Something else that occurred to me about Breaking Bad last night, while watching a scene with Bob Odenkirk’s sleazy lawyer: the show demonstrates how a distinctive, stylized visual approach can compensate for a low budget. I don’t know how much money Breaking Bad has to work with, but I’m assuming it’s less than a big network show or HBO drama; it certainly seems that way if you look close enough. Normally, we don’t look that close, because the show’s visual style (courtesy of cinematographer Michael Slovis) makes it look good, or at least interesting, no matter where they’re filming. And it also could allow for a show to get away with shooting less footage, which is a necessity if it’s not to go over budget. The very distant, unusually-lensed master shots are part of Breaking Bad‘s look, but it also gives them something to cut to in the middle of a scene, allowing them to re-cut a scene without having to go back for retakes. That, at least, was what I thought was happening in a scene where a cut to a master shot was accompanied by an actor’s overdubbed voice; this is a classic technique for stitching a scene together on a low budget. It works for Breaking Bad because the show has such a strong look that the long shots are interesting to look at. Without that, the same technique would just look cheap, as it does on many other shows.
Also, here’s an article from the Boston Globe which uses Bryan Cranston as the first in a series of examples of actors who have escaped typecasting. The article is heavy on condescention toward network television, particularly in its expression of amazement that Ray Romano is good. (Men of a Certain Age is a good show, but the only people who are surprised by Romano’s abilities are the people who didn’t understand Everybody Loves Raymond to begin with.) But it is true that cable shows are better able to avoid typecasting of actors, and one of the reasons for that is necessity: to compete with the higher pay and longer seasons of broadcast networks, cable networks can offer a well-known actor a type of part that he wants to play but could never get on a broadcast network.