Vince Gilligan

Writer/ Show Creator


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his nearly four-hour Archive interview, writer/producer Vince Gilligan talks about knowing that he wanted to be involved with storytelling, in film or television, from a very early age. He discusses his education at NYU Film school and winning a screenwriting award, which led to his first jobs in television writing. He recalls becoming a staff writer on The X-Files after a chance meeting with series' creator Chris Carter and details his seven years as a writer, and later producer, on The X-Files . He describes several specific episodes including the Emmy-winning "Memento Mori." He speaks about the short-lived spinoff, The Lone Gunmen, and how both series were affected by the events of 9/11. He then talks about his current project (then concluding season 4), the AMC drama Breaking Bad, which he created and produced. Jenni Matz conducted the interview on August 9, 2011 in Burbank, CA.

"'Breaking Bad' is about a guy having the world's worst midlife crisis - a guy who's never littered or jaywalked, never broken the law in any serious way, suddenly finding himself doing something reprehensible and illegal. Why would he do such a thing? That's the experiment of 'Breaking Bad' - it's a show about change. Our main character, our hero, becomes our bad guy... And if we're going to do this, we have to be courageous about it and we have to let the chips fall where they may."   

Highlights
Vince Gilligan on how he realized Bryan Cranston could portray a "sympathetic creep" when he played a guest role on The X-Files
02:45
Vince Gilligan on how The X-Files writers' room would "break" the story by building a scene "brick by brick" 
03:14
Vince Gilligan on the moment he's proudest of on Breaking Bad,  when "Walter White" turns down a no-strings offer for money, which is supposed to be the reason he's making sacrifices, making his character less sympathetic from early on in the series
02:21
Vince Gilligan on the "experiment" of Breaking Bad: the protagonist transforms into an antagonist; on whether he intends him to by sympathetic
Vince Gilligan on the inspiration for Breaking Bad and the character of "Walter White"
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his family; on his childhood primarily in Farmville, Virginia; on his education and hobbies
On an early interest in television and movies; on early encouragement he received from an elementary school teacher
On pursuing an education at NYU's Tisch School to pursue his love of film; on his screenplay Home Fries which won the Virginia Governor's Award for screenwriting and was noticed by producer Mark Johnson; on the advice he took to heart from Johnson to not move out to Los Angeles too early; on finally getting Home Fries made ten years after it was written
On starting a career in television writing after many years in Virginia; on meeting Chris Carter; on "falling ass-backward" into a job as a writer on The X-Files; on writing the episode "Soft Light" 
On the challenges of becoming a writer on The X-Files, an already-established show; on promptly getting sick as soon as he joined the staff; on writing "Pusher"
On what he learned about writing for television on The X-Files; on the guidelines Chris Carter set for the writers' room; on the importance of the visual elements in the show
On his interaction with Standards & Practices and what he was able to show on The X-Files versus Breaking Bad (he couldn't show a gun held to a head during a game of Russian Roulette)
04:33

Chapter 2

On coming on staff as an X-Files writer in 1995 after the show had been on-air for two years; on the conspiracy themes explored on the show
On specific episodes he wrote for The X-Files; "Bad Blood"
On "breaking" a story as a writer and how a scene is constructed "brick by brick"
On the relationship between The X-Files writers and the research team that studied the science on the show
On the enormous fan following that The X-Files generated; on the early days of the Internet and early blog sites; on the mythology episodes of the series
On the balance between maintaining the audiences' interest in mystery and giving them the answers they want; on the importance of balancing levity and drama
On directing his first episode of The X-Files, "Je Souhaite"; on "Sunshine Days" which was shot in a replica of The Brady Bunch house 
On being influenced by television shows such as The Andy Griffith Show, All in the Family, Wise Guy, and The Twilight Zone
On how he realized Bryan Cranston could portray a "sympathetic creep" when he played a guest role on The X-Files; on being nominated for an Emmy for his work on the series; on decisions about the storyline and casting for the series
16:47

Chapter 3

On the end of The Lone Gunmen series and how it intersected with The X-Files
On his memories of 9/11 and how it affected The X-Files cast and crew; on the finale of The X-Files; on how The Lone Gunmen alluded to the events of 9/11
On the legacy of The X-Files; on the series Harsh Realm which he is credited with writing, but did not
On the genesis of Breaking Bad and what influenced the show; on pitching the idea of a middle-aged family man cooking a meth lab to cable networks; on his experience with rejection and bad pitches
On how Breaking Bad eventually got picked up by FX; on comparisons between Breaking Bad and Weeds; on why he never even pitched to a network; on thinking the show was never going to be made; on how AMC took over production on the show
On how Breaking Bad got its name; on the major plot points of the show; on the lead character "Walter White"; on why he knew Bryan Cranston could portray the character; on why he made choices to make the character less sympathizable; on casting the show
16:05

