Craig Mazin Talks About His Hollywood Origins, Adapting Video Games For TV & Subverting Expectations [Bingeworthy Podcast]

Jan 30, 2023

In today’s episode of Bingeworthy, our TV and streaming podcast host Mike DeAngelo explores the post-apocalyptic landscapes of HBO’s latest prestige hit, “The Last of Us.” Adapted from the popular video game series and created by Craig Mazin (“Chernobyl”)and Neil Druckmann (“The Last of Us” video game series), the show follows Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal), a hardened survivor of a fungal pandemic apocalypse, who is charged with keeping a 14-year-old girl (Bella Ramsey) alive, as she may be humanity’s last hope of survival. The show also stars Gabriel Luna, Anna Torv, John Hannah, Nick Offerman, Melanie Lynskey, and more.
READ MORE: ‘The Last Of Us’ Review: Pedro Pascal Shines In A Heartbreaking Tale Of Post-Apocalyptic Survival & Protecting Those You Love
Joining Bingeworthy to discuss the show is Emmy-winning co-creator, showrunner, and producer Craig Mazin. During the chat, Mazin shared how he succeeded in pitching his idea to the video game creator, Neil Druckmann, and getting the story to the screen after so many had failed.
“Well, selling Neil [Druckmann] was easy because I didn’t really sell as much as I just said in my own way, ‘Look, you’ve been doing it wrong.’ Because Neil had been doing it himself, and he had been trying to make it into a movie,” Mazin said. “No one could make a good movie out of ‘The Last of Us’ because the joy of it and the beauty of it is in the journey. And the journey is long. And the changes are subtle. It is a process that you fall in love with, not an outcome and not a plot. If you have two hours to tell this story, you are just going to be soaking in plot.”
“And that is not the strong suit of ‘The Last of Us,’” he continued. “It’s not to say that it’s a bad plot, but the joy of ‘The Last of Us’ and what makes it unique is the relationship between Joel and Ellie and how it evolves. And so I said, this is a TV show, and it’s an HBO show – you shouldn’t do it anywhere else. And it should be treated like what it is, which is a masterpiece. And it should be made for the best streaming platform there is, the best network there is. And I laid out why. And he, in his very Neil way, was very quiet and listened. And then, at the end of this long lunch, he said, okay, let’s do it.”
From there, the show has been nothing but a runaway success for all involved, with the premiere being HBO’s second biggest in twelve years. Also, the first to second-week viewership is the biggest jump in HBO’s history. Mazin and the company seem to have cracked the code of adapting beloved video game properties to the television screen. What’s the key to that success? Well, unsurprisingly, love.
“You have to come at it from love,” Mazin said. “And if you do, then the changes you make come from love; they come from an understanding that you must change as part of the adaptation process because it’s going to be a different experience. You’re going from interactive to passive; things will change, but you also have opportunities that you don’t get in the game. For instance, the ability to change perspective wildly whenever you want. That is a heavy responsibility, and you have to treat it well. So, everything that we did, ultimately, we did to make things as good as they could be on television.”
One of the biggest changes came in this weekend’s Episode 3, entitled “Long, Long Time,” which saw the appearance of fan-favorite characters Bill and Frank, played by Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett, respectively. During the chat, Mazin explained why he needed to change their story so drastically.
“I just thought like, well, let’s see. We take away that gameplay aspect. We just had two episodes that are pretty intense. I felt like we could take a breath for a moment; we could explore actually how [Bill] came to have this town rigged up the way it is in the game,” Mazin said. “And then go a little further into the story of Bill and Frank. And, then, it became this very other thing with a very different ending. But the story, to me, is the kind of emotional codex for the whole series. It’s about two different ways of loving, and it’s about the people that want to make the world around them better and more beautiful and the people who take care of you and nurture you. And then on the other side, there are the people that protect you and defend you, and both kinds of love are necessary, but if they don’t balance each other, you end up with a lot of dead artists or a lot of very violent protectors. That is the dichotomy that we will see play out over and over as we go through the series.”
Of course, now that the show is a hit, the big question has been how many seasons will it go on. In previous interviews, Mazin has said that he doesn’t want to adapt beyond the second game but that needed some clarification, which he gladly provided.
“We pretty much cover the first game in this first season. The remaining material is quite a bit more involved and rather extensive in comparison to the first game. There’s really no way to tell the story of the second game in one season,” Mazin said. “And when you look at how we adapted ‘The Last of Us’ in this season, you can already see where it’s not just the story that’s there; sometimes it’s these other stories we want to tell. We really want the freedom to do it right. The one thing I insist on is never boring people and never putting out filler episodes. They’ve got to stand on their own and be compelling – always! But I think that, as we continue, the rest of it can’t be told in just one season. That said, however long it takes to tell that story, that’s exactly as long as we will take and no more. This is not something that goes on forever. It has an end, and we write toward an end.”
The first three episodes of “The Last of Us” are streaming on HBO Max, with new episodes premiering each Sunday on HBO and HBO Max. You can listen to the full interview with Craig Mazin below:
Bingeworthy is part of The Playlist Podcast Network, which includes The Playlist Podcast, Deep Focus, The Fourth Wall, The Discourse & more. We can be heard on Apple Podcasts, AnchorFM, Soundcloud, Stitcher, Spotify, and most places where podcasts are found. You can stream the podcast via the embed within the article or click on the lead image at the top page. Be sure to subscribe and drop us a comment or a rating, as we greatly appreciate it. Thank you for listening.

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