30 Jan Breaking Bad Shoot with Walter White
What’s the best Facebook message inquiry I’ve ever received? Easy, that’d be when Troy Nelson shot me a message a couple weeks ago requesting a Breaking Bad themed photo shoot. Um, yes please! I’m always looking for a reason to shoot fresh and conceptual ideas, so naturally this got me excited when I had a client knockin’ on my door to do something like this. After all, ‘Breaking Bad’ is to television what Grand Theft Auto is for video games – wave after wave of intense moments that don’t stop until the screen goes black. Troy recently made a change to his appearance that resulted in a number of reactions, all which centered around one familiar and popular TV character – Walter White. He wanted to make it official with a shoot to embrace the resemblance, and with the TV series coming to a close only a couple months ago it was perfect timing.
For those who do not watch Breaking Bad (wait… why are you not watching this show?), Mr. White is a character who has lost his patience with the world around him, fed up with being the humble nice guy, while given a grim cancer prognosis, and with life slipping through his fingers… snaps. He toggles his profession as an under utilized school teacher into a crystal meth cook in a last-ditch effort to rummage together what money he can for his family before passing. But not just a cook, thee best cook. A brilliant former scientist, he was methodical with every thing he did. Out of necessity he becomes another person. A silent, raging, uncompromising man who no longer thinks of the future in terms of years but only the days in the current week. He becomes what he has to become, nothing more, nothing less. There is no denying that the success of this 5 season series is thanks to this beyond interesting character and his journey through an ever twisting rabbit hole of crazy moments. If you are not watching this show you need to start. Seriously.
Walter is quite the guy to be mistaken for when walking down the street in real life, wouldn’t ya think? All in all, Walt is a beloved character with some distinguishing features, which with minimal effort, Troy embodies pretty damn well. Within 15 minutes from Troy requesting the shoot, we had an inspirational concept board built and we were off to the details. This being a personal photo shoot, budget and resources weren’t exactly large, so we focused the shoot around a very do-able set of shots and locations that we could run through in the day of shooting. We put our budget into wardrobe acquisition and did what we could to scrap together a handful of locations.
Now… we are here in good ol’ Tacoma, not New Mexico where the show was filmed, so the whole abandoned desert scene wasn’t going to be happening. But… the RV, if we could get our hands on a well-loved model we’d be cookin’ (yep, shameless pun there). A recently acquired friend, David, answered my call for help seeking an RV and was able to get me a meeting with Tacoma RV Center’s owner, LaDonna Meadows. Talk about a very generous lady, because I tell ya what… I don’t know how I’d react to a stranger walking into my successful RV dealership and requesting to use one of my RVs for a staged mobile meth lab, but I don’t think I would have said “yes” to me. Here is more or less the convo, and yes, it was rough due to me having absolutely no idea how to soften the proposal. How do you start this kind of request?!
Me: Hi, I’m Matt, I was informed you might be ok with letting us use one of your RVs for a shoot. I’m looking for the oldest, dirtiest thing ya got.
LaDonna: Sure, shouldn’t be a problem. Would you like it detailed?
Me: *smirk* No, please leave it as is.
Sure, I could have left it at that, but I felt compelled to disclose my plans to avoid extreme awkwardness at time of shoot. My only chance of what needed to be said next working out well is if LaDonna was a fan of the show.
Me: Well, have you seen the show ‘Breaking Bad?’
Uh oh. I gave it a shot anyway and did the quick and dirty summary that is Breaking Bad. She didn’t throw me out of her office and said yes! Like I said, an awesome lady. So thanks again, LaDonna, your kindness in granting us the use of an RV as a mock meth lab made this series of shots so much more complete (I’m fairly certain that this is the oddest thing I’ve had to ask of a perfect stranger, or business owner for that matter).
