The Ingredients Of Failure

Cooking Success With The Ingredients Of Failure

Asked whether he had predicted that Breaking Bad would become such a huge success, creator Vince Gilligan answered: “I didn’t expect that. The show had all the ingredients of failure.”

His answer raises three questions:

1) Was the answer more than a throwaway comment?

2) If there is any weight behind this claim, how come the show broke through with such impact?

3) If the phenomenon is real, does it affect other storytellers as well?

When I got the DVD set this summer and started to catch up, I noticed many details that all of YouTube, and the wonderful Honest Trailer video, didn’t convey. This got me thinking, and lead me to the following conclusions:

1) “Ingredients Of Failure” does not only describe the premise of Breaking Bad, and in large part the character arc of Walter White, but also many plot lines, scenes, characters, and stylistic decision on the show.

2)  Breaking Bad achieved success because the creators brought to play a unique combination of Courage, Conscience, Creativity, and Care (Did I miss out on any more words with C’s?)

3) Many storytelling successes depended on the four C’s to cook with the ingredients of failure

One of the all-time most interesting examples of “Cooking Success With The Ingredients Of Failure” is the making of the movie The Silence Of The Lambs.

  • After several false starts the movie rights ended up with a company that assigned it a fairly small budget.
  • After some favorite actors declined, the director, who had only done comedies up to that point, wanted to cast Antony Hopkins as Lecter, whom the producers didn’t want, and the producers wanted to cast Jodie Foster as Starlin, whom the director didn’t want. So they made an artistic compromise and cast both of them.
  • The male lead actor, Hopkins, is slightly more than fifteen minutes on screen in a ninety minutes movie.
  • When the movie was finally ready, the distributor cancelled its 1990 slot, so it got shifted to February 14th, 1991. What was considered a horror movie back then – today, it’s just a quite dark thriller – became, to all intents and purposes, that years “date movie”.
  • While the movie focused strongly on the psychological drama aspect of the novel, to the extent that it became even better in this aspect than the novel, it totally mismanages the details-focused manhunt thriller part. Seriously, don’t you think that the entire part between the cage scene and the doorbell scene is utterly ridiculous? I will discuss this, before the year is over, in a post on Terminating With Extreme Prejudice.

So how did they do it? Wonderful acting of the main cast, great directing, excellent camera work, cool editing (“and what is he?” – “oh, he is a monster” / “ring, ring” “we’re going in” – “ring, ring, riiiiiiing” “Hi, I’m Clarice Starling, I’m with the FBI”) and inventive production design, all focused on the core psychological drama and its dire implications. Did I miss anything?

And for my personal taste, even the fantastic novel that movie is based on contains elements of failure: I don’t want to read about serial killers, cannibals, or people getting flayed, and still, The Silence Of The Lambs is my very favorite novel. I will tell you why, among other things, in next week’s post Digging Your Grave One Shovel At A Time.

I also don’t like stories with superheroes, godlike villains, and world-fate-deciding McGuffins. But I really love the movie Guardians Of The Galaxy.

I dislike funny ears on humans, except, of course, those of Quantum Vibe‘s main protagonist Nicole Oresme (they are NSFW, mind you), so I’m not especially fond of alien designs based on them, on tails, or any other funny additions to the human body, but I think the webcomic Opportunities In Space is awesome. Look at this page.

And if I’m not a fan of talking cacti, I enjoy Girls With Slingshots anyway, because I am a fan of secret weapons, and those of protagonists Hazel “The Lush” and Jamie “The Rack” are listed as Disdain and Tank Tops, respectively. What’s not to like about these?

Note: I will discuss GotG , QV, OiS, and maybe even GwS, in future posts.

Neither do I have any interest in stories about ghosts or genetically modified smart-ass animals, except, of course, Rocket Racoon, but one of my favorite Webcomics is A Girl And Her Fed, which features one of the latter and literally millions of the former.

Before I discuss more specific examples, please be aware that there will be spoilers for Breaking Bad and A Girl And Her Fed, and act accordingly.

Now, if you are well prepared, or if you don’t mind the SPOILERS AHEAD, click for more, read on, and discuss. (more…)