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Cast, crew and conflict management: Students break down ‘Breaking Bad’

Stewart Lyons and guest stars converged for one film student’s ‘most influential’ course

Posing at a step and repeat
‘Breaking Bad’ creators Vince Gilligan, Michelle MacLaren, Bryan Cranston and Stewart Lyons pose at a Hollywood awards ceremony. Lyons’ online course at DePaul featured guest appearances from several of the hit show’s stars and producers. (Alamy stock photo)
DePaul film students were star-struck when several actors and creators of the TV drama “Breaking Bad” made guest appearances in Stew Lyons’ online course in the f​all of 2023.  Serendipitously timed with the 2023 actor and writer strikes in Hollywood, the creative producing course featured multiple guest speakers from the show, including creator Vince Gilligan and lead actor Bryan Cranston, as well as other actors, directors, executive producers and wardrobe designers.
Spencer smiling at a table
Spencer Milligan, a senior completing his BA, participated in Stew Lyons' "Breaking Bad" course in fall 2023. Milligan is currently immersed in DePaul's LA Quarter, where he has three internships at Pressman Film, Slice Collective and American High. (Image courtesy of Spencer Milligan)

“Breaking Bad” made its debut on the AMC Network 16 years ago. The show follows Walter White, an underpaid and overqualified high school chemistry teacher recently diagnosed with cancer, and his former student Jesse Pinkman as they produce an​​d distribute methamphetamine to secure the White family’s financial future. Now 10 years after the show’s finale, it still is hailed by critics and audiences alike as one of the greatest television shows of all time.

“There is a great deal of curiosity about the show because of how successful it was. When you work on something terrible, it’s easy to ‘learn more,’” says Lyons, a producer for “Breaking Bad” and an adjunct faculty member in DePaul’s School of Cinematic Arts. “It can be apparent what not to do, what wasn’t working. But when you work on something wonderful, it’s hard to pinpoint why exactly it worked.”

Curiosity about the show drew 30 undergraduate and graduate students to Lyons’ fall quarter course, Creative Producing: Breaking Down “Breaking Bad.” Lyons, a seasoned film and television producer and writer, spent nine years filming the show in New Mexico. 

Hailey poses on a path outdoors
Hailee Rose, a senior completing her BFA, participated in a DePaul film study abroad in Berlin in spring 2023. Last fall she took part in Stew Lyons' creative producing course that focused on the ins and outs of "Breaking Bad." (Image courtesy of Hailee Rose)
“When I saw the course being offered, I knew I had to take it. I wanted to know the ‘ins and outs’ of the production process: How do you bring excellent writing like that to life?” says Hailee Rose, a senior completing her BFA in film and television with a concentration in screenwriting. “Obviously, the guests were a great part of the course. Many conversations centered around creative collaboration and how to resolve issues – any hurdle encountered on set was solved professionally, respectfully and at lightning speed.”

Typically, Lyons is based in Los Angeles and teaches in-person classes to students in DePaul’s MFA in Creative Producing program. The Breaking Bad online course had a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, which Lyons suspects is why many discussions with guests centered around professionalism and conflict management and resolution. 

“It became apparent right away the students were interested in how to resolve conflict. And because some students were undergraduates taking this course as an elective rather than as film majors, I wanted to make sure there were concepts that could be applied outside the world of film and TV,” Lyons says. “A big takeaway from all the guests was that to be professional you have to present yourself that way – be on time, pay attention, put your phone away, be present.”
For some of the students pursuing a career in film and television, the course not only provided a connection to Hollywood, but also inspiration for what’s to come.

“The 10 weeks I took this course turned out to be one of the most influential periods of my life,” says Spencer Milligan, a senior completing a BA in film and television. “I realized your character is just as important as your craft. This course motivated me to become a better producer, writer and actor, emphasizing the importance of continuously working on both character and craft.”

While Lyons does not yet have another “Breaking Bad” course scheduled, he is bringing his expertise to DePaul students visiting for LA Quarter​ and immersed in creative producing. In addition to continuing his work as a television writer, he plans to help DePaul colleagues studying artificial intelligence’s role in screenwriting.

“I’m very interested in the impact AI will have on screenwriting in the coming years, especially now that the ‘Golden Age’ of TV is likely over,” Lyons says. “The TV and film landscape is going to change drastically in the next few years. I hope to help students understand what that means for their careers and help prepare them for the reality of an often difficult and unclear, but fascinating, career path."