El Camino: the evolution of television to film
If you know anything about television, you know the institution that is drama series Breaking Bad. It aired from 2008 to 2013 and told the story of desperate husband and father Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who swapped high school science labs for the crystal meth lab to provide for his wife and son when he was gone. But Breaking Bad was so much more than a show about a science teacher becoming the biggest drug baron in the US – it became a way of life.
“We all have a history with Walt,” explains Bryan in an interview with RollingStone.com. “It’s like if you had an uncle you loved and you found out he was a paedophile. He’s on trial now and you’re conflicted. ‘I knew the guy and he never touched me!’ Yet he may have done this horrible thing. You don’t know how to feel. That’s Walter White. That’s the hook or the bait for the audience: Walt’s humanity, his humiliation as he was scrubbing cars at the car wash, trying to make extra money for his special-needs son, or his passion in the classroom, his desperation to see an interested pair of eyes.”
So where does Netflix’s 2019 film El Camino fit in?
The end is in sight
When Breaking Bad (BB) ended, audiences got closure on Walter’s fight with cancer… even though it’s not what killed him. We’re also getting the build-up to infamous cheesy lawyer Saul Goodman (reprised by Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul, which is set six years before Breaking Bad, and is now streaming on DStv Now).
But there’s still one big question that remains unanswered: what happened to Walter’s drug-dealing pistol-waving bestie Jesse “What Bitch?” Pinkman (Aaron Paul)? Breaking Bad only happened because of Aaron’s street-smart character introducing good-guy teacher Walter to crystal meth. Yet Breaking Bad left Jesse basically broke and running from the law… just like he started off in episode 1.
Make no mistake: El Camino may be a Breaking Bad movie. But it’s got nothing to do with Walter. This is Jesse’s story.
“When the movie comes out, I hope people won’t say, ‘Oh, man, this guy should’ve left well enough alone’,” explains Breaking Bad and El Camino creator Vince Gilligan. “But I started thinking, ‘What happened to Jesse?’ You see him driving away. And to my mind, he went off to a happy ending. But as the years progressed, I thought, ‘What did that ending – let’s just call it an ending, neither happy, nor sad – what did it look like?’”
Vince has been in entertainment since the 80s and is the first to tell you that writing movies can take years.
“I used to piddle around. It took me two years to write the first draft for a movie because I had no one holding a gun to my head. But working in TV changed everything for me.” Television shows start with a beginning and an end point. Then there are storyboards outlining everything that happens. Then there’s a deadline where scripts have to be finished by a certain time because filming needs to start. While movies are two hours, a season of 10 hour-long episodes is five times that length – and even more complex.
That’s why Vince simply had to come back to his greatest creation, revealing that it had been in the works since BB’s conclusion.
“I started rambling to my inner circle about a five-minute short about this one-half of a character duo we’d come to love. That was all I needed.” Those five minutes turned into a two-hour movie that tells the same story… but differently.
As much as BB is about Walter, El Camino is about Jesse. And when it picks up, it’s clear that the events after the series ending have been rough. Jesse is having flashbacks when he arrives at his friends’ doorstep. He’s paranoid and thinking that he’s being followed.
His short buzz-cut has grown out and he has a beard. Even a simple shower makes him shake and shiver as he relives the torture that he endured following Walter’s demise. That’s part of the reason Aaron had to come back.
“The first couple years [after Breaking Bad ended] were really torturous for me,” says the actor. “I really loved Jesse. I knew him better than anyone, but it was a big weight off of my shoulders to hang up the cleats and walk away. I thought it [El Camino] is goodbye and I was okay with that.”
Even though Jesse Pinkman is a criminal, a drug dealer, a killer, a thug and an out-and-out street rat, you can’t help but feel for him. “Because he’s a part of us all,” adds Aaron. “When Vince and the team finished the show, I thought they nailed the ending of Breaking Bad, so why mess with that? But this is Vince we’re talking about. I would follow him into a fire. That’s how much a trust the man.” So when Vince phoned Aaron in late 2016, he only had to say the words “Jesse” and “movie” to get a Jesse-eque “hell yeah, bitch!” from Aaron.
“It was so easy for me to just jump into where Jesse’s at mentally, emotionally, because I lived and breathed everything he went through and then some, and so, honestly, it felt like a part of me had gone through that as well,” explains Paul. “All I had to do was just memorise these words and then play them out.”