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I was reading the script of the excellent Breaking Bad episode 14 "Ozymandias" (S5 E14) and was amazed how everything from the script is rendered exactly the same in the actual episode.

The script was finalized on April 1, 2013, the episode was aired on July 2014.

I thought the director would allow some "room" between ideas on paper, and the actual shooting, allowing some improvisation (actors or director).

In this script, everything from every word to every direction, angle, effects, feelings... is exactly what we could see in the episode (which makes the show even more amazing).

Is that usual?

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  • Are you asking if this was usual in the show, or in general? In general I think there's a complete continuum of practices .. many or even most shows are scripted in detail, through to shows or movies that allow lots of improvisation.
    – iandotkelly
    May 17 '20 at 9:05
  • Actually I was drawing a parallel between the screenplay and the high quality of the episode(s) they gave us. I find remarkable that before the shooting takes place, everything was already thought through very well, they didn't change a thing during filming, and yet the final product is excellent. So, of course this is about the show, but, more in general, as BB being exceptionally well made, I was kind of hoping that such "perfect" screenplay is also unusual. May 17 '20 at 9:23
  • In high quality TV shows like BB the writers and showrunners (who are also often on writing duties) have much more creative control than the episode directors, of which there are usually many in a season, a contrast to how this works in movies. The creative control is required to ensure consistency across multiple episodes. I imagine this regularly results in much more prescriptive scripts and less latitude to improvise.
    – iandotkelly
    May 17 '20 at 17:44
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In terms of dialogue and visual direction, it's all planned out, though actors may change lines slightly.

In one interview, creator Vince Gilligan addresses it partially:

Q: What was the first character you created apart from Walt? Also, how much of the series is improvised by the actors? – Trionout

A: Every now and then Bryan Cranston might come up with a different line or two, but on the whole the actors stuck pretty closely to the script.

I would say it’s not much in the way of improvisation, but the writers and I didn’t worry too much if an actor transposed the word “the” with the word “a,” or other stuff like that. And as far as the second character created, I can’t say for sure because I’m not sure I remember 100 percent. I probably started with Walter White and fanned outward from him. I probably thought about who would a guy like that would be married to, so most likely Skyler was the second character I created.

The scripts were deliverately detailed as a result of the writing process. Noted in this article:

They have round about eight people in the room, and Gilligan is enchanted by the process of working collectively with really clever people who contribute equally to the script.

‘It’s like a sequestered jury that never ends,’ he said. ‘ We are sitting around a table and talking ad nauseam right down to the most minute granular detail - what the characters are saying, what they want, what they are wearing, what the weather looks like.

We are always seeing it in visual terms as well, we want the show to be visual storytelling.

The fact that they write the script with such visual detail suggests that the intention is to replicate it as much as possible when shooting begins.

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It highly depends on the director. Some directors (mainly the ones who were actors themselves once upon a time) allow the actors to play out a scene a little here and there. These types of directors will encourage it. Don’t forget they often take many takes of a scene. Some actors are devilishly brilliant when it comes to saying or exploring their lines in a different way. Imelda Staunton, in every take, says her lines differently. She doesn’t add words mind, but the emphasis is on different parts of the sentence. This is slightly moving away from your question, however.

The reason you had been so surprised is because Writers are friends, what does an actor know about how something should be said? Writers, assistant writers, script assistants etc have worked so hard on making a scene as perfect as possible. Now, we all know how amazing Breaking Bad is, but a lot of blood and sweat went into making that script so excellent. The actors came to the process much, much later. During this period of script preparation so many lines had been cut, added, rearranged, torn up, thrown at the highest trash can in the room. It’s a process of extreme heartache, unless you are Shakespeare, of course. Even then I expect he had a small moan once in a while :-)

An actor who goes into a shoot, remember, there’s very little rehearsal for TV and Film and says this and says that when it’s not in the script will likely never be hired again. An actor has to serve that text, in the Theatre it’s called DLP, Dead Line Perfect. Every word, said as it is written, perfectly.

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  • I do recall once, a 7-page monologue that was being shot from multiple angles in many many setups, all top to bottom, no pickups, in quite a busy scene. Through the day, the guy had nailed this speech maybe 30 times to get it all from all the angles. At one point, a script supervisor felt it necessary to complain that they'd transposed 2 words on page 4. I thought that was just a tad too picky.
    – Tetsujin
    May 17 '20 at 9:29
  • @Tetsujin For a seven page monologue yes, that’s a tall order for any actor. They are well within their right to pick them up on it, however. It must have been for something very very serious :-)
    – cmp
    May 17 '20 at 9:31
  • It really wasn't. It was too long ago to remember the specifics, but it was an 'a' instead of a 'the' type of really minor discrepancy. That's why I've remembered the incident for so long, this was maybe 7 or 8 years ago & the actor is one I've seen nail similar scenes several times. He's a-list, not any kind of amateur. It cropped up in conversation after wrap, his response, "it happens". He wasn't bothered but I just thought it was a bit trivial.
    – Tetsujin
    May 17 '20 at 9:37
  • Having said that it becomes less of a tall order for TV. You can cut and paste anywhere. The script supervisor will have had to run the incorrect speech past someone else mind, it’s the other person, assistant director, likely who felt the need to point it out the actor. You could argue that they are just doing their job and you’d be right.
    – cmp
    May 17 '20 at 9:46

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