Exclusive Photos: Inside The ‘Breaking Bad’ Writers’ Room And A Glimpse At Storylines Not Pursued

vince gilligan writers room

If you have not read Brett Martin’s Difficult Men, Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad, we cannot recommend it enough. If you’re at all interested in the most important television dramas of the 21st century, how they were made and the people behind them, the book provides some incredible insights — Martin had virtually unprecedented access to some of the great showrunners of our time, and the writers’ rooms they ran/run.

One of the key sections of Difficult Men focuses on Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, who — in addition to overseeing one of the greatest television dramas of all time — comes off in the book as being an incredibly nice, collaborative showrunner, the antithesis of guys like Matthew Weiner, David Milch and David Chase. (Milch, by the way, comes off as completely batsh*t.) During the course of his research on the Breaking Bad section, Martin was allowed to hang out in the writers’ room during the making of season four of the show, where he occasionally snapped a few photographs — like the one of Vince Gilligan eating lunch in front of the room’s corkboard shown above — and he’s been nice enough to share some of those photos with us. They’re fascinating in that they show how extensively Gilligan and his writing staff mapped out the series ahead of time, and while Gilligan often suggests that he never knew where he was going with the series from season to season, it’s obvious that he at least had a clear, general understanding of where each season was headed before filming even began.

With that all said, the opening of chapter thirteen of Difficult Men contains the following passage…

It was an all-time record hot day in the San Fernando Valley…In an anonymous building across from an Auto Zone, the lobby directory showed the offices of a private eye, a dental supply company, a handful of financial companies, and, in suite 206, something blandly mysterious and vaguely sinister called Delphi Information Sciences Corporation. The plastic nameplate on the suite’s door did little to illuminate the nature of what such a corporation might do. Certainly it offered no clue that behind the door, under the dropped ceilings, the fluorescent lights and the hum of air-conditioning of the onetime data services office, was the most coveted workplace in Hollywood: the Breaking Bad writers’ room.

Drum roll, please…

breaking bad writers room

Here, Martin describes the scene inside the room…

On the wall behind Gilligan was a large corkboard. Across the top were pinned thirteen index cards representing the thirteen episodes of the season. In the rows beneath them, more neatly printed cards…contained detailed story points. The cards looked like a pile of leaves that had faced a stiff, left-blowing wind, clustered deep under the early episodes but gradually thinning as the as-yet-unwritten season progressed. Under 413, the final episode of the season, there was only one single, fluttering card. It read in bold, matter-of-fact Magic Marker, “BOOM.”

The “BOOM” card is, of course, representative of Gus Fring being bombed by Walt in a nursing home…

fun card

As Martin also explains in the book, staff writer Tom Schnauz was “the deputized card writer” because he “had the best hand-writing on staff.” (Interestingly, Martin says that it was a joke told by Schnauz to Gilligan about a meth lab inside an RV that planted the creative seed for the show.)

breaking bad writers room card board

Detailing more about the cards, Martin writes…

As the room worked through the episode, each beat or scene would be written on a card and pinned to the board. The last card was always pinned with a little ceremony that meant the episode was locked down. At that point, Gilligan said, it would be so fully imagined and outlined in such detail that, in theory, at least, any of the writers in the room would be able to take over and supervise production.

And, voila — here’s what the board looked like once the planning for the season four premiere was complete…

breaking bad storyboard

In addition to corkboards filled with index cards, Martin made note of other things pinned to the Breaking Bad writers’ room walls…

On the other walls were maps of New Mexico and Albuquerque and a detailed schematic, with photos, of Walt’s fictional meth superlab located underneath an industrial laundry.

breaking bad gus meth lab

breaking bad meth lab

Now for something completely random: here’s a pic Martin took of the Breaking Bad writers’ room bathroom key…

BB writers bathroom key

This is what Martin termed as the Breaking Bad writers’ “reference library,” featuring Methland, Murder City and books on science, divorce and money laundering, naturally…

BB writers reference library

Remember the infamous “tortoise scene?” Well, the staff kept a clay replica of that scene’s centerpiece — Danny Trejo’s explosive-laden head resting on the shell of a tortoise — in the room…

turtle head

So again, Brett Martin was generous enough to provide us with some of the photographs he took inside the Breaking Bad writer’s room during the writing on Season 4, and while much of the season is clearly already mapped out in the cards, there are also several cards that don’t line up with what we actually saw transpire in season four. They were obviously ideas and thoughts the writers had about the direction of the season before everything was finalized, and I think it’s fascinating to see some of the paths not taken. Let’s dive deeper, shall we?

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