Thomas Golubic

The Master of the Scene

by Josh Antonuccio

13 August 2013


Golubic explains the origin of that now-icnoic use of "Crystal Blue Persuasion" ...

Already in the first half of Season Five of Breaking Bad, there have been some of the most visceral and enthralling scenes of the entire series, including the meth-production montage found alongside of “Crystal Blue Persuasion” performed by Tommy James and the Shondells. Golubic’s process for music placement is as methodical as Vince Gilligan’s commitment to story. “With Breaking Bad, I work on it episode by episode. We will get a breakdown of the overall storyline, an outline of it and then we’ll get the script, then a first cut and work with the editors to help them place music into the episodes and cover territory as we go.”

“With scenes there’s a certain point where a song just causes a spark, something comes when a song hits that scene that it feels like it was meant to there forever. So, it’s a weird mixture of being a matchmaker and a chemist and recognizing when there is a chemical reaction happening. That requires both being excited about the music yourself and having a sense that there is something unique going on with it and then knowing that when you’re looking at the scene, that it’s a good place to have that kind of energy there and it creates something new and it speaks the scene in a way that’s surprising.”

That process can look quite different. For the two powerful montage sequences found in the first half of Season Five, each came about in very different ways. Golubic notes that with “Crystal Blue Persuasion”, they knew for awhile they wanted to use, but had to be patient. “It was one of those great songs that we had since the First Season, but we never found a moment for it. I never thought of it as something that we would turn into a montage. It was Vince who said I’d like to build something with the association, this ‘day in the life of a meth Lord’ montage. It was one of those ideas that I would have thought was too obvious. It turned out to be brilliant, because it was a much better idea of how to do it. One of the nice things about this whole process is that you throw all of the ideas forward and sometimes you feel like we’ll see if ever get to it, it’s a good idea, but maybe its too cutesy.  As it turned out, it was a very interesting and compelling piece, but it’s one of those things that you never quite know until the moment is right. Again, this goes back to the genius of Vince. He knows when the moment is right. That’s the magic of it. It’s a very collaborative thing.”

This was not the case with one of the other major montage sequences in Season Five, showing Walter’s “pest control” mobile meth lab idea. “We had a roller coaster ride with the sequence of that pest tent montage. You read it in the script and you thought, ‘It’s perfect! Hiding in plain sight, which is what Gustavo Fring always did.’ That scene was very difficult because we started out with a Django Django track that we thought was great. We sent it to editing and they cleared it and everybody was happy and excited because the band was new and it seemed like a perfect thing. Then at some point Vince looked at it and thought we could do better. So we started to do some digging, going through waves and waves of ideas. I threw in one set of ideas and someone else threw in other ideas, but Vince is a very sharp filter and I think he knows when something really resonates. He really responded to a Serge Gainsberg song that we pursued very aggressively, one of those fantastic songs, from a beautiful, kind of African influenced album that he did in the mid-‘60s. One of those songs that you don’t really know is his, but it’s really special and it works. And then we couldn’t clear it and it was a nightmare. Everyone was heartbroken about it.

“We then went through another set of waves of ideas. Finally we got to the song by The Peddlers called ‘On a Clear Day You Can See Forever’. It’s one of my favorite songs, one that I DJ out quite a bit. What I liked was the lyrical connection to it, we are in this tent, inside another tent, inside a house with these guys that are making this poison. But it’s a very positive scene for them because it’s the last time these guys are working well together, as far as we know. The lyrics are ‘On a clear day, rise look around you and you will see who you are / On a clear day you can see forever and ever.’ It’s this lovely, almost romantic song that has this sense of massive vistas, with the irony that we’re inside of this tiny little place. For them, they’re having this kind of beautiful moment. Somehow that song did everything we needed it to do and felt interesting and people didn’t know it and they responded to it. That was one of those situations where I thought we had a good idea but it kept changing and shifting after that.”

As the show draws to a close, Golubic laments the end a successful partnership with the Breaking Bad creative team and their faithful viewers. Not only has the show developed a rabid and cult fanbase, but thanks to Netflix, it has become one of the most “binge-worthy” shows, given its propensity for nail-biting cliffhangers, abrupt character detours, and truly terrifying plot twists.

Breaking Bad is the best show I’ve ever had. It’s with a group that I love more than any other group I’ve worked with before. It’s really hard [to say goodbye]. I also love the group I work with on The Walking Dead, thankfully I’m not just leaving one happy family into misery, but I’m leaving one happy family and continuing on with another. The closeness that we’ve built through these five years with Breaking Bad permeates everywhere. Brian Cranston’s energy and Vince Gilligan’s energy in particular, those two men have led us in such honorable and selfless way. No one works harder and no one delivers like those men do and I think that because of that everybody involved just wants to hit homeruns for him. I do really appreciate the fact that we’re leaving on a high note. I don’t know of any television series in history that’s gotten better with each season, as we have. That’s very rare. Ultimately, you just hope that the body of work really resonates with people, and luckily with “Breaking Bad” it really does.”

As for the ultimate fate of Walter White (based on the opening of Season Five, we know that some major showdown looms), Golubic is tight-lipped, but notably excited, repeatedly promising an ending that will startle and exceed everyone’s expectations. “This is a show that is at the very top of it’s form in my mind. We don’t have bad episodes. Everything that doesn’t work out as we liked is either going to fall out onto the editing room floor or will work out somehow. I have a feeling that this will end up being the best season that we’ve done. I think it’s going to be a breathtaking ending.”

Although his own attempt at writing his own story of the American Empire didn’t turn out early in his career, through his supervision role, Golubic has now come full circle, collaborating with the storytellers of our generation and telling one of the most powerful American stories in television history: the story of Walter White via Breaking Bad (Entertainment Weekly recently put the show in the top 20 TV series of all time). In Golubic’s estimation, this is where the great stories are being told and that’s where he wants to continue to work. “I think we live in a golden age for television.”

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