"Breaking Bad" creator talks path to success


Vince Gilligan started in comedy and wrote science fiction


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"Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan spoke at Irvine Auditorium on Tuesday.

Photo by Luke Chen


“Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan is a “boring” guy in real life.

Or so he says. “When I’m writing is when I get to be exciting,” he said.

Gilligan — the director, writer and creator of award-winning show “Breaking Bad” — spoke at Irvine Auditorium in front of hundreds of students on Tuesday. He was hosted by the Social Planning and Events Committee’s Film and Connaissance committees .

Gilligan graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1989. “I always knew what I wanted to do, I had direction,” he said. “I got very lucky out of college, I was very fortunate.”

Following his early success as a filmmaker, Gilligan made the transition to television writing for the science fiction series “The X-Files” in the mid-1990s. “I’ve never looked back,” he said. “Working in television ... it’s a lot more hard work, but it’s a lot more satisfying.”

His interest in science fiction was the spark that originally drew him to the industry. “Star Wars changed my life,” he said.

Despite his love of the genre, Gilligan was initially hesitant about his move to Los Angeles to write for “The X-Files.” “I wasn’t sure if I was capable of rising to the challenge,” he said, referencing the difficulty of meeting deadlines. Gilligan noted that his film past was mainly in comedy.

The comedic nature of “Breaking Bad” is a theme that resonates among the show’s countless fans. Treading the line between the grim, morally questionable and downright hilarious, one of the lessons Gilligan took away from his early days on the LA television scene was the importance of honest humor. When writing “intense, dramatic ... [comedy] makes it a little more palatable,” he said.

Throughout the question and answer portion of the event, Gilligan credited his earliest mentors, as well as the cinematographers, directors, writers, experts and actors of “Breaking Bad.”

“Another one of the things about TV I love is it’s a collaborative effort,” he said. “It’s wonderful to work on something so much bigger than yourself that you had a hand in.”

“I love, love, love Stanley Kubrick,” Gilligan said. Other film favorites include “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now,” because “it doesn’t get any better than that. ... Man, how [you] I compete?” he said. “You don’t, you use them as inspiration.”

With “Breaking Bad,” Gilligan tried to portray a good character’s transition into “the bad guy.” But he didn’t set out to tell a moral tale. “It was not necessarily a desire to define or relate to a sort of morality,” he said.

A member of the audience asked Gilligan if he ever played any role in making meth himself. “I didn’t have an understanding of how to make it ... when I started writing the pilot [of ‘Breaking Bad’] I just Googled ‘meth,’” he laughed.

“I don’t say it with any pride, but I hear blue meth is a real thing now,” he added.

Gilligan is currently writing scripts for a “Breaking Bad” spinoff called “Better Call Saul.” His mentioning of the show was greeted with whoops and whistles from the audience. “It is very much its own show,” Gilligan said. Nonetheless, “On a venn diagram, the overlap is quite large,” he said.

“Better Call Saul” is scheduled to premiere in November 2014.

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