Posted: February 23, 2012
A couple of days ago I got a phone call from The Walking Dead’s showrunner Glen Mazzara for an interview and he’s a very down to earth guy that seems to be very happy with his work on the series. And why shouldn’t he, he is doing a great job.
Lilja: The Walking Dead is a huge success in both the US and the rest of the world and in many countries the show airs very close to the US dates.
Glen Mazzara: Yes, FOX International has done a great job of making sure the show’s available around the world as soon as possible after it’s aired in the US. And what’s interesting is that FOX international signed on to distribute the show before it was ever written. They just went of the basis of the concept and Robert Kirkman’s long running graphical novel. So they took a chance. They had no idea it would be such a success and they’ve really done a great job in promoting us.
Lilja: Yeah, and in the US as well the promotion has been fantastic.
Glen Mazzara: Yeah, we’re very happy. We just had big ratings again for the second week in a row so we’re happy. And we have so many diehard fans, we’re glad people are enjoying the show as much as we enjoy making it.
Lilja: Some fans has complained that there are too much drama and to little Zombies in season 2.
Glen Mazzara: Did you see the latest episode, Triggerfinger?
Lilja: Yes, I did.
Glen Mazzara: Okay. Nobody’s saying that any more. If you look online today no one is saying that. In fact someone’s saying “Oh, now there’s problem with the drama and the solution is to just ad Zombies”, so if we don’t have Zombies people get upset and if we do ad Zombies people get upset. But I feel it’s a long arced out story taking the place over a season and by the end of the season both fans who loves good drama and Zombies will be pleased.
Lilja: I think it was a good move to let the drama take its place over the first half of the season and letting the audience getting to know the character and their relations to each other a bit more.
Glen Mazzara: I know that that seemed slow for some fans and since I became showrunner I think I have speed up the storytelling but those character moments are still important. If you look at episode 8 Nebraska that is very much a character piece with only two Zombies in that episode and now we come back in episode 9 Triggerfinger and we open with Zombies, we have Zombies in two different storylines and there are still a lot of character work in that piece. I think our show is big enough to handle both.
Lilja: Yeah, I agree.
Glen Mazzara: Thank you.
Lilja: How did you get involved with The Walking Dead?
Glen Mazzara: I wrote a freelance episode for the first season, episode 5 Wildfire and then going into the second season I was asked to be what we call the number two, I was asked to be Frank Darabont’s executive producer, in charge over the writers in the writersroom. So I did that and then when Frank left I was made the showrunner.
Lilja: What exactly is it that a showrunner do?
Glen Mazzara: As showrunner I’m the expectative producer in charge of all creative decisions and also in charge of the production so I’m like the CEO and I provide the vision for the show, I have final say on all the scripts, I edit the show, I approve the music, I work with the actors. I’m in charge of the entire outfit.
Lilja: Pretty big responsibility?
Glen Mazzara: It’s fun. I’m having a great time. I really love it, I really love the show, I love the material, I love Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel. It’s fantastic and there are a lot of places to go. I love our cast and crew. I think our cast is really doing a fantastic job bringing these characters to life and making people care about them. So I’m having a great time and I consider myself very lucky that after working on other TV shows for a number of years that I’m on such a great show. I really feel lucky about it.
Lilja: There were a lot of publicity and speculation when Frank Darabont left the show. Did you feel that all that hurt the show? Did it create a difficult work situation for you who stepped in as his replacement?
Glen Mazzara: Frank did have big shoes to fill and I have talked a lot about the Frank thing so I’d much rather talk about the show but yes, I felt the pressure but I think the cast, crew, writers and all the producers came together with AMC and we have hit our stride now and are making a show we all care about deeply.
Lilja: And is it correct that you stepped in as showrunner from episode 8 this season?
Glen Mazzara: No, I stepped in earlier but episode 8 was the first script that was written without Frank. There were other scripts in various stages but that was the first one written completely after Frank left.
Lilja: I have read the comics and the TV series follows the comic pretty well even if some characters differs but is that what you want to do? Follow the comic? Or do you want to stay true to the spirit of the comic but take off on a different road?
Glen Mazzara: I would like to push the show a little closer to the comics. I think there are characters and stories in the comic that I would like to get to sooner than later. We do take the comics as inspiration and it’s a great source material but my goal is to take the TV series a little closer to the comic.
Lilja: There are some characters in the TV show that isn’t in the comic and vice versa. Is it hard when you have a scene in the comic that involves a character that isn’t in the TV series? Do you try to replace him or her with a character like say Daryl that isn’t in the comic?
Glen Mazzara: No, no, no, Daryl has his own stories and they are two different universes, two different worlds and we don’t feel that we need to take storylines from the comics and try to force them into our world. We just do what feels organic and right and honest within our world.
Lilja: And I guess Robert Kirkman has pretty big input in all this?
Glen Mazzara: Off course. Robert is an executive producer on the show, he’s a writer, his office is right next to mine, we’re in the writers room together every day and we work out the stories with the other writers and he has an enormous input and I can’t imagine doing the show without him. He is so valuable and has really become a good friend so… and he’s been very supportive about us deviating from the comic when necessary and he’s vital to the success of The Walking Dead TV show.
Lilja: Do you feel like it’s his chance to give his characters a second chance? Like with Shane who isn’t in the story as long in the comic as in the TV series?
