Dave Porter Interview: ‘Better Call Saul,’ ‘El Camino’ composer
Much like on “Breaking Bad,” the music on “Better Call Saul” is a vital, unmistakable extra character on the show — and one that is also very different from post-modern Western sound of the mothership. But composer Dave Porter wasn’t always sure it should’ve been.
“When we started ‘Better Call Saul,’ it was one of the harder creative things I’ve ever had to do because it was not that long after the end of ‘Breaking Bad,’” Porter explained on Gold Derby’s Meet the BTL Experts: Composers panel (watch above). “It was all the same folks that I’ve been working with, but of course they’re asking for something as radically different as we could imagine, which is hard to do, especially when you’re coming off of something that seemed to be pretty successful for folks. When we went about to try to reinvent for ‘Better Call Saul,’ I had questions of whether it was smart to be so divergent from the original series since of course they are related. But now the genius of that has come through and certainly not my genius, but the genius of the producers involved, who really set all of us — the way it’s shot, the way it’s acted, the way it’s written is all so different, particularly, in those first few seasons of ‘Saul.’”
As “Better Call Saul” heads into its sixth and final season and runs towards the start of the “Breaking Bad” timeline, Porter finds himself incorporating more “Breaking Bad”-esque vibes into his prequel compositions. His Emmy submission, “Bagman,” directed by Vince Gilligan, is a suspenseful, action-heavy and desert-set hour that harkens back to some of the most memorable episodes of “Breaking Bad.”
In the first standout moment, after a group of gunmen take Jimmy’s (Bob Odenkirk) duffel bags of bail money for Lalo (Tony Dalton) and prepare to kill him, a shootout breaks out when Mike (Jonathan Banks) comes to the rescue. The scene is shot from the perspective of Jimmy, who has no idea who’s saving him, and the gnarled music evokes his utter confusion and fear.
“We knew there would only be so much room in that sonic universe to tell a story musically, so I tried to carve out a few moments where we were very specifically, as the audience, trained in on Jimmy — or Saul, I should say at this point — so that we can really appreciate the level of traumatic experience this is for him, especially because it really comes into play in future episodes of how much not just the shootout … but this whole episode, the toll it takes on the character of Saul,” Porter said. “It has enormous repercussions for the story moving forward.”
Porter also scored the “Breaking Bad” sequel film “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” which he did not approach much differently from the series. The only differences were the extra Netflix coin and more time.
“What that meant for me was a lot more time to experiment, a lot more time to record live instrumentation, which we always all want to do all the time, but in a TV schedule, it can be very difficult to do, and most importantly for me, to be able to spend that time going back and forth with Vince Gilligan,” he stated. “To have him here in the studio with me, which was the first time he’d ever been here in over a decade of working together — because it’s just not feasible working on a TV series — but to have him camp out here in the room with me, go over ideas, try different versions, options of things and really, really get down to the nitty gritty of what really works for him and what tells the story that he wants to tell was my favorite part for sure about working on the film.”