quantities, why don’t you just sell the whole pound at once” (Make and Sell a full feature film dammit)

Jesse “To who? What I look like scarface?” (To who? Do I look like Harvey Weinstein?) 

Lesson 2: Know Your Industry

Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) cooking up his product in Breaking Bad

Walt looks at the 13k in disgust and actually says, “This is unacceptable, I am breaking the law here, this return is to little for the risk. I thought you’d be ready for another pound today.” (All this work is not worth the effort for such a low likelihood of breaking in to the industry; I thought we’d be ready to make a second film after this deal)

Jesse “You may know a lot about chemistry man, but you don’t know a jack about slinging dope.” (You may be a good writer/director but you don’t have a clue about how this business works)

Lesson 3: Think of The Best Way to Get Your Film Made

The infamous meth lab RV in Breaking Bad

Walt “I know a lack of motivation when I see it” (You’re not trying hard enough, our goal is to make a feature so put in the effort and make a feature…don’t accept second best)

Walt “Come on, you’ve gotta be more imaginative, you know, just think outside the box here! We have to move our product in bulk, wholesale now. How do we do that?” (We need to think of a creative way to get our film made, one that people will pay to see in cinemas…how do we do that?)

Lesson 4:  You Gotta Think about Film Distribution

Jesse “What you mean like a distributer?” (Exactly as it says! Film Distributer)

Walt “Yes, YES! That’s what we need, we need distributer now do you know anyone like that?”

Jesse “Yeah well I use to…until you killed him!”

Walt “So who took crazy eights place?”

Lesson 5: Don’t be intimidated by Industry Pros…But Don’t Be Naïve Either

Tis easy to be intimidated by the menacing Tucco Salamanca in Breaking Bad…But you need to stand your ground if you want in to this business.

Jesse “Some guy named Tucco…badass from what I hear” (A big time film producer, well connected and ruthless)

Walt “Tucco, ok well then just go talk to Tucco” (Well lets just go to his office and meet this film producer and tell him about our film)

Jesse “Right, like “Hello Sir, hey I know you don’t know me but would you be interested in a felony quantity of methamphetamine? “ (You must be having a laugh son!)

Walt “Well yes but maybe with a little more salesmanship perhaps.” (I don’t see the problem here)

Jesse “You just don’t get it man, this guys O.G” (This guy is big time, a real player in the industry)

Walt “What does that mean?”

Lesson 6:  Know The Rules Of The Game…At Least Then You Can Break Them

Jesse “Ah, Jesus look he’s upper level man, he’s not gonna do business with some dude he doesn’t even know.” (It means No chance. He’s a gatekeeper you’re never even gonna get your script seen by him let alone speak to him, he doesn’t know you and no big production company accepts unsolicited scripts.)

Jesse “Ok you just don’t understand the way it works, you cant just bum rush some high level iceman and start cutting deals. Ok? Its risky, you need an intro, you need someone to vouch.” (You don’t have a clue about the film business; you can’t just rock up to a top film producer and start making deals about your film. You need a contact, someone they know that you know who can vouch for you; you need a well-connected friend to refer you. It’s a Members Only Club.)

Lesson 7: Time To Turn Pro Baby…Roll The Dice Play The Game

Walt “Ok well who introduced you to crazy eight?”

Jesse “Emilio, that’s only because I knew him from like third grade.”

Jesse “…Look I’m telling you Mister White it’s too risky. Ok? I mean were making money. Why cant you just be satisfied with the way it is” (It’s too difficult and too risky for us and them, we’re writing and making our own little productions, why cant you just be happy with that?)

Walt “OH COME ON! Jesus. Just grow some fucking balls!” (Have some courage, be bold, stand up for your film and fight for it.)

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