Chapter 4

On the casting process on Breaking Bad; on Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Giancarlo Esposito
On the importance of realism on Breaking Bad;on the Breaking Bad  episode "Negro Y Azul" in Season Two featuring "the Narcocorrido"
On the correlation between topical events such as drug trafficking in Mexico with Breaking Bad plotlines; on the episode "The Fly"
On how much of the story of Breaking Bad he planned out before the series began; on where he sees the show going
On advice to writers: "go down swinging on something that's important"; on where he sees himself in ten years
Shows

Andy Griffith Show, The

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Vince Gilligan on being influenced by The Andy Griffith Show
01:23

Brady Bunch, The

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Vince Gilligan on an episode of The X-Files for which they had to reconstruct the entire house from the Brady Bunch set - they had to get permission from the show's creator, Sherwood Schwartz, to build the set
04:18

Breaking Bad

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Vince Gilligan on the genesis of Breaking Bad
Vince Gilligan on pitching the idea of a middle-aged family man cooking a meth lab to cable networks
Vince Gilligan on how Breaking Bad was "deader than a hammer" until FX agreed to let AMC produce it
Vince Gilligan on how Breaking Bad got its title and what it means
Vince Gilligan on why he decided Breaking Bad's leading character should deal methamphetamine - "Meth was the worst way I could think of for 'Walter White' to make money"; on how his unfamiliarity with the drug helped him write "Walter White's" character
Vince Gilligan on the character "Walter White" on Breaking Bad
Vince Gilligan on the moment he's proudest of on Breaking Bad, when "Walter White" turns down a no-strings offer for money, which is supposed to be the reason he's making sacrifices, making his character less sympathetic from early on in the series
Vince Gilligan on the casting choices for Breaking Bad; on knowing Bryan Cranston needed to play "Walter White"; on how his association playing the dad on Malcolm in the Middle  role helped this character
03:30
Vince Gilligan on the Breaking Bad episode "Negro Y Azul" in Season Two featuring "the Narcocorrido"
Vince Gilligan on the Breaking Bad episode "The Fly"
Vince Gilligan on not knowing how Breaking Bad will end; "I have hopes and dreams for these characters"

Homicide: Life on the Street

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Vince Gilligan on an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street which influenced his X-Files script for the episode "Drive", guest-starring Bryan Cranston

Lone Gunmen, The

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Vince Gilligan on an episode of The Lone Gunme n which referenced the events of 9/11 six months before 
02:43
Vince Gilligan on the premise of his X-Files spinoff series, The Lone Gunmen and how timing may have hurt it - "luck is timing and timing is everything"
03:06

Twilight Zone, The

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Vince Gilligan on being influenced by The Twilight Zone and Rod Serling

Weeds

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Vince Gilligan on how Weeds went on air right before Breaking Bad, but if he had known about it he never would have pursued his show; on how dissimilar the shows are
01:24

X-Files, The

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Vince Gilligan on getting hooked on The X-Files in 1993 and getting an introduction to Chris Carter, who was related to Gilligan's agent
Vince Gilligan on writing The X-Files episode "Soft Light" and then being offered a job as a staff writer on the show, which he initially turned down
Vince Gilligan on The X-Files "The second greatest job of my life" that taught him everything he needed to know about writing for TV; on the mythology versus the stand-alone episodes
Vince Gilligan on the writers' room at The X-Files; on the first episode he wrote as a staff writer "Pusher"; on the writing process
02:16
Vince Gilligan on what he liked about the lack of rules on The X-Files for the writers
Vince Gilligan on "Folie Aux Deux" - an X-Files episode he wrote and how the visual element was incorporated into the show; on why the visual is as important as the dialogue
02:14
Vince Gilligan on the importance of the visual element on The X-Files and his input as a writer
Vince Gilligan on the only script he wrote for The X-Files that was re-written
Vince Gilligan on the censorship limits on The X-Files; on the episode "Pusher" about Russian Roulette; on the episode "Paper Hearts" where he couldn't show an entry wound
02:33
Vince Gilligan on the writers on The X-Files
Vince Gilligan on the conspiracy theories explored by writers on The X-Files; on the influences for the show
Vince Gilligan on whether the writers on The X-Files actually believed in supernatural phenomena: "I Want to Believe"
Vince Gilligan on The X-Files episode "Bad Blood" influenced by the film "Rashomon"
Vince Gilligan on how The X-Files writers' room would "break" the story by building a scene "brick by brick"; on the hardest part of writing for TV
03:14
Vince Gilligan on how much the writers on the The X-Files were aware of the early Internet forums and fan chat rooms
Vince Gilligan on The X-Files mythology episodes 
Vince Gilligan on the balance between comedy and drama on The X-Files; on his reputation for writing the funnier episodes; on his episode "Small Potatoes"
Vince Gilligan on the first episode of The X-Files he directed "Je Souhaite" (I Wish) in Season 7
Vince Gilligan on directing The X-Files episode "Sunshine Days" in which the reconstructed The Brady Bunch house
05:41
Vince Gilligan on the The X-Files episode "Drive" where he met and worked with actor Bryan Cranston for the first time (later Cranston would star in Gilligan's Breaking Bad  series playing a similar role, and why Cranston was perfect to play a "sympathetic creep")
07:06
Vince Gilligan on being nominated for an Emmy for The X-Files episode "Memento Mori" 
Vince Gilligan on The X-Files episode "Memento Mori" in which "Scully" gets cancer
Vince Gilligan on how the writers adapted to news that David Duchovny was leaving X-Files
Vince Gilligan on the "jump the shark" episode of The X-Files and the resolution for The Lone Gunmen spinoff series
03:07
Vince Gilligan on the finale of The X-Files
Vince Gilligan on the legacy of The X-Files
01:02
Topics

