Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With BETTER CALL SAUL’s Gordon Smith

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!

by Kelly Jo Brick

Photo by Arnold Wells

Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence, hard work and not giving up.

Emmy-nominated writer Gordon Smith credits much of his career success to luck. A friend got his resume to BREAKING BAD just as they were looking for a PA. After landing that job, Gordon’s career grew from working as a writers’ PA and assistant to Vince Gilligan, to landing a position as a staff writer on BETTER CALL SAUL. Now a producer on BETTER CALL SAUL, Gordon signed an overall deal with Sony Pictures TV earlier this year.


I don’t often think of myself as a writer. I went to school for writing at Michigan and then I was in the production program at USC, but I primarily focused on writing and editing. It’s that weird thing in my head that I don’t necessarily think of myself that way, but it plays to my skills in the arts. I don’t think I would ever be particularly well suited for things outside of the arts. Within that discipline, I think writing suits me.


Usually people want to know how I got my job, because everyone is wondering how you get your foot in the door. Unfortunately, my answer is usually luck, because it was luck. I started as a PA. I got my foot in the door. It’s luck, but I think it really can’t be overestimated how social the industry is, how many things happen because you know somebody and somebody else knows you and you can kinda say yeah, that person is okay, I know them and vice versa.


I was working at USC where I went to grad school. I wrote and edited a short film for a young woman, Nicole, who was a friend of mine and she went on and is very successful. Her first gig was as an intern, I think on MAD MEN, where Genny Hutchison was Matt Weiner’s assistant at the time. They became friends and I had been friends with her, so it happened that when I was looking for a job, she was J.J. Abrams assistant. So I was like, “Do you know of anything?” She told me, “No, but I know somebody on BREAKING BAD, maybe I can get your info there.”

My resume landed in their hands just at the right time when they happened to be looking for a PA. Towards that end, be somebody that other people are willing to say, I worked with this person, I like this person. I’m willing to recommend them. You want someone to be in your corner in that way. You can’t turn the switch, but it can happen if you’re ready and you’re in the right place for it.


In undergrad, I was mostly writing fiction and plays. Theater was especially something that I took seriously. It wasn’t until later that I started thinking about TV as a viable place to express myself. When I did, there were all these shows I loved or felt passionate about and followed. I was a huge X-FILES fan. I wrote a bunch of scalding papers about it at one point. I was and remain a TWIN PEAKS fan. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, I love that show.

My sister has a history of sitting me down and being like, “You have to watch blank.” BREAKING BAD was one of those shows. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT was another one. She was like, “You have to watch this. You haven’t. You’re going to and you’ll like it.” She was right.


I think not being a jerk is a big piece of advice. Be somebody that other people want to be around for ten hours a day, every day for eight months, which seems intuitive, but I think people also learn a lesson that the thing to be is the person who fights for their vision, which is important, but you have to balance that against there’s a bunch of people around you who are also fighting for their vision and you’re all trying to be on the same team.

The other piece of advice that I’ve heard Genny Hutchison give many times, and she’s dead on, is to do the job you have. If you are an assistant, there’s a thinking that the way to go is to dress for the job that you want, not the job you have. You hear that, but there is something kind of misguided about it. It works for some, but you may also alienate some people. You’re likely to end up with people who are like, I needed you to do this job. I needed you to get coffee. I needed you to write the descriptions in a line that are going to go on VOD for the episodes, which are evocative enough that they tell you what the episode is, but they’re bland enough that they don’t have any spoilers in them.

Those kind of things, they can be boring or they can be tough. They are actually quite tough, which is why they are sometimes done badly, but doing them well makes people go, “Oh, you could handle that. Maybe you could handle more.”


Lots of people. I’m inspired by a lot of the people I work with. I’ve been lucky. They’re a great group of people, because they’re very giving with their time. Tom, Genny, Peter, Vince and the people I’ve worked with a long time now have been very supportive and good mentors. I think they’re all really great writers. So I’m very happy and proud to be part of the team.


Yes opens a lot of doors. It’s hard to sort of look and say, well, I don’t know if this is worth my time, because your time’s precious. But for a good while, saying yes is going to be way better than saying no. It’s going to open more doors.

