Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.
The Locations Department
Signature to the successful formula of "Breaking Bad" were the breathtaking locations across Albuquerque and the state of New Mexico. My opportunity came in January 2013 when the Key Assistant Locations Manager gave me a call late one Sunday night. I knew him from a show we worked on the year previous called "After Hours," the pilot episode of NBC's new medical drama, The Night Shift. While "Breaking Bad" was in-between seasons, the crew often went to work on different projects. I made mention that I would love to work on the hit show and much to my surprise, they kept their word and I was hired as a Day-player locations production assistant.
Just a head's up—this article contains spoilers. For those of you who haven't caught up on the series yet, you have been warned!
Breaking Bad was known as a Locations Heavy show, in other words, they spend more time out filming on location than they do in the studio. Therefore the show had a very large locations staff who were tasked with the colossal task of scouting, securing, managing, and restoring every location the show used. The hierarchy was set up as follows:
- Locations Manager
- Key Assistant Locations Manager
- Assistant Location Manager(s)
- Locations Coordinator
- Locations Staff Production Assistant(s)
- Locations Additional Production Assistant(s) aka 'Day Players'
Episode 5.13 'To'hajiilee'
Walt's Driving Scene
"Fearing his barrels of money were uncovered by Jesse, Walt frantically speeds to the burial site as fast as he can. With one hand on the phone and the other on the wheel; he tears through downtown Albuquerque, passing cars left and right at triple-digit speeds."
This scene took over a week to shoot and appeared in the episode for less than five minutes. It was a major undertaking and was only made possible by the hard-working staff of the locations department.
I only worked on one shot of the entire scene-The shot where Walt burns rubber in downtown Albuquerque, weaving in between cars. The shot, in particular, was filmed on Lead Blvd, a one-way street that runs east to west in the heart of Albuquerque's metro area.
To accomplish this highly dangerous and complex shoot, the locations department set to work, notifying and securing. All appropriate government agencies both state and city had to be notified, permits had to be filed and a complete production plan had to be created which included traffic control and road closures. As per New Mexico Film Regulations, the neighborhood had to be notified when, where, and why the closures would take place. This is where I was called in to go to work.
Armed with a stack of letters and a clipboard. I was assigned the task of walking door to door to both businesses and private residents that Breaking Bad was going to be filming in the area. My mandate required me to obtain as many signatures as possible of business owners and residents that they were indeed notified that Lead Blvd would be closed for twelve hours on the date of the shoot.
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Filming the Shot
It was an all-hands-on-deck situation the day of the shot. Episode 5.13 location photography was nearly complete with only this shot left to film before the production moved back to Albuquerque Studios to begin its stage work. I would be called back in again to help secure the neighborhood for the stunt drive.
Nearly ten city blocks were completely shut down for the shoot, a process that involved both production personnel and Albuquerque Police Department Intermittent Traffic Control (ITC). I was stationed in a small residential condo road immediately to the west of the Lead Blvd Bridge. When cameras rolled, my job was to stop any and all traffic from driving or walking onto Lead Blvd.
In total, over ten different angles were shot that day. Ironically, only one angle was ultimately used in the final version of the episode.
Episode 5.15 Granite State
The Vacuum Store
"This is like an End-Game. There's no going back." ~Saul Goodman
The Vacuum Cleaner Repair Man who specialized in sending people into hiding was first mentioned in Season 3 as a strategy Walt could take to hide from Gus and his men. In the final eight episodes, it would you play a vital role in the finale of the series. Both Saul and Walt you use this contact to go into hiding.
Creating the vacuum cleaner store was one of the most complicated tasks of the final season. As one of the assistant locations managers mentioned he literally visited every vacuum store in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. Vince Gillian maintained his requirement that it had to be a real vacuum store, not something they could build on stage or in a vacant storefront. Eventually, the hero store "On The Spot" Vacuum Repair was found and the production begin its preproduction work at the location.
Once the location had been secured, the first task of the show was to prep the shop for filming. The Art Department sends in one of its draftsmen to take detailed measurements of the location, inside and out. These are then translated into technical drawings the production uses to plan its shoot. The location's job is to babysit the various departments as they prep the location, cleaning, arranging, changing signage, etc. This became my job for several days on 5.15. I was also tasked with being the point of contact for the departments and the owners of the shop.
The Mountain Bar in New Hampshire
"Walt takes shelter in a rustic hunters bar in the mountains of New Hampshire where he finally decides to return to Albuquerque."
Guess where the bar really was? Cedar Crest, New Mexico. A small mountain town near the top of the Sandia Mountains which overlook Albuquerque. The Ponderosa Bar and Grill was closed, up for sale by the owner's widow. Just as with the vacuum store, I represented the locations department as the Art Dept. took measurements and photos. The bar was a character in itself, filled with nick-knacks both old and new. Breaking Bad added the payphone and the television, neither of which existed in the bar.
The Extraction Point
First used by Jesse, and then later Walt, the Extraction Point is located at John B. Robert Dam on Osuna and Juan Tabo. I was not present when Jesse's extraction was filmed, I was present however when Walt was extracted. The segment was filmed over a course of five hours at 'golden hour', where the sunlight is most ideal. This particular shoot was the most exciting for me. Not only did I get to watch the film crew at work, but I got to meet Bryan Cranston. Our job was to keep the army of Cranston fans from interfering with the shoot, particularly when it came to taking pictures. Mr. Cranston enjoyed walking up to his fans and engaging them in conversation while in-between setups.