Meet Tisch Mentor Glen Mazzara

Written by Alyssa DiMari, BFA, Dramatic Writing, 2013

In 2014, as a way to celebrate the generosity and commitment of all of the mentors in the program, Tisch created the Mentor Of The Year award, presented to the mentor who has been especially giving of their time. Tisch was honored to recognize GLEN MAZZARA as the inaugural recipient of this award. 

Most recently writer-producer Mazzara's DAMIEN was ordered straight to series at Lifetime and was quickly moved to A&E with additional episodes ordered. This marked the writer-producer's first sale under his overall deal with Fox Television Studios. Mazzara’s body of work includes AMC's record-breaking series, THE WALKING DEAD, Golden Globe®-winning THE SHIELD, FX's groundbreaking police drama; TNT's medical drama HAWTHORNE; as well as NBC's LIFE. He created the series, CRASH, the first scripted drama on the pay-cable network STARZ. Mazzara enjoys mentoring young writers, and in addition to being active member of the Tisch Mentor Program, he is a frequent speaker at the Writers Guild of America, West, the Writers Guild Foundation, CBS’s Diversity Program, the WGA Showrunner Training Program, the WGA Writers Access Project, Fox’s Writers Intensive Program, and NBC’s Writers on the Verge, to name a few.

As a Dramatic Writing alum, aspiring TV writer, and one of Glen’s mentees, I sat down with Glen to talk about this award and what mentoring means to him.

Glen Mazzara
Glen Mazzara

AD: Congratulations on being Tisch’s Mentor Of The Year! How does it feel to be the first person recognized with this award?

GM: It’s incredibly exciting and it’s a great honor. I’ve never received an individual award so I’m really flattered that Tisch was so thoughtful.

AD: Can you talk a little bit about what you’re working on now?

GM:  I’m really excited about my new series, DAMIEN. It’s a sequel to Richard Donner’s classic horror film, THE OMEN. The young boy from that film, Damien, is now 30 and has to face the fact that he’s the Antichrist. We shot ten episodes last year with an incredible cast: Bradley James, Barbara Hershey, Scott Wilson, and so many others. It was a wonderful experience, the best of my career. The writers, directors, every member of the crew from the assistants to the camera guys to the sound mixers — they were tremendous. I loved working with them all. It’s such a gift to be able to conceive a show then bring in talented people to bring it to life. There’s so much I want to say about the show but I think I’ll let the work speak for itself. People can check it out when it airs on A&E in March 2016. 

AD: In addition to all of the projects you’re working on, you still make time to meet with people in all stages of their careers, whether as a guest speaker at events, or one-on-one. Why do you think mentoring is so important?

GM: I enjoy meeting with writers of all different levels, answering questions, and talking through what they could do to improve their position when they’re trying to get hired, and just trying to approach their career. I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been able to have, in Hollywood what is considered, a long career and I’ve certainly made a large number of mistakes. I have an affinity for other writers, I love talking to other writers, I love talking about the craft of writing, and if I can offer some advice, that people can avoid making the mistakes that I’ve made, or they can learn from my experiences, I just feel that that’s very valuable – I get a lot out of it, people seem to want that help, and it’s just been a nice way to spend my time.

AD: Has one of your mentor relationships ever translated into a friendship or working relationship?

GM: I’ve been lucky enough to develop friendships with a lot of the people that I’ve met with, and in particular there’s one man, Sang Kyu Kim, who I met through the CBS Diversity Program, and he’s just a brilliant writer and he’s someone that I’ve hired on three different shows. He’s been a fantastic colleague and is just really a true artist. I really value his friendship – and that’s someone that I just came in and spoke to a class, a group of writers, and I ended up reading his script and it just blew me away and then I just read more and more material by him. He’s just really a great writer and it’s been a real privilege to work with him. Hopefully one day he’ll hire me!

AD: Is there someone in the industry now that you talk to when you need advice with your own work?

GM: A lot of it is about finding perspective, like breaking a story, there’s not one definitive answer, it’s constantly a moving target. I’ll discuss it with my friend Ryan Coleman, we’re very close, I discuss with other writers that I work with. I’ve been lucky that I have three representatives, Rob Kenneally, Joe Cohen and Phil Klein, and I consider these the Three Wise Men. Rob and Joe are my agents at CAA and Phil is my lawyer, and they’ve been with me for almost my entire career and they really give me a calm, clear-headed perspective, so I like to talk things through with them just because they always see things differently than I do.

AD: Was there someone who guided you early on in your career or is that why you want to help others?

GM: I’ve been fortunate, John Wirth was an Executive Producer on Nash Bridges when I started and he’s been a great friend and mentor throughout the years. Jeff Melvoin [Executive Producer of ARMY WIVES] is somebody else that I’ve called when I’ve gotten into some sticky situations. And Shawn Ryan [Creator/ Showrunner of THE SHIELD] has been an incredible friend throughout my entire career. I find that Shawn understands me. He was a low level writer when I first started and he’s always sort of taken me under his wing and I really look at him as like a big brother.

AD: If you could go back and do one thing in your career differently, what would it have been?

GM: This is a tough question. There were two instances in my career where I got fearful and I was afraid – having an artistic career can be so anxiety producing, and it can become overwhelming and nerve-wracking. And there were two times when I needed some time to make some decisions and I was getting a lot of pressure from other people, and I got fearful. And I made decisions in which I didn’t bet on myself, I let other people get inside my head and I went against my instincts, and against what I felt was the best thing to do even though that was going to be more difficult.  If I could go back and change anything, there’s probably two days, two events, where I would make more of a stand and trust myself, but we learn from those mistakes and sometimes when I’m talking to students or young writers I’ll talk about those mistakes and let them know that it’s okay to trust yourself.

AD: Speaking of giving advice and making mistakes, as the Mentor Of The Year, do you have any wise words for people in the early stages of their creative careers?

GM: Advice that I always give is that, when people are trying to break in they try to make their material as broad as possible so that they appeal to everyone across the board because you never know where the job is coming from. The problem is, everyone else is doing the same and you end up watering down your voice instead of developing a strong voice with a particular point of view. So to get a job you need to have a strong voice, but by developing a strong voice, you’re taking yourself out of consideration for most jobs. So it’s sort of a catch-22 and again, I feel the best thing to do is to bet on yourself, develop a strong voice, and when you do land a job it will be a perfect match for you and you’ll be in the best position to succeed. 

I’d also say that a lot of time when I sit with people, with other writers, most of what those writers are asking for, is permission to be themselves. The number one question that people ask me is “Can I do this? Can I write a script this way? Can I write this subject? Can I write a character that does this?” because they get a lot of other advice from their friends or agents or managers or other students who are telling them I don’t think you should do that. Writers are constantly being told no. So when I sit with writers, I say, ya know, try it, take a chance. Bet on yourself, take a risk, and if it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work so you try something else. We need to be free to fail, to learn, which is scary when you’re working on something you love. Being an artist can be a daunting, lonely experience. We need to support each other, to share our experiences, to tell each other that it’s going to be okay. 

To find out more about how you can become a mentor, click here.