Monday, August 12, 2013

Meth Monday: My Interview with Michael Slovis & 5.09: "Blood money"

Hello, Readers Mine! Well, as of last night, Season 5B of Breaking Bad  is off to a hell of a start, and things are just beginning. I'll get into my thoughts on "Blood Money" in a bit (and SPOILER ALERT, btw), but first I want to talk about something else I did this weekend: interview Breaking Bad's director of photography, Michael Slovis!

Michael Slovis, ASC. Director of photography on Breaking Bad.

To be clear, you won't be getting the interview here, but you will find it in it's entirety in Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad when the book is released next spring. Mr. Slovis was kind enough to take some time out of his Saturday to chat with me over the phone about Breaking Bad, cinematography, directing, and his influences. This was the first time I have ever had the opportunity to interview someone for this kind of project, and Mr. Slovis was very generous with his time, and allowed our conversation to wander pretty broadly.

Slovis has said that his palette for shooting Season 5B will be very dark, with lots of blacks, and he expanded on this to me, framing it as an over all mood for the season, which was very clear in last night's episode, particularly in the cold open as Walt walks through his house. This was one of Slovis's favorite places to shoot, and except for exteriors, I learned that the White house is a set. Jesse's living room is also a set, and one that would not have been built if Slovis hadn't insisted on it. Working with Mark Freeman, Breaking Bad's production designer (whom Slovis raves about), Slovis helped create a set designed to allow for all of the incredible sequences in seasons 3, 4, and 5A as Jesse descends into darkness, emerges, and begins to descend again. I also learned that while Breaking Bad  has always been shot using film stock, Slovis made the switch to Kodak stock which added more texture to the show.

Above all, Slovis is focused on story. While Breaking Bad  is known for several trademark shots, particular the use of point-of-view shots, Slovis is adamant that every shot serve the story, and admits that there are plenty of shots which wound up in the cutting room floor because they just didn't work. He also noted that, as Breaking Bad began filming in 2007/08, TVs were changing. Screens were becoming larger, and HD was beginning to fully penetrate the market. This allowed Slovis and his predecessor in Season 1, Renaldo Villalobos to take full advantage of wide shots, and to pull back from traditional TV close-ups because the viewing technology was  finally sharp enough to allow those kinds of shots to show up clearly. Indeed, Slovis told me that whereas usually in TV, photographers shooting in the the field are told to come back with "coverage" (i.e. plenty of close shots to be sure to clearly catch what's going on), that "Vince [Gilligan] said, 'I don't care about the coverage,  don't come back without the wide shots'." As Slovis described it, Breaking Bad is a "perfect storm," where network, production company, technology, and talent all hit at the right place, and at just the right time.

As to what we can expect in Season 6, Slovis was, of course, tight lipped, and I knew better than to ask, but he did let fall a few tantalizing bits here and there:

  • I mentioned how impressed I had been with Dean Norris in Seasons 1 - 5A, at the depth and subtly he brings to Hank, and Mr. Slovis gleefully noted that I was going to be blown away by Norris this season.
  • He noted that we'd be seeing a lot of "found locations" (the house where Tuco takes Walt & Jesse in "Grilled," the abandoned motel where Walt makes his first delivery for Gus in "Phonenix," etc.), in Season 5B. Which means more abandoned places and scary spaces!
  • Mr. Slovis also intimated that the changes in Jesse's house aren't over yet.

 Talking to Mr. Slovis was a great way to spend a part of my Saturday morning, and I think I only squeed like a fanboy once or twice. In all seriousness, it was wonderful to find someone whose work I admire so much to be such a generous, kind, funny, and passionate person. Thanks Mr. Slovis!

Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Hank (Dean Norris) get down to it in 5.09: "Blood Money"
I may be wrong, but I don't think any Breaking Bad fan was disappointed in last night's season premiere. For the first time since the cold open of Season 5, we see 52 year old Walt again, going back to his home, now an abandoned, graffitoed place used by local skaters as a hang out. "Heisenberg" is spray-painted across the wall of what used to be Walt's living-room, and his next door neighbor is totally shocked and terrified to see Walt again. So somewhere, somewhen, it's all come crashing down for Walt, and I got the sense (again) that he's on some sort of final death-ride, complete with M60 machine-gun and that little vial of ricin he's kept hidden for so long.

Meanwhile, Jesse's in another downward spiral, and it all about the episode's title, the $5 million in blood money that Walt laid on him in "Gliding Over All." Jesse only sees death and blood and horror when he sees the money, particularly when it comes to kids - always Jesse's softest spot. By the end of the episode he's turned into a kind of demented paper-boy, flinging out stacks of cash into the yards of a bad section of ABQ as he drives slowly by, almost weeping.

And then there's Hank. Lovely, lovely Hank, and Dean Norris is already chewing the scenery as he wraps his head around the fact that Walt is Heisenberg, and then proceeds to make a case to prove it. The last five minutes of the episode are just incredible, and Hank is true to character. Confronting Walt, he doesn't make any noise about how Walt's action have hurt him, but focuses, as hank always does, on others. Walt turned his car into traffic, bombed a nursing home, let Jesse be brutally beaten all to save his own ass. And when Walt tries to play the "family" card, Hank slaps him down: "Like you give a shit about family!" Walt's BS won't work with Hank. As to Walt warning Hank to "tread lightly," I for one think that Walt should take his own advice. He's always, always underestimated Hank, and I don't think Walt knows yet just what kind of Hell-hound he now has on his tail.

Man, this is gonna be good!

That's it for this week, Readers Mine. Check back next Monday for my take on 5.10 "Buried." Meanwhile, don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, and be sure and check out "Walter White Wednesday" this week over at my co-author, K. Dale Koontz's blog, Unfettered Brilliance, as well as her own Twitter and Facebook accounts. We'll keep you up to date with all the Breaking Bad goodies that come across our screens, and plenty of other fun stuff as well.

See ya next week!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the summary and interview, Ensley. As time allowed I have been reflectin gon the episode and thinking there is something more to the "Star Trek Episode" than comic relief. I suspect there may be intended metaphors for SPock vs Checkov as stand ins for Walt and Jessie. We will see how the season unfolds but I wonder if it will be satisfying after all is done to review this episode after we know how it all plays out. I am thinking Jessie may not make it.