Glen Mazzara: I think so yeah. Robert has said he’s interested in doing different things with the characters than was done in the comic and that it doesn’t have to be an exact adaptation of the comic and that doing it different keeps it interesting to him.
Lilja: You mentioned the writersroom. How does that work?
Glen Mazzara: We have seven writers including Robert and me and we sit around in the writersroom for days, weeks and sometimes months and come up with ideas and we challenge each other and ask questions and the best ideas win. We really work together and then people go off and write their scripts. Then we all give notes on the scripts. It’s a traditional American style writersroom. It’s very common that we have writersroom. I think it’s a bit different than how it’s done in Sweden from what I understand but here we have a staff or writers working on every episode together. Not writing it together but following the process together.
Lilja: Are the writers the same for season 1, 2 and now 3?
Glen Mazzara: No, the writers for season 1 where different but the once for season 2 and 3 are the same, and we’ve added two new writers because season 3 will be 16 episodes.
Lilja: Do you find it hard to map out an episode when there are so many people wanting to contribute with their input?
Glen Mazzara: No but as the showrunner I have the final say. So I listen to a lot of ideas and then I decide what I think is best for the show. I’m the final judge of what we end up doing but all the writers have input and my goal is to not just tell the writers what we’re doing but if I can get all these different viewpoints to buy into a story we all agree is the best story to tell then that’s when the writersroom is working at its best.
Lilja: How do you manage to keep track of every characters backstory?
Glen Mazzara: We keep track of that. We have assistants and the writers pay attention and the actors all really own their character. If we ever do something that contradicts something a character did earlier the actor lets us know. We also have terrific producers, Gale Ann Hurd, Greg Nicotero, Denice Huth and David Alperg. These people are also fully aware of all the Walking Dead lore and they will also point out inconsistency. It really hasn’t been a problem.
Lilja: The two character from the comic that I imagine the fans are most looking forward to seeing is The Governor and Michonne. Can you reveal anything about their faith in the TV series?
Glen Mazzara: I’ll just say that we’re all dying to write about those characters and I can’t imagine making The Walking Dead and not having those characters. So, those characters will eventually, at some point, be in the show. I can’t say when though. Don’t want to give away too much…
Lilja: One thing I really like about the show, as well as the comic, is that no one is safe. Often when you follow a series you know that these few main character won’t die but with The Walking Dead it feels like, maybe not Rick, but anyone could actually die.
Glen Mazzara: What says Rick’s safe? No one’s safe.
Lilja: Yeah that’s what I mean. Like with Sofia becoming a Zombie which was a great move. Was this something you planed from the start? I know it’s a lot like that in the comic but it’s different with TV…
Glen Mazzara: We figured that out when we were in the writersroom. By the beginning of season 2 we figured out that Sofia goes missing, and then we figured out that Carl gets shoot while their looking for Sofia. Then we figured out that brings them to Hershel's farm and then we had to figure out where is Sofia? So there were a lot of different ideas. Maybe they never find Sofia, maybe they do find Sofia. And then we together worked out that maybe she was in the barn. It took us a few days to come to that conclusion but that is how it works in the writersroom. We all build of someone’s previous idea and once that fell into place we know we had a story to tell.
Lilja: I think it was a brilliant idea to let her become a Zombie. I think a lot of viewers were secretly hoping for that to happen but didn’t really dare to hope it would.
Glen Mazzara: Well, I think it played well, it was powerful because they massacre Hershel's family and then they’re confronted with the fact that one of their own is in there. So what was originally a pretty violent and horrific scene turns into a very heartbreaking one. And it also pushed Rick to the forefront as a leader because he was the only one with the fortitude to step forward and put poor Sofia down.
Lilja: And now the series has been green lighted for a third season?
Glen Mazzara: Correct. 16 episodes. That is what me and the writers are working on now.
Lilja: Was it decided that you were doing a third season before the shooting of season 2 ended?
Glen Mazzara: Yes.
Lilja: Did the fact that you know there would be a season 3 affect the way you planed season 2’s ending?
Glen Mazzara: No, it doesn’t. You just write the best story you can that season and hope that if you do it well you’ll be picked up for a new season. And this show has such a strong fan base that I hope we’ll be around for at least 100 episodes. So we’re just focusing on doing each episode as good as possible.
Lilja: And you’re writing the scripts for season 3 now?
Glen Mazzara: Yes, we’re starting to.
Lilja: And when are you planning to start shooting?
Glen Mazzara: I think in May.
Lilja: And then it’ll air in the fall as previous seasons?
Glen Mazzara: Probably.
Lilja: And the seasons are getting longer and longer. Are you hoping to reach like 24 episodes per season like many other series?
Glen Mazzara: No, I like 16. I think 16 is a good number. It’s very difficult for us to shoot the show. We have so many Zombies and we shoot around Atlanta which gets very hot in the summer, very cold in the winter and a lot of rain so it’s a very physical shoot and we’re always outside. So it’s demanding on the cast and crew and I think to do more than 16 would be to push things a little bit.
Lilja: But 16 is quite an unusual number of episodes per season right? Isn’t 12 or 24 the most common?
Glen Mazzara: Yeah, and some do 13 or 10 but it’s eventually AMC’s decision. I’m just lucky enough to work on the show.
Lilja: OK, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me and good luck with the rest of season 2 and the upcoming season 3.