Glen Mazzara, who earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in American and British literature from the College of Arts and Science and the Graduate School of Arts and Science respectively, served as an honored speaker at the Tisch Salute last month. Recently the showrunner for the AMC series “The Walking Dead”, Mazzarra is currently working on a film prequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic, “The Shining.” Mazzara sat down with WSN for an interview before delivering his speech to the Tisch graduates.
Originally from Queens, Mazzara saw NYU as the only fit for him when applying for colleges.
“My father had put together this big list of schools that he really wanted me to apply to, and it was all the Ivies,” Mazzara said. “And I only wanted to go to NYU. I wanted to live in the city, I felt like it was the right match for me. I was a 17-year-old punk, I was an angry young man, I didn’t want to listen to my father. So I didn’t apply to any of the schools on his list. I only applied to NYU and got in, so I put all my eggs in one basket.”
While at NYU, Mazzara wrote for WSN, and he jokingly admitted that he reported several “hard-hitting exposés on the new curfew for Washington Square Park.” He began writing plays, one of which was based on his family and later workshopped at Brown University. He also worked at NYU Langone Medical Center, where an off-hand comment from a colleague steered him toward a career in television.
“I started writing plays and screenplays, and I was working at NYU Medical Center, managing their emergency room, and someone pointed out that that was a perfect training ground for television production. So I took my love of literature, my love of writing and the managing skills that I had learned at the hospital and decided to pursue a career in TV writing.”
Mazzara explained that he decided to pursue television instead of other mediums for the benefit of having the time to tell quality stories.
“I really think television is the format of our age,” he said. “It’s really about being able to tell stories that affect people on an emotional level, and I think you explore different layers when you have 65 to 100 hours to tell your story as opposed to two hours. You can really work in a lot more nuance and really delve into the characters’ humanity.”
As for which projects attract him, Mazzara discussed how gritty pieces with a core ensemble are his stories of choice.
“I don’t really write a lot of twisty thrillers or a lot of stuff with computers or technology. I like to do bare bones, as realistic as possible.”
He warned that passion and talent are not enough to break into an industry as competitive as Hollywood, especially with so many people “jockeying for the same-level jobs.” He advised creating a portfolio of writing samples that reflect a writer’s individual voice as well as helping the showrunner achieve his vision.
“A lot of [writers] look at it as, ‘What is this job doing for me?’ and they forget to be in service to other people. And I really think that’s where the opportunity is.”
The theme of artists supporting other artists continues to be one of Mazzara’s most important philosophies.
“There’s a greater community and, although it’s competitive, it’s not necessarily dog-eat-dog … Don’t change who you are because you think that business requires it.”
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