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Q&A: Adam Bernstein (Director of Episodes 2 and 3)

Director Adam Bernstein has worked in comedy (Scrubs and 30 Rock) and drama (HBO’s Oz) so he was the perfect choice for the gnarliest (and arguably funniest) episodes of Breaking Bad. He details the experience in AMC’s exclusive interview.

Q: How was your experience directing Breaking Bad?

A: I have to say that was probably one of the more interesting experiences I’ve had working in TV. But I knew it was going to be really interesting going in because I had worked with Vince, and he is such an incredibly original guy. He’s so funny and he blends suspense and dark humor and a certain amount of humanity — it’s all kind of mixed in with the same stew. And the other thing I love about his writing is that he’s an incredibly visual writer. I feel guilty saying it but as a director it’s an amazing advantage to have someone who writes that visually, because there are going to be all these fun moments and fun shots that he’s actually crafted into the script. It’s not that I’m lazy, but if someone is actually giving me that much to work with and it’s all completely appropriate to the material, of course I’m going to use it.

Q: What was it like to shoot the scene where Emilio’s body falls through the ceiling?

A: Oh I love that stuff. We actually did it a couple of times because the first time when the body came through, the way it splattered kinda made it look like one of those Dura-Flame logs. And then we did it a second time, and it was a lot more spread out and goopy, which is more like what we were looking for. But they worked really hard to hit that. They got a complete skeleton from the scientific supply company and broke it up into pieces and then whittled away at the pieces so that they looked like they had been eaten away by the acid, and there were all kinds of weird little gelatinous chunks. A lot of time was spent on the viscera. You’re not exactly sure what’s going to come through the ceiling when it drops.

Q: There are some interesting underneath perspectives in your episodes: first when Jesse is dissolving Emilio, then later when they’re cleaning up the mess. Why did you choose those angles?

A: I guess you could say it’s a signature of the show for the camera to be showing you something from a perspective which is not organic to any of the characters. It’s kind of an omniscient and strange perspective. Vince established it in the pilot and it’s become a grace note throughout the series. And I think shots like that in some ways help establish the tone of the show because they let you know that this is not straight-up storytelling. It’s coming from a strange place and it’s slightly funny — something you might associate with Malcolm in the Middle, but you’re doing it in the middle of this gnarly drama. So I think capturing moments from strange perspectives helps visually underline what the attitude of the whole show is. I have to be honest, when I work on a show, especially one that’s as unique as Vince’s, I don’t try to redefine it. I’m not trying to do like the incredible Adam Bernstein version of that show. I’m just trring to do the best episode I can within the framework that they want.

Q: The titles of your episodes, “Cat’s in the Bag…” and “…And the Bag’s in the River” are references to The Sweet Smell of Success, one of Vince’s favorites. Did you have that in mind while directing?

A: You know more about that than I do. I had no idea. I like that movie too, but I would be lying if I said that I quoted it in any way.

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