Breaking Bad
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  • Discussion with “Better Call Saul” Writer Gordon Smith

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    Gordon Smith began his career as an assistant to creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan, during his Breaking Bad run. He was promoted to full-time writer on the Breaking Bad spinoff, Better Call Saul. Smith wrote the episode “5-0”, about how Mike Ehrmantraut (played by Jonathan Banks) became an officer of the law. The episode was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, and helped earn Banks an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama. New York Film Academy instructor, and screenwriter, David O’Leary hosted the event.

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    Smith attributes most of his success to luck. While in college, he wrote a script that would become Gennifer Hutchison’s directing thesis. Hutchison went on to be a writer’s PA on Mad Men before moving to Breaking Bad. During season three, Gennifer was getting freelance work and that created a need for a new writer’s P.A. She called up Smith. Gennifer was hired on as full staff and Smith was able to fill her space.

    The transition from being Gilligan’s assistant to becoming a staff writer was mostly an easy one. The one challenge was being out of the know. As the assistant to the showrunner, you have to know every little bit of information including, who’s on set that day, what chemical they used three seasons ago to blow out a window, which outlet are coming to do interviews. That goes away when the staff is locked in the writer’s room trying to churn out the best possible material. But, soon he was happy to be just writing and didn’t miss the chaos.

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    “We work very slowly,” Smith said of the writer’s room. He commented that it was nice to move at a speed that wasn’t breakneck. The first two weeks of production are focused on what that season’s story will be. “We will lay them (ideas) out on a board. But big guiding light stories will move around a lot.”

    He continued, “This is a virtue of the way we work. We have ideas and if wherever we think we want to be and where we are don’t match up we’re just like, well this is what we do. We don’t say, ‘Well we have to get to here by episode five so we have to do this and this and this to get to that.’ It’s almost always backward looking. What have we done and where should the characters most logically go next? That has served us in good stead because it allows us the opportunity to investigate things. It feels like we’re planted to something.”

    “We break everything together. For a show as serialized as Better Call Saul, you kind of have to. If a person leaves to write his or her script everyone knows what’s happening in that scene. We usually get a couple weeks out of the room to write, but the rest of the time you have to write at lunch or on the weekend.”

    gordon smith

    As demanding as the workload is Smith joked that he still has struggled. “My process tends to be… I have to trick myself into it because I want to procrastinate so badly. I’ll go in and slug everything.” Slugging is placing in the scene headings as a way of outlining the script. Once the scenes are placed in order Smith said he knows he’ll, “…just keep going back to write more and more.” It never feels like writing.

    Smith went on to describe the writing room as liberating. For example, in most visual writing it’s considered in bad taste to call a shot. Shot lists are for the directors to make not the writers. But, in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, they’re allowed to call a shot. They know they’re going to talk to the director. The shot can be cut if the director doesn’t think it will work or if they have another shot in mind. The freedom to try things and switch at the last minute give a sense of freedom.

    One student asked, “Since Saul and many of the characters already existed did you use pre-conceived backgrounds or create new ones, and how did you decide what history to go with?” Smith described going back to Breaking Bad and trying to determine whether or not the things Saul said were true or false and to what degree. Mike didn’t have too much of a background story. Banks pitched an idea that Mike’s son was a boxer who died in the ring. It was a theory Banks had been working around as he tried to dive into the character of Mike. The writers loved it and picked up the story from there.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Smith for stopping by and sharing his work. Catch Smith’s next writing assignment on season two of Outsiders returning to WGN in 2017.

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    October 10, 2016 • Guest Speakers, Screenwriting • Views: 5002

  • ‘Better Call Saul’ Co-Creator Developing HBO Movie

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    peter gould

    With the instant success of Breaking Bad spin-off series, Better Call Saul, co-creator and producer Peter Gould has Hollywood knocking for more ideas. Now, he’s currently developing an untitled HBO movie about hedge fund fraud and the secret forces that control the world’s banks, according to a recent Variety article.

