LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 21: Craig Mazin speaks onstage during the Writers Guild Foundation’s Sublime Primetime at Writer’s Guild Theater on August 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)
  • Interviews

HFPA in Conversation: Craig Mazin is a Puzzle Solver

Chernobyl creator and showrunner Craig Mazin became a screenwriter by accident. “I didn’t think of myself as a writer because I came from a very middle-class background.  My parents were public high school teachers.  So the understanding was that you go to college and you get a professional job and you do the professional job.  I was premed, I was going to go to medical school and I just at some point came to the realization that I didn’t want to go to medical school,” he tells HFPA journalist Lena Basse.

He moved from the East Coast to Los Angeles. “I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t have any money and I was looking for a safe job.  But it turned out that the skill that I had was being able to put sentences together and then being able to write things for people to say that sounded like things people would say.  I started actually in advertising, in promotion, which taught me the value of concision.  You could have a wonderful idea, you have 30 seconds, not just to get your idea across, to introduce it, to let it breathe and then to conclude it.”

He got a job from Disney. “I had a writing partner back then.  We came up with an idea for a script and they were, “yeah, we’ll make that”. I don’t know if it happens that way anymore but in 1995 it did.

Later he wrote movies like Scary Movie 3 and 4, Superhero Movie, The Hangover Part II and III and The Huntsman: Winter’s War. “I think that if there’s one aspect of my personality that is most closely connected to my need to do this for a living, it’s that I love solving puzzles.  I’m obsessed with puzzles, I’m a big puzzling guy, I’m a big solver.  And narrative is the most exciting puzzle to me because you have all these pieces that need to fit together.  You have character, you have story, you have plot, you have emotion, you have conflict and resolution and reversals, all these wonderful things and there’s a beautiful way to assemble them.  But it’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle, but you don’t have the box so you don’t know what the picture is.”

On his podcast, Scriptnotes, which he co-hosts with John August, he likes to talk about the craft. “But I think maybe my favorite episodes are the ones where we talk about psychological issues as they relate to writers because writing is psychologically difficult.  It can be damaging at times.  Also I think people that want to be writers or have a facility for writing, their minds are already organized in such a way where they’re also likely to have anxiety or depression or a lot of other things.”

Listen to the podcast and hear how he got involved in podcasting; whether he reads other people’s scripts; what was his first script that got picked up; how writing sequels is different from writing an original story; what Chernobyl means to him; why he got interested in Chernobyl and how he learned about the disaster; how he felt when he went to the disaster area; what he thinks about the rising number of tourists that are going to Pripyat; what Stellan Skarsgård asked Mazin to do; why he chose to do a five-episode limited series; what scene made him heartbroken; where his ancestors came from and what the family history means to him; what is his take on the Russian TV show about Chernobyl; how he balances his funny and analytical sides; what makes him laugh and how Chernobyl’s success makes him feel.