Breaking Bad is high quality, ground-breaking television in many ways: cinematic filming style, subject matter, protagonists, and devotion to change just to name a few. Today, though, I'd like to talk about an aspect that is so central to the show that Breaking Bad just wouldn't be Breaking Bad without it: local color.
Basically, local color is the use of real-world locations as integral parts of a show, and in Breaking Bad that means New Mexico, and most particularly, the city of Albuquerque. Indeed, ABQ is so important to the show as to constitute another character in the ensemble, as are the desert spaces surrounding the city. The series is filmed entirely in Albuquerque and New Mexico, a choice which would normally be prohibitively expensive for TV, but which was made possible by a film incentive passed by the New Mexican state government which offers film and television producers a 25% refundable tax credit on their qualified expenses. The New Mexico Film Office even put together a very slick website to attract both producers and tourists to the state. In a 2011 interview with alibi.com's Sam Adams Breaking Bad creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan made it clear that without that incentive, it would likely have been financially impossible to shoot the show in New Mexico:
"We are pretty close to the bone as it is, apparently as any TV show is. We take the money Sony Television and the AMC network give us to produce our show and we spend every last dollar of it—put every last dollar of it we presumably can on the screen and sometimes we run short and an incentive helps us to make the show and produce the show."For the viewer this translates into a level of realism that no amount of genius set construction or CGI could provide. On Breaking Bad, when the scene you are watching takes place outside of a place it is actually taking place outside and in a real place. The level of veracity the ability to shoot on location gives the show is tremendous, and helps to draw the audience even further into the storyline. In the real world, it has also enabled some good old American entrepreneurial capitalists to set up Breaking Bad tours in Albuquerque.
The show's use of local color has also led to the creation of one of the most impressive fan projects for a show that I have ever seen. Flickr user WallDruggie (aka Nancy) a resident of ABQ, has been tracking down the locations used in Breaking Bad since 2010, and photographing them for an ever-growing set of Breaking Bad Locations in Albuquerque on flickr which you can browse through for free. WallDruggie gives the physical location for each photograph, as well as the episode title it was used in and what happened there. It's really an astounding piece of work, and you should check it out.
Albuquerque will likely remain a central character as Breaking Bad hurtles to its conclusion this summer, with Walt, Jesse, Hank, Skyler, Marie, and everyone else moving through and within Duke City as things finally come to a head for them all. Fictions that lean on local color, that make their worlds real by means of the real world, can be powerful creations, and Breaking Bad is one of the most profound examples of that power. Thanks, New Mexico!
Tune in next week, Readers Mine, for another "Meth Monday," and in the meantime, don't forget to head over to Dale's blog this week for a new "Walter White Wednesday", and for the latest in Breaking Bad news, reviews, and awards, as well as updates on our forthcoming book Wanna Cook? The Unofficial Companion Guide to Breaking Bad, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Until then, keep cookin'!