TIH 505: Glen Mazzara on The Walking Dead, Storytelling, and The Writers’ Room

TIH 505: Glen Mazzara on The Walking Dead, Storytelling, and The Writers’ Room

In this podcast, Glen Mazzara talks about The Walking Dead, storytelling, the writers’ room, and much more.

About Glen Mazzara

Glen Mazzara is an American television producer and writer. He is most well known for his work on The Shield, The Walking Dead, and Damien.

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Michael David Wilson 0:28

Welcome to This Is Horror, a podcast for readers, writers and creators. I'm Michael David Wilson. In every episode alongside my co host, Bob Pastorella. We chat with the world's best writers about writing, life lessons, creativity, and much more. Now today we are chatting with Glen Mazzara, a television producer and writer who is perhaps best known for his work on the shield, The Walking Dead, and Damien. And as with a lot of these podcasts, this is a two part conversation. And even though it comes up mostly in the second part, I just want to make you aware that this was recorded about a week or so before the WGA strike. So he does in the second hour talk a little bit about the possible strike action, but it was recorded, as I say, right at the end of April, so when we didn't know whether the WGA would or would not strike. Now before we get into this conversation, it is time for an advert break.

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Michael David Wilson 2:45

okay without sad here it is it is Glen Mazzara on dare says Hara. Glen, welcome to This Is Horror. Great.

Glen Mazzara 2:58

Thanks for having me.

Michael David Wilson 2:59

I know it to begin with. I want to know, what were some early life lessons that you learned growing up in Queens, New York.

Glen Mazzara 3:11

Early life lessons, that's interesting. I don't know if people have asked me that. Well, let's say you know, one thing was you know, growing up in Queens in the 70s and 80s. New York was a pretty scary place, you know, so So you had a sense that anything could happen at any time. Like you always had to look over your shoulder. So I think that was kind of fun, sort of thrilling. I liked a lot of stimuli. Like so. That was probably a life lesson I learned you know, like, all sudden you will find yourself in some sort of weird situation or something surreal, bizarre. So that's probably something that I use in my writing, I have a lot of tonal shifts or, you know, something that's both funny and scary, a thrilling I can sort of my writing can turn on a dime a little bit. So that's probably something I learned. And I was certainly raised Catholic, you know, I went to Catholic school with, you know, priests and nuns and I went through high school I went to grammar school through high school so that certainly, my uncle is a pre so that certainly informs a lot of your your thinking. And, and then, you know, my father was a doctor. And so in right after high school at the end of high school, going into college, I worked that I'm very comfortable in hospitals because my dad would always bring us to work or something. You know, I mean, so a lot of people are frightened of hospitals, but I always get had them, you know what I mean? They feel very homey to me. So then I started I worked in a hospital for after, like, right after high school, even even summers in high school, and then through college, so I probably have a very

again, it was both weird and surreal and kind of fun. And yeah, tragic and sad. So, so a lot of my stuff. I think the life lessons, I don't know if I have any particular great life lessons, but I'm trying to translate it to my writing. And I think just the idea that, you know, both New York work in a hospital is it these things were such like melting pots, they felt like they were pressure cookers, you know, where everything was happening at once. So I don't know if that answers your question, because I've never really had that question before. But that's, that's what I'll go with for now. Hopefully that makes sense.

Michael David Wilson 6:00

Yeah, yeah, it certainly does. And, I mean, I know that you've said before, as well, I mean, one of the jobs that you first had was this logistics manager at a medical center. So then, I'm wondering, I mean, how did that experience, then later prepare you for the writers room? Because my understanding is there are quite a few commonalities there.

