“Our characters have a long way to go,” reflects “Better Call Saul” producer and director Melissa Bernstein. She continues, “What was so great about ‘Breaking Bad,’ which took Mr. Chips and turned him into Scarface, is it was all about the journey for that character as he was evolving over time. That’s the case for ‘Better Call Saul.’ The characters keep changing and the stakes keep getting higher. That naturally keeps the show very fresh for all of us.”
Bernstein was a producer for the entire run of “Breaking Bad,” for which she won two Emmys for Best Drama Series. Since then she has served as executive producer on it’s prequel, “Better Call Saul.” In this fifth season she made her directorial debut for the seventh episode, ‘JMM.’ The director explains, “I have been thinking of directing for some time. Producing keeps me so busy I never felt it was the right time. I realized we had two seasons left and if I didn’t do it pretty soon, I wasn’t going to be directing on this show at all. I took the plunge before we waved goodbye to these characters on the show.”
‘JMM,’ was a notable episode of the series, opening with the wedding of Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and Jimmy/Saul (Bob Odenkirk). Bernstein explains, “Fans of ‘Breaking Bad’ would have never thought we’d be watching a wedding episode for Saul Goodman. To be a part of that was really special. My mandate was to make sure we don’t do emotional and the build didn’t feel that way. These characters are in the courthouse where they work every day, they are not dressed specially, they have not planned and they don’t have rings. But I did want the absurdity of life to blossom through; to see other couples that have come together for love and joy. These guys have come together for business purpose, to not end up in jail. But I loved the idea of emotion creeping up on these characters. As they are living the words they are saying, being very excited about committing to each other in a significant way.”
To approach the episode she was conscious of the directors who had come before her. She says, “These incredible directors, when you step into their shoes you want every shot to be special and dynamic and memorable. You feel like the standards are very high. I did try to think everything through, because you want each shot to be a poster.”
Working on the two shows for more than a decade, Bernstein reveals, “We like to do things that we haven’t been done before. They may seem like small choices to viewers. In season five, episode nine (‘Bad Choice Road’), covering Jimmy when the juicer is going crazy, there are two cameras mounted next to each other. That allowed for this really unique perspective on Jimmy when he’s in this moment of crisis. That’s something that you haven’t seen before that our director of photography hadn’t tried before. It really added to the tension of that sequence.”
In addition to her work on “Saul,” she is eligible at the Emmys for her work in producing the Netflix movie “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” and the web shorts “Better Call Saul: Ethics Training with Kim Wexler.”
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