9/11

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Vince Gilligan on his memories of 9/11 and how it affected The X-Files' cast and crew

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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Vince Gilligan on his interaction with Standards & Practices and what he was able to show on The X-Files versus Breaking Bad - he couldn't show a gun held to a head during a game of Russian Roulette

Television Industry

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Vince Gilligan on his interaction with Standards & Practices and what he was able to show on The X-Files versus Breaking Bad - he couldn't show a gun held to a head during a game of Russian Roulette
Vince Gilligan on pitching the idea of a middle-aged family man cooking a meth lab to cable networks
Professions

Directors

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Vince Gilligan on the first episode of The X-Files he directed - "Je Souhaite" (I Wish) in Season 7, and how scared he was to try his hand at directing

Show Creators

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Vince Gilligan on how his unfamiliarity with meth helped him write "Walter White's" character on Breaking Bad

Writers

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Vince Gilligan on the advice he received from his mentor, Mark Johnson, to not move to Los Angeles at the beginning of his career, which he felt helped his writing style
05:19
Vince Gilligan on initially turned down a job as a television writer, but going back to it after hitting a spell of bad luck in the business
02:56
Vince Gilligan on the writers' room at The X-Files; on the first episode he wrote as a staff writer "Pusher"; on the writing process
02:17
Vince Gilligan on "Folie Aux Deux" - an X-Files  episode he wrote and how the visual element was incorporated into the show; on why the visual is as important as the dialogue
Vince Gilligan on how writers "break" a story
Genres

Drama Series

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Vince Gilligan on the casting choices for Breaking Bad; on knowing Bryan Cranston needed to play "Walter White"; on how his association playing the dad on Malcolm in the Middle role helped this character
03:30

Sci-Fi/Supernatural Series

View Genre
Vince Gilligan on his interaction with Standards & Practices and what he was able to show on The X-Files versus Breaking Bad - he couldn't show a gun held to a head during a game of Russian Roulette
Vince Gilligan on writing for The X-Files
59:23
People

Chris Carter

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Vince Gilligan on meeting The X-Files creator, Chris Carter, early in his career and who offered him a job writing the episode "Soft Light"
Vince Gilligan on Chris Carter's role in the writers' room on The X-Files; on learning about the value of the visual element from Carter
05:44
Vince Gilligan on Chris Carter's approach to giving The X-Files writers creative control over their scripts 
02:11

Bryan Cranston

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Vince Gilligan on The X-Files episode "Drive" where he met and worked with actor Bryan Cranston for the first time (later Cranston would star in Gilligan's Breaking Bad series playing a similar role, and why Cranston was perfect to play a "sympathetic creep")
07:06
Vince Gilligan on why he knew Bryan Cranston could play the character of "Walter White" on Breaking Bad; on how the protagonist becomes an antagonist
Vince Gilligan on the casting choices for Breaking Bad; on knowing Bryan Cranston needed to play "Walter White"; on how his association playing the dad on Malcolm in the Middle role helped this character
03:30

Sherwood Schwartz

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Vince Gilligan on an episode of The X-Files for which they had to reconstruct the entire house from the Brady Bunch  set - they had to get permission from the show's creator, Sherwood Schwartz, to build the set
01:09

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