Glen Mazzara 6:27

Yeah, I think it took me a little while to figure it out. Because, you know, there was, there was like a summer job that then ended up becoming a career that I did through my 20s into my early 30s. And, and so first, I worked as a manager at St. Vincent's Hospital, which, you know, is now closed. And that was, that was a huge hospital in Greenwich Village. So I was working there during the AIDS epidemic, you know, so there was just a lot of heartbreak going on there a lot of crisis, right, I want to focus on that word. And then, and then as I was getting a master's in English from NYU, I started working at NYU Medical Center, you know, and they had like a tuition benefit that they would, they would cover some of the tuition benefits, you know, the tuition costs. So I manage their emergency room and some ICUs and stuff. So. So like I was saying before, I need a lot of stimuli. And I'm actually pretty good in a crisis. I'm actually the kind of person who's calm and says, Okay, what do we need to do? How do we break this down? How do we approach this, like, I'm good in a crisis. So Hollywood, is all crises, everybody's losing their mind that everything's going wrong. At any given time. You have egos, you have budgets, you have, you know, impossible deadlines, you have inflating costs, you just have an n a surreal quality, that anything could happen anytime anything goes, you know, you know what I mean? And so, so, that hospital background, which I enjoyed parts of it when I was working there, but it wasn't what I wanted to do, I wanted to be a writer, so I was frustrated, you know, and I had other friends who were beginning their careers, who were pulling ahead in there, you know, and I felt like, I was, like, one of those many people was like, why am I doing this job? What am I doing turns out to be the perfect training ground for for TV production, you know, which has budgets and schedules and chaos and egos and, and weird stuff happening all the time, and a lack of rules and accountability and all of that. So, so I was actually able to kind of use those skills, of how do you deal with that nuttiness in the hospital? Where, you know, like, like to give an example, when you're working in a hospital when you're doing what I did and what other people do? You know, we would carry we had pagers, right, you don't have cell phones yet. So we have pages, and those pages could go off and all of a sudden you have a medical emergency and you have to run across the campus and then suddenly you're assisting doctors and nurses with a crisis, right? So so you're constantly on edge to respond. Right? So you have to organize your day so that if you get pulled into a crisis, you still get your work done your your routine work done. That's how I organize myself as a showrunner you know, you have to communicate, you have to kind of be hyper organized, but you'll also also have to be ready to drop what you're doing and pick up something because suddenly, somebody needs a decision on this or you need something else done or whatever you're Your focus is constantly being pulled in a lot of different directions. So I think those skills I learned in the hospital, I definitely learned in the hospital. And I was able to translate that to TV production. And now, you know, I'm, I'm working on a show, and, and we're in production and post production. And I've never had an experience like this, where I'm just rewriting so much in post production. You know, I'm constantly rewriting every shot, I'm, I'm rewriting, I'm moving scenes around, I'm like, Oh, well, maybe the story is this, maybe the story is that it's interesting. It's creatively challenging, it's exciting. But all of that, you know, signing off on visual effects, signing off on music used, it's all a form of writing in a way, you know, it's all creativity. So I think that problem solving came from my job, which was really involved a lot of crisis management.

Michael David Wilson 11:11

Yeah, and in terms of the rewriting, so did you say the project you're currently working on has the most rewriting you've ever done?

Glen Mazzara 11:21

I would say so. Yeah, I would, I would say so. Yeah, it's at this stage. Yeah. It's been interesting, because, you know, it's, it's a show called beacon 23. Very good. It's a sci fi show. But, you know, I took over a showrunner, you know, in the, during the production, and then and so, and it's, you know, it's basically a, it's a character based sci fi show set in space. And so there's a little bit of a space opera to it. And, and with a lot of sci fi, they can sort of get become a very, it could have a complicated mythology. So a lot of what I've been doing is making sure that that mythology is both intriguing, but not, but not off putting to the audience, you know. So it's a lot of, you know, deciding when to lay out the mystery when to pay off a clue, that sort of stuff. And so, since we were still shooting, when I took over a showrunner, a lot of the stuff we figured out on our feet, and a lot of that hangs together, but then I think I'm always constantly figuring out a better way to do stuff. Like even today, I was like, Oh, what if we had done that? What have we had done this? You know, that kind of stuff? So I'm constantly fine tuning the work. I'm always I'm always rewriting, I'm always rewriting.

Michael David Wilson 12:51

Yeah. What do you think, has happened in terms of the environment, as perhaps led you to be rewriting more on this show? Then, you know, The Walking Dead? Or Damien or other projects that you've been involved in? Is it mostly just that kind of sci fi nature and the complex mythology? Or is there something else going on?

Glen Mazzara 13:17

I think that's part of it. I think, you know, with with Damien. I created Damien. And I knew the The Omen material. Well, so I had a very tight plan going into that, you know, with Walking Dead, obviously, we had a long running graphic novel that we could pull parts from, you know, this is based on a novel by Hugh Howey. That is kind of a collection of stories, you know, so So but we shot, you know, we have two seasons of materials, I think we have more material than the source material. So I think that's where the challenge was here.

Michael David Wilson 14:00

Yeah. Yeah. And to go to go back to the beginning, I mean, what were your first experiences with story? And when did you know that you wanted to be a writer or a storyteller on some level?