I took gigs for a long time that I’m like well, I don’t really love this or don’t know about this. Some web writing gigs, even some projects that weren’t perfectly in tune with my sensibilities with BREAKING BAD or things that I wanted to do, but doing them opened up opportunities. That would be my advice. Say yes to opportunities when they come, because eventually you’ll be able to say no. You’ll get to that point.

Also, keep writing. Keep polishing your stuff. It’s hard to find the time. It’s nearly impossible sometimes, but the more you can keep your head in that, the more you can stay engaged with what you’re passionate about.

Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

munchman: All I ever wanted from life

Tom Schnauz iz my new idol
Tom Schnauz iz my new idol

I dunno why you guys are writing, but the article below is my raison d’etre when it comes to that thing we do.

No, not getting to work on BREAKING BAD and its upcoming going to be ultra cool sequel BETTER CALL SAUL. That, after all, would be a mature way to view my life. Yer Friendly Neighborhood Muncher’s head is, for better or for worse, in a much different place: I just want my damn picture in the local paper and a big article telling every single one of those $#@!s I went to high school with how much better than they are I’m doing today.

You all understand this feeling, don’t ya? Huh? Please….

Former Local Working on Writing ‘Breaking Bad’ Prequel
by Eric Englund

A writer/producer with Southern Ocean County roots, who made it big with his work on the “Breaking Bad” on AMC, will be writing for the TV series’ prequel, “Better Call Saul.”

Thomas Schnauz Jr. was nominated for an Emmy Award for “best writing in a drama series” for the “Say My Name” episode, which aired in “Breaking Bad’s” final season last year. Other “Breaking Bad” episodes he wrote include “One Minute,” “Shotgun” and “Buried,” with the last episode dedicated to memory of his father, Thomas Sr., who died in January 2013.

A former resident of Barnegat Township, Barnegat Light and Surf City, Schnauz joined the “Breaking Bad” series as a writer/producer in 2010, which was the show’s third season. Set and produced in Albuquerque, the show focused on the story of Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, a struggling high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer at the beginning of the series. He turns to a life of crime, selling methamphetamines to secure his family’s future before he dies. His partner in crime is a former student, Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul. Cranston has won Emmys three times for best actor and Paul twice for best supporting actor.

The prequel, in which Schnauz will be a co-executive producer, will begin filming next month. He said the show looks to begin running on AMC in November. The series’ central character will be Saul Goodman (played by Bob Odenkirk) before he became Walter White’s lawyer.

Schnauz said he will write two of the episodes, but limited his remarks because he has to keep details under wraps. He said some of the “Breaking Bad” characters will be seen as they were earlier in their lives.

He said that writing for a TV series is a collaborative effort; while he may get the credits for a specific episode, many others have input. He said writers, directors and producers often have lengthy skull sessions to develop plot lines, stories and characters.

“That’s probably the hardest part,” he said. “It gets a little easier once you have the story all planned and all the pieces start to fit.”

In the meantime, Schnauz had been writing for an ABC series “Resurrrection,” which had eight episodes this year. The fantasy drama series follows the people of Arcadia, Mo., whose lives take a surprising turn when their loved ones return from the dead, unaged since the time of their death.

Read it all

Of course, I’d want a better description of myself than “Former Local.” But maybe that’s just, you know, me.

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 1/17/14

Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are
by munchman

  • Chevy Chase (Oh, God, Chevy Fucking Chase!) is developing an as yet unnamed ABC comedy pilot set to star Beverly D’Angelo and himself. No details have been given out and no writer has been named yet. (Cuz, like, Chevy Fucking Chase!)
  • Tom Schnauz (BREAKING BAD) has a new writer-producer gig on BETTER CALL SAUL, the BREAKING BAD “prequel” and a 2-year overal deal with Sony Pictures TV. (Cuz, like BREAKING BAD! Maybe it’s time for true believers like us to relax. Looks like BB is never really going away.)
  • Mike Sikowitz (RULES OF ENGAGEMENT) has signed a new overall deal with Sony Pictures TV guaranteeing him seven figures worth of dinero. (Love and kisses to Mike. Our people will be calling your people…soon.)
  • ABC is set to develop a comedy series about the life of rapper Eve and is looking for a writer. (So if you have whatever qualifications it takes to write about a beautiful African-American rap star – whom we’ve never heard of, but then let’s face it, rap is sooo old now – and her “interracial relationships” it’s time to reach for the phone.)