    Gould has his hands full with this project, as he will write, direct, and executive produce the movie, which is based on Guy Lawson’s 2012 nonfiction book Octopus: Sam Israel, The Secret Market And Wall Street’s Wildest Con. The book is about Bayou Hedge Fund manager Samuel Israel III, famous for faking his own death after being convicted in a $450 million Ponzi scheme. The failed fake out not only resulted in an international manhunt, but set a new standard for creativity in suicide notes.

    This is familiar territory for Gould, who also wrote the 2011 HBO movie Too Big To Fail, which focused on the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the resulting global financial crisis.

    Given the interest in the often corrupt world of Wall St. and hedge fund fraud, attracting audiences over years with films like Wall St., The Wolf of Wall St., Boiler Room and more, we think this has potential to be huge hit.

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    February 25, 2015 • Entertainment News • Views: 3171

  • So How Do You Get a TV Series Off the Ground?

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    dytman

    One of the most crucial steps into the film and television industry for any writer is finding and landing the right agent. It’s one of the first obstacles for any film student, especially after graduation. So, the New York Film Academy was excited to hold an informative Q&A with the Senior VP of Gersh Agency, Jack Dytman. His long list of clients include TV series show-runners, executive producers, story editors, staff writers and feature writers in all aspects of the business. His clients have worked on network and cable television series such as Breaking Bad, Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, Walking Dead, Desperate Housewives, Castle, Criminal Minds, Hawaii 5-0, Smash, Lie To Me, Frasier, Without A Trace, Law and Order: SVU, X-Files, Alias, Hill Street Blues, Suddenly Susan, Murphy Brown, Boston Legal, Barney Miller, Law and Order, Chicago Hope, NYPD Blue, Married with Children, Carnivale, and more. Numerous clients have been nominated for Emmy Awards, ten clients have received Writers Guild Award nominations, and four have won. In the last five years his clients have received nine Producers Guild Award nominations.

    Given his background, Jack provided much insight into the world of the business. He spoke about the current popularity of television, noting, “I have a long line of feature writers trying to get into television, but TV is different…you need to be able to lay the pipeline for 100-150 episodes. It’s not just three acts and an ending!” He also stated that the people that you may need to pitch to are “smart and have heard everything, so the work needs to be unique.”

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    Tova Laiter with Jack Dytman

    One of our students asked Jack the popular question, “How do you get your foot in the door at a network show?” He suggested that, “If you want to get in the door, be a writer’s assistant. If you can’t do that, do something else – sweep if you have to!” Typically it can take up to ten years to develop a writing career for networks, but there are exceptions. One exception he mentioned was the creator of Burn Notice, who had never written for a show. So while it’s rare, it can happen. “You should find your niche and focus on that genre. Understand the networks and cable  – what are they branding? Understanding the difference between ABC, CBS and SHOWTIME is important.”

    While Jack admits it was difficult to predict what shows would become hits, he knew Magnum PI was going to be. However, other shows such as Pushing Daisies simply didn’t catch, even with the top people on board. Then there was Seinfeld, which took about three years to turn into a good show. Go figure.

    Jack also walked our audience through the Development process for TV shows, which was quite telling.

    1. Writer goes to agent with AN IDEA.
    2. If agent says “it’s great” they go to a studio or network.
    3. If it moves forward, they will create or develop a creative team together.
    4. The team will, among other things, BRAND the show. An incredibly important part of network television (each studio and network have branding branches.)
    5. If all goes well, the pilot is picked up once written.
    6. The pilot WILL receive notes, accept them and work with them!
    7. Hopefully pilot gets made, then shown, then repeated.
    8. This process repeats itself annually.

    If you don’t like receiving notes, you’re in the wrong business. Jack stressed the importance of being able to take notes and establishing a relationship with producers and executives. The old cliche about the industry being, “Half about ability and half about like-ability,” is true. “A lot of it is about relationships – you have to network constantly.” He closed with these words of advice, “Have someone refer you when trying to get your work out there.”

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    August 1, 2013 • Guest Speakers • Views: 5553