This was by far the most time I’ve spent on propping a shoot. I became an expert candy meth cook (more on this in a later post), cooking over 10 pounds of “the blue stuff” to be staged in the shoot. We even got mini baggies for… distribution appearances. Alice and I became awkwardly comfortable and vague when talking about this whole process via text, something I posted on FB about which you can read HERE. Beyond the candy were the signature Walt outfits, both casual and cook wear. Troy was successful in finding every part of the Walt street wear, and I was able to wrangle up all of the lab wear (along with some help from my high school science teacher, Chuck). I even splurged for lab glassware to toss in our staged meth tent (The people who haven’t seen this TV show are shaking their heads at me right now). You should have seen us at the hardware store, Alice and I standing in the aisle scrutinizing over the opaqueness of various plastic sheeting to be used for our meth tent. I’m fairly certain the checkout person thought we were en route to a legit cook when they saw the shopping cart. If you are ever in the hardware store and are wondering why they stock really oddball items… Me. I’m the reason.
Pulling into the RV dealership and unloading gear, we gathered a few onlooking RV employees. With Troy (Walter) in costume and the RV billowing fog from every window, we had every pair of eyes on the property trying to figure out what the heck we were up to. A few came out to see if Troy was really Bryan Cranston (the real TV actor) or not, some wanting a photo with him.
Having watched the series all the way through, I started again from the beginning when I started work on this shoot, now really paying attention to the overall look and feel of how they filmed the show. There are three dominate colors throughout the show. A rich orange from the desert environment, and greens and yellows are used over and over either through the cooking sequences or through intentional set lighting to give that… well… dirty, unsettling methy feel. Washington is many things but I doubt it’s ever been described as “orange.” Even though the RV never left the lot, I was able to give it that desert-like feel through the use of colored light pushed through windows, with the added bonus of killing any visual details out the windows which would clearly show we were indeed sitting in the middle of a dealership.
We accomplished a few looks in the RV and it was off to the industrial area. The show utilizes random abandoned throughout the series where they make deals and hand-offs, which are moments in the show where Walt takes on his “Heisenberg” persona. This is the famous black hat and sunglass look which he used to project a meaner image and help protect his identity (at least in the beginning). We couldn’t go without showing this side of Troy either. Being in the thick of a sketchy area, I’m sure the occasional trucker that drove by was taken back. Much like a crazy big fish story, they were left wondering how they were going to explain this to their friends, that Walter White is real and they saw him.
Troy did a great job of working on Walt’s mannerisms and facial expressions. All I would have to say is, “give me that scowl” or “a little bit more Walt,” and he’d mold into those famous faces. Troy is considerably younger than the true Walter character, but with a dash of aging makeup we were able to get Troy’s appearance a little bit closer to Cranston’s face mileage. Troy was shocked when he saw the first few images on the back of the camera. I’m confident he thoroughly enjoyed his day as expert meth cook, quiet science teacher turned badass, Walter White.
An impromptu addition and one of my favorite shots is the blue ice reflection in glasses.
Tacoma’s industrial area is never one where you exactly like “hanging out” in, so with two quick locations in the bag, we headed to the studio to shoot the remaining looks. The show’s filming crew utilized GoPro cams to get some interesting angles to let the viewership feel a little bit more connected to the action of the show – a great technique. One of these reoccurring shots was from the point of view of looking up at the cooks from inside a container they poured contents into. This was a key shot I wanted to accomplish.
Later in the TV series, Walt and his team craft up the idea to cook in people’s home while they are getting “fumigated.” They setup a meth tent and cook away in living rooms, so we followed suit and made our own tent in the studio and had fun with that. It also gave us a great backdrop for additional shots we could snag and keep that whole cook environment embedded in the visuals. We made sure not to forget that Walt would frequently watch TV and kick back with a beer while in the homes as he waited for batches to finish.
Our final shot was of Walt melting a body. Utilizing manikin arms we setup this ominous shot. Oh, and a little tip I learned the hard way… don’t stick a fog machine inside a confined plastic bin. It’ll melt a hole through in a matter of seconds and leave you with a leaky recycling bin.
Such a fun day of shooting, and with images to prove it. If you have always wanted to do something over-the-top like this, please contact me and we’ll… cook something up. Oh, and if anyone wants a little “bump” of fake meth candy, stop by the studio. Please, I have 10 pounds of the blue stuff…
Here are some BTS shots from the day, and I’m sure we’ll have more to share from this meth-filled adventure later on.
All imagery is copyright protected and may not be copied or redistributed without written consent by Matty Photography.