What showrunner and creator Vince Gilligan did with Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul is nothing less than genius – and he would be the first to admit he did not do it alone. From the incredible cast led by Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn to the writers, cinematographers, editors, costume designers… I can go on and on. The Breaking Bad universe is a television achievement that deserves some Emmy recognition beyond the nominations.
One piece of the universe whose name seems to pop up on the credits of many of my favorite episodes is writer/director Thomas Schnauz. He is connected to a long list of exceptional Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul chapters, delivering every cinematic experience you can ask for: pulse-racing, funny, fascinating, gut-punching painful and more… each one you need to experience for yourself. Schnauz spoke with Awards Radar in a conversation that covered two of those episodes, working with Gilligan, saying goodbye to Saul, and his part in starting the whole Breaking Bad universe. It is a brief but fascination conversation about some of the magic behind telling the story of a ‘good man.’
You can listen to the full conversation or read a few select excerpts below. Enjoy.
On the Breaking Bad origin story:
“I stayed in contact with Vince Gilligan, even after the X-Files ended. We worked on a screenplay together. Then as a joke, we started talking about this article I saw in The New York Times about this guy who was cooking meth, and got the people living apartment above him sick. Somehow that spun into some gallows humor about both of us needing money and wouldn’t it be a good idea for us to be driving around in an RV selling meth like ice cream out of an ice cream truck? About a week later, after that conversation, Vince called me up and said, ‘Remember that idea we were talking about?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t. I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ He asked, ‘You mind if I run with that?’ I was like, ‘Sure. I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, but fine. You want some idea about meth, go ahead.’ And he went onto create Breaking Bad off this crazy conversation that we had just joking around.”
On the goal for the Better Call Saul episode he directed called “Breaking Bad”, featuring the return of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul:
“That was our long term fantasy that we were going to tie these worlds together. In Breaking Bad, Saul soul was on his knees screaming about, ‘It wasn’t me, it was Ignacio.’ We always thought, in some way, are we ever possibly ever going to tie that moment from Breaking Bad to the Better Call Saul universe? We never had a specific way but it all kind of came together in this episode that this was the time and the place to do it – to bring back Walt and Jesse and show that moment again of where he’s kneeling over that empty grave thinking he’s gonna die because of some flashback of Nacho (Michael Mando) and everything that happened, all the horrible events that happened with Howard (Patrick Fabien) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and Lalo (Tony Dalton). It just happened to land – we don’t plan out who’s gonna get what episode – I was episode 11 from a very long, very early on season six. I knew I was gonna write and direct Episode 11, I had no idea what was going to be in it. Then lo and behold, it came to the moment of breaking that episode and he was like, alright, this is the time we see Walt and Jesse again and try to connect the two the two ends of the of the series.”
On the how the grueling episode (spoilers ahead) ‘Plan and Execution’ came together:
“We have these two storylines running side by side. We have the Jimmy McGill / Kim story, scamming Howard and we have the Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) dealing with Lalo and Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) going side by side, running parallel to each other. Then we keep thinking, ‘Well, how do we how did we bring these together?’ I couldn’t even tell you how or when we thought of it, but it was the moment we let Jimmy and Kim succeed with their Howard scan, but something horrible has to happen. They can’t just succeed. Something bad has to happen. So what is the worst thing that can happen? Well, Lalo can come visit. Jimmy and Kim the same time Howard comes to confront them for their scam. You know what, terrible thing – once we decided that was gonna happen – it was sort of inevitable that Howard was not going to walk out of there alive. What I’m most proud of with that episode is that it is like three quarters comedy. It’s like a comedy episode up until that moment, so I think that’s why it takes you by surprise when it when the dirty deed happens.”
On saying goodbye to ‘Breaking Bad’:
“When Breaking Bad ended, I cried. I was like, ‘this is extremely sad.’ Somehow Saul doesn’t feel like it’s over in a weird way. Even though it’s past it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re eligible for the Emmys still.’ It’s like weird – it stills feels like it’s never really over in a weird way. I can’t explain it psychologically why it was like that. But it was cool – it was amazing to have Brian and Aaron on the set in the RV and do that whole scene and get Bob out in the desert over a hole with a hood over his head – it was fantastic to go back in time and and do all that. I still in a weird way feel like Saul is continuing because like, I feel more in contact now with all the Saul writers and actors in a weird way. We’re more connected – I mean with Breaking Bad everybody’s kind of got their own way but Saul still feels like we’re all together.