George Mastras on ‘Breaking Bad’ Season 5
George Mastras has been a writer on “Breaking Bad” since the very beginning before becoming a producer on the series during season 3. Mastras also wrote and directed the train heist episode,“Dead Freight.”
As the series comes to an end, we had a chance to speak with Mastras about his work over the years. Of course there are few spoilers for previous seasons of “Breaking Bad” in our interview, but Mastras didn’t give up anything about the series finale.
CraveOnline: Did you by any chance get to direct any of the remaining last eight episodes of “Breaking Bad?”
George Mastras: No, all those spots were taken.
Were you ever in the running? Did you pitch for them?
Did I pitch for them? No, no. The last 15 were considered one season and I felt I got my one this last season, for sure.
As we’re all looking back on it, can you give us a sense of what the writer’s room is like on “Breaking Bad?”
Sure, there’s seven of us including Vince. It’s a great group. Myself and Peter Gould have been there since the first year. There’s Sam Catlin, Moira Walley-Beckett, Tom Schnauz joined us in the third season, Genny Hutchison was our writer’s assistant who was promoted to staff writer and she worked her way up, and then there’s Vince. It’s a really, really talented group. It’s very collaborative. We break stories together and we debate ad nauseum all the story and character decisions. I feel like it’s a highly functional room.
Do you know how it ends, or are you now waiting like the rest of us?
Oh gosh, no. I know how it ends. We all debated the ending pretty thoroughly, as we do every episode every season.
That’s a privilege. When you got to do “Dead Freight,” did you know this was going to be a monumental episode?
I kind of had a feeling because I knew going into it that it was going to be one of the largest episodes, if not the largest episode that we’ve done production-wise because of the train heist, and I knew it’d be big and did everything I could to rise to the occasion. I was very excited, very lucky to have gotten that one. It was really a mini-movie.
That episode was Emmy nominated for writing but not directing. Did you not submit it for both?
I submitted for everything. Who knows what the judges do, but I’m just grateful to have been nominated at all.
I imagine the show has to choose one or two episodes each season to submit in each category, right?
I think every director and every writer is allowed to submit one of their episodes. With the exception of maybe Michelle MacLaren who’s our resident director/producer, everyone else does one episode per season, so pretty much all the episodes get submitted. Directors submit all their episodes.
How did you pull off a train heist on a TV budget?
Luckily I had a couple extra days. It was bigger and we scheduled it in, but it was a lot of work. It was a huge, huge endeavor. For one, our normal base of operations is Albuquerque and this was over in Santa Fe, so we had to move the entire company up there and put them up five nights in hotels. Like anything else, you’re racing against the light to try to get as much in as possible. It was tough.
The very first day, the train broke down so everything that was scheduled, I had to move stuff up that I could shoot that didn’t require the moving train and push everything that I’d been planning. So that was an added dilemma but I was able to pull it off. I definitely had a lot of support from the production people and from the train guys that stayed up all night and repaired the train. It was a lot of work, and people tell me that most feature films would take a month to shoot that train heist and we did it in four days.
Is it true those tracks appeared in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?
Yeah, actually. That’s a nice little bit of Hollywood trivia, a nice little homage to the western genre which we like to think of our show as a modern day western. Yeah, they did. They were in one of the train heists in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
It’s amazing that they still exist all these years later.
Those train tracks were a part of the old Santa Fe southern railroad, so they’re still there. This particular spur line is a line that connects a larger train line to Santa Fe so it was used until recently. Supplies were unloaded off the main track and then the spur line brought stuff into town. Now it’s predominantly used as a tourist train, so people load up there and ride around and view the desert landscape, people that come to Santa Fe.
Oh, so it still runs and you shut it down for four days?
We did, we shut it down for four days and in fact, a lot of the rolling stock that we used had to come from Texas because the train that’s there is mostly a passenger train. We used the big tankers because that’s what we needed so that was brought over from Texas. It was covered with graffiti which I kind of wanted to leave because it was interesting, but that stuff all needed legal clearance which is impossible to get. So our department worked on the cars and the person that ran the line there was very helpful in getting everything done, but the locomotive was over 50 so it’s no wonder it sort of broke down.