Glen Mazzara 14:16

Well, to be honest, I, you know, I always loved reading I think I always told stories, and I remember like, reading with my, my grandmother lived with us when she was little, she was, you know. You know, she wasn't able to get up from her bed or whatever. So I would kind of lie in bed, she would read stories to me. So there was always kind of this idea of that you could open a book and you could enjoy something, you know, and so there was a feeling of connection when I would read with her. I do remember appreciating that. And then and then there was this time that you know, my first day of school, I came home and, and first day of school, and my mom said, Well, what happened today? And I just say, oh, you know At the end, she said, Well, when your brother and sister come home, they always tell me about their day, you know. So I then told my mom, every single thing that happened, like, oh, the teacher closed the door, we sat in the desk, this guy turned to me. And after about five minutes, she was like, You're a horrible storyteller. You have to learn, she actually said, you just kind of give the highlights, you know, and I was like, okay, so then when I would come home, I would chat with my mom. And I would tell her what happened in school today. And I would give her the highlights, and I remember those, those those afternoons, you know, when you'd come home and have a snack and everything. So there was a way of telling a story to entertain her, you know, and my mom was a good storyteller, too. And so, so I always enjoyed telling stories, it was way to connect. I remember, you know, I had some friends, and they were starting to, like, make little primitive comic books when we were young. So I was very into that. I was, I was, you know, I was always a big reader, you know, I was very into, you know, yeah, I've read a lot. I read a lot of stuff when I was a kid. And I still read a lot. You know, I played Dungeons and Dragons, I'm actually playing Dungeons and Dragons on a Monday, I just created a new character last night, I'm playing with some some writers, some TV writers, it's gonna be the first time I've played in, you know, 40 years. So it's, it's, I've always been interested in, you know, I wrote some short stories for like, the school magazine and in, in, in high school, so I've always been I think the stories I, you know, I walk my dog, I'm in the shower, like, I'm constantly generating, like, what if this happened? What if that I and I just, I enjoy it? You know, I enjoy doing that. I find that sometimes, if I get too bogged down in the minutiae of my business, like a lot of the practical stuff, you know, Oh, I gotta call this person back. I gotta do this. I gotta schedule this. If I get into that. And I'm not in a writing mode, or I'm not reading a book at the current moment, or I'm not in some type of story mode. In my head, I find I started to get cranky, it starts to bother me, it starts to weigh on me. So there's something about it, that it's just a world of imagination that I, I enjoy, I enjoy it. You know, and it's just part of me. I can't I don't know if I mean, maybe you feel the same way. But it's just, it's just like, I don't know another way to be.

Michael David Wilson 17:46

Right. Yeah, yeah, I totally relate to that. And I relate to the idea of almost getting cranky or fidgety if I'm not creating a story on some level. And, yeah, I mean, I think a lot of people, when we talk about it, it's like, if you had another choice, maybe don't be a writer button, which I know is like almost a bizarre, slightly esoteric way of putting it, but it is, like, kind of part of the being, it's like, this is what I'm here to do. This is what gives me you know, satisfaction. So yeah, if people have another choice, it might be better.

Glen Mazzara 18:28

Well, yeah, it might be better to do something else. I agree. Like there was, you know, during the pandemic I had, I was working on a script for a network. And, you know, and, and they kind of gave a note that really sort of gutted the type of story I was trying to tell, you know, but it was my job to see if I could address the note. So I literally went to my desk every day for about seven months, and I would write and then at night, I would rip up what I wrote or deleted, or I would cross it out, or there was one day where I just wrote the date on the page, and they didn't write anything for like, you know, six hours or something. And it just went on for months and months and months. And then finally, I got an idea. And I started rewriting it and I wrote, you know, I wrote the script, and, and, and then they reverse their No, but rewrote the script quickly, it turned it in, they ended up passing, you know, and, and that was fine. I was probably not right for them anyway. But I remember thinking like, Okay, well, my imposter syndrome of being a writer is gone. Because only a writer would put themselves through that, like there's, I could have done anything else with those days except sit sit at my desk and stare and hate myself for failing, which is what I was feeling at the time. But you know, you're a writer, that's what you do, you know, and that's part of it. And I you know, and there's both, you know, a positive side and there's a dark side to do it and you just kind of have to take it all. So I don't I don't you know, the more I think about writing lately, the more I think about that it's just sort of mysterious. I don't I wouldn't say I love it. I wouldn't say I hate it. I would say I enjoy some of it. I would say I hate some of it. But I would say I would say mostly, it's just like, you're just part of something that's, that, to me is just a mysterious process. You know, I just, I just worked on a script. I just finished a script, or a draft of a script this past weekend, it was really a tusker to write. And it was an easy script to outline. And I liked the project very much I like the people I'm working with. And then I just got into the script, and it was just really tough to write. And then and then. And then finally, it was just done. You know, and I don't even remember really writing it, you know what I mean? You just kind of it just is there, and you're just kind of a participant in something different. It's weird. It's strange, but I enjoy it. You know?

Michael David Wilson 21:06

Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, as you mentioned, the pandemic. I mean, obviously, we could talk about the effects and how, you know, it changed the dynamic as, as a writer, particularly in Hollywood and in TV, but I'm wondering, you know, what, what are some of the lingering after effects? So how has having gone through this pandemics change Hollywood? Perhaps the good and the bad?

Glen Mazzara 21:36

Well, that's an interesting question. I think, I think one of the things is that, you know, there's so much done over zoom. So a lot of it used to be that you would have to drive around, you would pitch in person, now you don't, you know, and so in a way, you can get a lot more done, you know, because you you're not driving, you're not connecting with people here, you know what I mean? So, but that's also isolating, you know, because you're physically away from people. But I think, I think that has been a big change. Like, I think we, when we were originally figuring out well, how do you pitch a project over? Zoom? And how do you connect with people? And how do you read the room and all of that it was, it was almost impossible, you know, it was, it felt impossible. And people have figured it out. And now I think that's become standard, you know, writers rooms, you know, there are a lot of writers rooms in in person, you know, the show that I was just working on, we had writers rooms via zoom, so you kind of learn how to shift the type of work, so that I can get done, I do all the editing now on Zoom, I do music cues, you know, and visual effects, and all of its on Zoom. So, so it's, it's both, it's, it's maybe not as much fun because you're not in the room with people, you know, and there's something about, you know, you know, collaborating with people in person, but but it is amazing how many, like how, how packed my days are, you know, I have a lot of crew members who are in Toronto. So we start at 7am, Pacific, you know, 10am their time, and then I'll go until, like, you know, seven o'clock our time, you know, la time, so So you're really back to back. I mean, I could do eight 910 14 zooms a day, sometimes, you know, just approving shots or changing stuff or rewriting. So it's, it's, it's been interesting.

