Gallery: ’Breaking Bad’ is ending run still looking good
Now 58, Slovis is soft-voiced and lanky, with a head whose baldness rivals Walt White's in Heisenberg mode.
He got the photography bug while growing up in Plainview, N.J., where he became the school photographer and won a state photography contest. He was invited to study at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
He imagined himself a fine-arts photographer, but he loved movies and storytelling, and, after graduate school at New York University, he landed jobs shooting music videos and commercials, then got nibbles from feature films.
But in 2001, he found movie offers drying up, and, though he had never seen TV in his future, he gratefully accepted a call from the NBC series "Ed."
The timing was terrific. For decades, TV's hasty, assembly-line production schedule proved an obstacle to giving a series its own visual style.
"Film had been just a way to record the TV picture," Slovis said. A further barrier to getting too creative was the low resolution and squarish shape of the old TV receivers, which conversely had a negative impact on theatrical films, whose wide-screen format was forced to conform (with lots of medium and close-up shots) to movies' eventual small-screen telecast.
Slovis hails pioneering exceptions such as "Twin Peaks," "Law & Order" and "The X-Files" and credits "CSI" as "one of the first times that cinematography became a real character on a show. TV began changing around us."
Gilligan agreed that "the advent of flat-screen TV really allowed Michael's work to shine in a way it wouldn't have 20 years ago."
Now the end of "Breaking Bad" is nigh. But through Sunday's final fade-out, Slovis' influence will remain, capturing the "Bad" times you can't turn your eyes from. He's a series star who's out of sight, yet controlling what you see.