Michael David Wilson 23:42

Yeah, yeah, I guess it means that things are generally more efficient as well, just the sheer amount that you can pack into each day. It feels

Glen Mazzara 23:52

like it feels like it, which is, which is also part of the thing, though, because you have to strike a balance if you're going to be a writer, because you still want to, you know, you can fill your days doing all of this stuff and feel productive, but you need downtime, you know, you need to enter the dream time, you know, so that you can stay creative, you know, so that you could stay in that the dream state as a correlate, you know?

Michael David Wilson 24:21

Yeah, yeah. So I'm wondering, on that note, I mean, do you have certain things in place so that you're protective of your time so that you enable that you do have this dream time on a daily or a weekly basis?

Glen Mazzara 24:38

You know, I've I would say, I've gotten better at it over the pandemic, you know, so I would say, you know, I meditate every day I'm into Transcendental Meditation. I got into that just before you know the last thing I shot before before last year, but that I shot before the pandemic was I shot a pilot in Croatia. For Stephen King's Dark Tower, right, I did a pilot for that. And LJ Jonas was being played by Michael Rooker. And Michael got me into transcendental meditation, you know, and, and, and so he convinced me to do it, my assistant at the time, it was into it too. So, so. So I've been doing that on a daily basis. I make sure I journal every day that kind of helps me blow off some steam and everything, you know, I tried to push myself to read right now I'm reading House of Leaves, you know, so I'm, you know, I'm a, I find I have to kind of have these guardrails for me to kind of stay in the space, you know, to stay in a creative space. And so, but when you're working at home, you can, you know, like, I work last weekend at work the weekend before, you know, I work every day. So I also try to try to structure my day so that if I'm doing something creative, if I'm writing, I'm doing that more in the morning, it's a little hard since I've been doing a lot of editing lately. But I tried to do that earlier in the morning. And so so that I do it right when I wake up. So I'm still have some access to my subconscious, you know, so I'm still sort of in that dream state as we will, before I start checking emails or whatever, I try to get the writing done in the morning, and then I'll push other stuff to later in the day when when I'm, I don't have to be as creative.

Michael David Wilson 26:48

Yeah, yeah. And with the transcendental meditation, did you go to an in person course. But I know that the David Lynch foundation number days, yeah, yeah, I

Glen Mazzara 27:01

went to the lynch foundation. Yeah, I went and, you know, got a mantra, and had a great instructor and you go for a couple of classes my wife had when she was, she went through her job, her job, sort of treated everybody to to it, you know, she was working for a nonprofit. And they were like, Okay, this might be interesting. So somebody had had worked it off for them. And then she came home. And she said, you would love this. And so and it's been one I do find, you know, it's, it's just been helpful to deal with anxiety and helps me sleep better. And it's just a good a good way. But it's also helped my writing, in the sense that when I would write, when I used to sit down to write, I would have a lot of resistance, I would have a lot of anxiety about writing, is it going to be good? Is it going to be this? You know, that kind of stuff, right? And I don't know, do you meditate do?

Michael David Wilson 27:58

I do I'm I'm very intrigued by the Linux Foundation, it's, you know, I haven't gone to an in person thing, but I'm very interested in it. There aren't so many, like these courses here in Japan, but I'm, yeah, I'm looking into options. Because I mean, even though I meditate, I've heard that Transcendental Meditation is a game changer for those, you know, even who have been meditating for years when they jump into that. So yeah,

Glen Mazzara 28:30

what? Well, it's the only one I've ever used. So I just know it. And I just, you know, it's, I like it. I think it works for me, you know, so So and I don't feel the need to try something else. I'm just like, Yeah, I love this. So, so but when you sit down to meditate, you know, you just kind of, you know, I hit an app, I have a timer, it's 20 minutes, you know, twice a day. So you you hit a timer, or you just, you're just like, Okay, I've got 20 minutes, I can meditate now or whatever. And you just, you just like, kind of flip a switch, and then you're meditating, you know, and so it was. So So now when I sit down to write, I'm just like, oh, okay, I can just sit down to write, I just start writing. I don't worry too much about like, there's no warm up, you know, like, I just, you know, I mean, of course, I'm thinking about the story of what I'm going to write. But the actual act of sitting down, it used to be that when I would sit down, I would have said have a pang of energy and then have to go clean my closet or go do something else. I'll go drive to the other side of town to buy something I didn't really want. I had a lot of OCD, like that kind of stuff, a lot of avoidance behavior. So I don't really have that now, I just sort of, you know, turn it on, and just right, and then and then and I've also been using something called freedom, which is an app. Yeah, make sure I can't I can't keep going over and checking my email or something like that. So I I've been a little more structured about my writing time, and I think that structure has come It's something I'm extrapolating from the skills I've learned in TM, even though I don't find TM to be, you know, stringent or structured. I don't want to give anyone in the audience that opinion, but it's just a skill I learned there that I'm able to use in my writing.

Michael David Wilson 30:16

Yeah, yeah. And I'm familiar with the freedom members. Well, there's another similar one called self control is actually David moody, who introduced me to the freedom math many years ago.

Glen Mazzara 30:30

So So David moody, who wrote hater Yeah, exactly

Michael David Wilson 30:34

later in the autumn series. So yeah, he's been on the podcast a number of times.

Glen Mazzara 30:39

Yeah. So, so I adapted hater for Guillermo del Toro. So it was so it was ages ago. And I love that book, and 1.1 Antonio Bayana was a touch as a director, and then he dropped out. And then and that's how I met Guillermo. So I adapted Haider. And then, and I think I gamma did a pass on it. He made it even more violent than writing the draft. And then, and then he was at Universal. And he was trying to do the Lovecraft movie. And then remember, he wanted to do like $100 million, you know, Athens of madness, or whatever. And so and then when he left universal, that kind of got swept, swept away. So I'm a moody fan. And but unfortunately, that was one of the ones that got away.

Michael David Wilson 31:40

Yeah, yeah. No, I remember when it was optioned. And I hope that at some point, hater comes to the screen, because it's such a unique vision. Really? I mean, it was kind of like zombie adjacent. But yeah, I think,

Glen Mazzara 31:56

yeah, it was a rage virus.

Michael David Wilson 31:58

Yeah, it was. Yeah. Yeah. He got such a clean style of writing. Yeah, it was good. It was good. Do you have any plans? Or do you have any interest in returning to zombies? I mean, as we were talking about moody, and I'm thinking of autumn, I'm thinking of Brian Keene, the rising is, is that something that you kind of considered doing? Or? I mean, given that, you know, you did the Walking Dead, the most successful zombie TV show in the world? Perhaps? That is? Yeah,

Glen Mazzara 32:38

I have an idea. I have an idea for a, like a short story, a novella that said, in a zombie apocalypse, you know, and just so so I sort of want to write that story. And there were certain rules that we were following on Walking Dead, that I kept trying to, you know, challenge, you know, I want them to kind of push things a little bit in a certain way. Just just like, hey, what if we did this? What if we did that? And it was like, well, we can't do that, because, you know, the graphic novel has this or what have you. So that was that universe? I have? I still have some things that I wasn't able to do that I think I would do. But I you know, it's interesting talking to you, because I have some, some, I have some horror ideas that I have a lot of ownership about that I'm very particular about, right. I don't want to get into specifics, but I have some stuff that I really am interested in writing. I don't I worry about the TV development landscape right now. You know, it's it's really tough to get a show made, it's really tough to get through a show through development. There are a lot of parameters that feel like more and more restrictions coming from TV executives, you know, about what these conglomerates are looking for, and that sort of stuff. So I sort of am interested, and I've spoken to a number of the people who you know, you've had on the show, and you know, I do read a lot of the same hardware and a lot of the writers that you interview and that you enjoy as well. So, so I've been you know, I have an idea for a novel that I've outlined that I'm going to start you know, I'm planning to start that I have these other These are the stories that I have in my head. I have a lot of material and I think what I want to do is just go to, I would explore so if I was going to do zombies or I was going to do you know other harm elements, I would do them my way I would explore them in prose, I would either do short stories, or novellas or novel, I would do them in prose, not necessarily to develop back into TV or film, you know, because I, again, I sort of just want those stories to be out there, you know, in the mean, and so, so if I was going to do zombies, which I've thought about, I'd do it, I would probably just publish it and, you know, a magazine or a collection or whatever, and then just whatever happened happened, but I would do it that way.

Michael David Wilson 35:37

Yeah. So do you think moving forward, you might be doing more prose fiction then and get in more of a split between prose and TV work? I would

Glen Mazzara 35:49

like to, yeah, probably do a split. I mean, I, you know, I, you know, I'm enjoying a very, I'm really enjoying the show. I'm working on I guess, a beacon 23 Yeah, I have a couple of things that are in development. I do have, I can't give the name. But I do have a horror IP that's in development, I'm writing now and stuff. So you know, and I really love that, you know, and I love the people work that I'm working on. I'm fortunate I'm working with a lot of a lot of the projects I have now are with very good people. You know, I was just developing another thing that I'm trying to sell with this other writer that's based on a, a horror novel, so so, but I do feel that there's a bit of a bifurcation that the things that, you know, I, you know, I love weird fiction, you know, and I think a lot of my writing is weird. Okay. And I don't know if that's always right, for TV. And part of the issue, I find that what interests me and what I love going back to where we started this conversation, that a lot of the worlds that I love, okay, a lot of the things that are interesting to me, in my fantasy life, and what I want to write and what inspires me, comes from books, okay. I mean, obviously, I'm a big, you know, fan of cinema and TV and all of that. But, but the thing that, like, I like a world, you know, and the kind of world that you get that you live in when you're reading a novel, right? Okay. So, so I want to create those types of worlds TV is not, that's not the same as creating a novel world, you know, you have to have certain pay less per episode, you have to have a certain amount of pacing, you have to make sure you're using your characters or every but you can't have a lot of questions, you know, what I mean? You can't like drop a character so much, you know, because you might be paying an actor to stand around or whatever. So, you know, you can't be like, Oh, see, 100 episodes isn't made, it doesn't really work that way. So. So, I find that, that the kind of stuff that I'm reading now, you know, you know, John Langan or, you know, we're just, you know, you know, Alma katsu. I've read a lot of, you know, a victor Laval, you know, those kinds of writers, who I think are and many, many others, you know, tremendous writers. But the TV executives don't have time to read these books. You know, and I mean, they, they, you know, that, like, the stuff that's inspiring me, and that you're talking about, they're, they're not reading, you know, they, you know, they look at graphic novels, because the graphic novel plays as a storyboard, you know, I mean, they're not they're not, you know, reading you know, I mean, like, if I was to mention Oh, I'm reading House of Leaves to TV executives that would not know what I was talking about why that's an important book or what that has to do with anything you know, I'm saying so, so they they kind of go back to the same wells or they go back to what was a hit and box office last week or something like that. And and so they're just not they're just not you know, horror literature is not really something that I find many TV executives are well versed in you know, and it's probably just because there's so much out there they don't have time to you know, read it and read it in depth but whatever. So so that's what I'm a fan of, and and you know, I'm not sure if that stuff you know, and I don't want to, you know, say anything against any of those writers, that's wrong for me to imply that, but I'm just saying that it's, it's there has to be a step where you translate that stuff into TV. And I like that stuff where it is I like that stuff as stories and yeah, you know what I mean? And so, so it's, it's kind of tricky. It's kind of tricky. You know what I mean? And I don't know if I want to, I don't know, if I want to do the work where I develop a lot of that type of material that I love into TV. I'd rather it just stay wherever it is. And for me to add to it and write my own stories in that vein. Does that make sense? In my mind? Yeah.

Michael David Wilson 40:47

No, it does make sense. And I think, you know, we don't see that much weird fiction in TV. But when we do we see a little facet, so little elements of it. And I mean, the two TV shows that immediately spring to mind if I'm thinking about weird fiction, our True Detective, and then archive at one on unfortunately, on game 81, you know, didn't get a second season but Right.

Glen Mazzara 41:17

Yeah, exactly. Yeah, so yeah, so Exactly. Yeah, you could, you could see it's, it's, it's, it's a weird fiction has to be weird, but sometimes weird can be off putting to a larger audience, which is the point of, you know, TV. Yeah, I want to get hidden audiences possible, you know?

Michael David Wilson 41:43

Yeah, I mean, it, it feels like it lives easier to get kind of weird fiction in a film format, perhaps because it's not going on. For as long and particularly in terms of indie filmmaking, we're then seeing like these weird things. But yeah,

Glen Mazzara 42:03

yeah, if you did an 824 movie or something, that would be great. You know, I mean, but but, you know, are those films translatable into a long running series? Possibly, you know, possibly, it'll be it'll be interesting. It'll be interesting to see. But yeah, but as far as, you know, when you go in with a project, you know, a lot of a lot of the folks you're pitching to may not know, the the IP that you're trying to develop.

Michael David Wilson 42:37

Yeah. Yeah. And then in terms of when you were working on The Walking Dead, I know, before that, you've said that each episode you see as a part of a story rather than a complete story. And so I know, too, that you've said before, that sometimes people would say that they will criticize it and say it was slower than perhaps they wanted it to be. But you know, it's just Well, you haven't got to the end of the story, you've got to, you know, like a great novel. Let's see how this kind of marinates and this develops. But do you think that type of storytelling that you did so successfully, in The Walking Dead? Is that something that it's now kind of harder to do in 2023?

Glen Mazzara 43:29

Well, okay, that's very interesting. So So even with Walking Dead, even when it was slower, we've we, you know, I develop tricks, right? So for example, there's an episode I think it's called 18 miles out or something like that. It's, it's, it's in season two. And Rick and Shane, have this guy a captive, and they take them out to a crossroads. And they're going to deciding if they're going to execute him, because they don't want him, you know, should they release him? Or what if he goes back to his guys, and then those people know where the farm is, and stuff? So? So there's a very long opening sequence, a conversation, right? And I just knew, you know, it was a very, very long, you know, driving see clients, and it would play very nicely as the opening in an independent film. But I knew that would not play on TV, or wouldn't I just knew that the audience, particularly at that point, the audience was, you know, I think we had even shown a few episodes, the audience was given feedback that they were frustrated. So what do you do is you, you know, you open it with, you know, Shane running for his life from the zombies, you know, from the walkers, and he gets trapped in a bus and then you cut to the main titles, and then, you know, the audience knows that there's going to be zombies in the show. They know it's going to circle back around if you use that nonlinear teaser So, so what we had do our work, though, because you sort of had to, you know, you know, give the candy upfront, and then the audience could settle. And then you would, you would, you know, then they would go for the ride with you, you know, I wrote the when we did the season two finale, right, it was the season two finale where the, the walkers overrun the farm, okay, they overrun the farm, that opens with a very long action sequence, the first half of that show is basically just a zombie attack, normally, you would not do that you would, you would end the season with the big zombie attack, but you wouldn't move in it and then go to everybody's looking for everybody else. And now you have the character moments, but that that work, because I knew like give it to the audience, it works. You know, it's exciting. And then they'll and then people loved that episode, and they loved all the character stuff at the end, because they, they felt they got what they came for, and then they would go with you. And then they would enjoy the character stuff. I think some early episodes, when we were kind of cramming the, the, the character stuff too much too early and not paying off the audience's expectation people got frustrated. So that was an example of how we sort of learned how to stage that. So there's a project I'm working on, which was kind of it's, you know, based on an IP, and, and I wrote the outline for the pilot episode. And, and, you know, there's some, there's some really good, exciting horror moments in it, you know, and there's some action, and it's, it's a good piece, there was these quieter character moments. And, and people, you know, some of the feedback was, you know, is this enough story? Is this are these character moments too much of a slow burn? I was like, Well, you know, it's just an outline. I haven't read the script yet. But there was, there was just a concern, that if this project, you know, ended up on a stream, or where you have, you know, how many people are watching how many minutes and things are determined by an algorithm, that, that, you know, that audiences, I was told audiences are watching TV differently. I don't believe that's true, I believe we're measuring how TV, audiences are watching TV, but the audience wants a good story, you know, I'm saying, if it's boring, you're gonna say it's boring. And if it's over the top, they're gonna say it's over the top. So so the idea that we can sort of regulate every story, the same, you know, what I did on Walking Dead worked on Walking Dead at a particular time, I didn't watch Walking Dead after I left. So I don't know, if it changed its form, you usually sort of reinvent the show. Certainly every season, sometimes every episode in a way, but you know, you can, you can only have what works for the story at that time. But I do find that, that there's a concern that, that unless you create shows a certain way, the audience is not going to show up. And these shows are big investments. Now, you know, they take a lot of time, they're more expensive than ever. They take longer than ever, you know what I mean? So, so to invest that much time and money, you want to make sure it's going to hit, but really, what are the shows that hey, you know, yellow jackets, severance, these things, you know, seem to come out of nowhere, and they seem like real surprises when they hit, you know what I mean? They really kind of grab us. So, so and that's, those are the shows I kind of respond to, you know, the phone will see a show that I understand how it's made or what it's still in. I'm not surprised, and therefore, I don't have you know, there have been several shows that I've watched where I'm like, if I was going to make a show about this topic, I would make exactly the show. And it's a very well made show. But it's not surprising me. And that's that's kind of what I want in TV right now.

Michael David Wilson 49:30

Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, I wonder along similar lines, I mean, it can be easy to forget that before the walking dead I mean, zombies weren't really part of mainstream TV in the way that they were with an after they weren't no Walking Dead. So I mean, it. I guess it's just kind of amusing upon things and have having like hindsight, but what do you think? Is that you attribute to the Walking Dead success? I mean, how did you go from you know, taking this relatively obscure sub genre to it becoming the number one show? Well, it's

Glen Mazzara 50:15

interesting you say that so let's talk about that because you know before the work that you know, the only horror is really written for pay was hater. Okay, the David moody novel. Yeah. And that was wasn't made. So but I was doing a lot of cop shows I was mostly known as a copywriter. Okay, so I had met Frank Darabont Frank Darabont had directed an episode of The Shield. I met him when he was doing that, obviously, I was a fan of his work. And then he loved he had such a great experience on the shield that he took most of our crew to Georgia to shoot the mist. So the mist was really shot with the shield's crew. Okay, which is kind of fun. So, so So I was asked to be on Walking Dead. And I'll get the your answers. I was asked to be on Walking Dead Season One, I was running another show, I was running a show for Jada Smith called Hawthorn like a hospital show. You know, it's kind of very, so be show but it was fine. So I was doing that. And, but I wrote a freelance for season one, I wrote episode five of their out of six, I wrote Episode Five called wildfire. And Frank like that. And so when I was at his house, and he was giving me notes on on the script, you know, he was asking me, you know, show running questions, because it's difficult to learn how to run a show, and he had been a director, but you know, you only do in two hours now you've got multiple hours. So So I was, you know, answering questions. And then he called me a couple weeks later and asked if I would be his number two, on season two, right. So so I had already run two shows a creator show called Crash based on the movie. And a lot of people told me that was a step backwards to go and be a number two, I was already a showrunner so it wasn't that a step backwards. But I like Frank very much. I think he's a world class filmmaker. And, and I love zombie movies. You know what I mean? I love zombie movies. And so I made a list of the zombie movies. And at that time, there were really only about 19 or 20 zombie movies that you had to know. Okay, like, you know, the that was really what I thought their genre was, I remember putting together a list. And so there were only about 20 novels or 2020 movies that I felt. This is kind of the core curriculum, let's say. So a lot of zombie movies have very similar type of tropes. You know, the outbreak, the first attack the man, you know what I mean? They, they you trip over a lot of the same thing. So so when you're, you're on doing a TV show, you know, you can come up with well, what have I seen a lot and what have I not seen with a zombie? So I'll give you an example. There's an there's an episode where the governor no Ruckers character is questioning Glen. Glen is tied to a chair. And he's like, tell us, you know where your camp is. So how many times have you seen an interrogation where the bad guy has the good guy tied to a chair and he's punching him and the guy leans over? Movie, never seen it with a zombie? And I just remember saying, like, why is he hitting him? I would just go get a zombie and say, Tell me what's going on. I'm gonna release this thing. You know what I'm saying? Yeah. And so we wrote that. So it was a very compelling scene. And we were able to kind of recreate it. So So I saw a way to do that show. So that was kind of exciting. But one of the things that I think we did on that show, which comes from Darabont is since Darabont is such a great filmmaker, and he really understands horror, you create the sequences where the audience is in that scene, okay. And a lot of a lot of TV is progresses, a lot of TV progresses with a cut, you know, like you kind of advance the plot by cutting from scene to scene. But but in a good horror movie. Okay, in a good horror movie, you have the sequence, you know, someone's tried, you know, trap, and there's a monster come in for them in the room. How does it play out? So it becomes like a director's medium. Right? Not so much about the writer plot, it becomes about how are we going to stage this and you have to try to get that on the page. So so the Walking Dead The way I approached it was I wanted Darabont cinematic. vision on TV every week, we still had to kind of pace it up and have episodic payoffs. There were certain things that, again, the audience was getting impatient if they weren't getting certain TV payoffs. But there was a shift in my writing and my thinking that, Oh, we could do TV really like cinema, you know. And I mean, really, because it's hard, because you want to be trapped in that room, you know. And so, I think the audience went along for that, you know, when when we're on seasons, one, two, and three. And again, I'm not familiar with walking dead after I left, but people were really excited. They're like, Oh, my God, this is too intense. It felt intense. It felt like you were in that world. You know what I mean? It felt authentic. It didn't have a complicated mythology. It didn't we didn't have it was just literally people standing around trying to survive, it was very simple. It was very, very simple. We need to get there, you know, and there's a zombie in the way or whatever it was. And so So I think it was the simplicity of the storytelling, very strong cast very strong directors, we worked very closely with many directors, you know, Ernest Dickerson was sort of my go to guy on a lot of them. And, and, and, and so I think it was that the audience just there was an intensity that they hadn't seen on TV before. You know what I mean, I remember, like, you know, watching Twitter live at the time, and people just gone, you know, Glenn Azera, what are you doing? This is too intense. I, my heart can't take this. It was fun. It was exciting to have that kind of interaction. But that was all kind of bring in a horror experience to TV that I don't think had been there on that level, you know, what I'm saying? I think it had been there in the director type sequence, if that makes sense. You know, and we gave a lot of thought to it. We gave a lot of thought to this in the writers room. We really worked hard, you know what I mean? So that if, and when you think when you think about Walking Dead At those times, you think about you You probably think of, you know, sequences or very long scenes, things you would get away with on a movie, but you will probably do on TV, you know, so I had enough experience in TV that I was like, Oh, I can, I can make it look like TV. But to me, it really was a horrible movie.

Michael David Wilson 57:34

Yeah, yeah. Thank you so much for listening to Glenn Massara on This Is Horror. Join us again next time for the second and final part of the episode. But if you would like to get that and every other episode ahead of the crowd, do become our Patreon, a patreon.com. Forward slash, This Is Horror. Not only do you get early bird access to each and every episode, but you can submit questions to our guests. But you can get exclusive podcasts, including story unboxed a horror podcast on the craft of writing, and the latest episode of that that we will be releasing imminently. we unboxed something in the dark, and we do so alongside special guest gamma files. So the format for story unboxed is a little different now as we will be having a special guest every episode going forward. So if that sounds fun to you, if you would like to hear us dissect and analyze stories and movies, we've accomplished right as in the genre, do consider becoming a patron patreon.com forward slash This Is Horror. Okay, before I wrap up, it's time for an advert break.

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Michael David Wilson 59:57

As always, I would like to end We have a quote. And this is from Haruki Murakami. Sometimes while I'm writing I feel I'm the designer of a video game. And at the same time a player. I made up the program, and now I'm in the middle of it. The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. It's a kind of detachment, a feeling of a split. I'll see you in the next episode for the second part and a conversation with Glen Mazzara. But until then, take care yourselves be good to one another. Read horror. Keep on writing and have a great, great day.

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