‘The Last of Us’ Showrunner Says Crews Are ‘Struggling to Shoulder the Burden’ of Hollywood Strikes

As the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes continue, “The Last of Us” showrunner Craig Mazin is concerned about the impact the labor dispute is having on Hollywood’s below-the-line crew members.

“I know that when I talk to them, they are behind us. I think labor, in general, is pretty united here,” he told TheWrap in an interview conducted according to WGA guidelines and facilitated through his personal publicist. “But I also know that crews are struggling to shoulder this burden that the companies have put on our industry. They don’t blame us for it. I think they know exactly why we’re doing it, what we’re doing and how necessary it is, but they are suffering too.”

Mazin said he is “very committed to trying to keep as many people employed as possible.”

“Obviously, writers and actors can’t be. But I’m concerned about crew people, we all are. And to the extent that we can keep crew people working, I would love to do that,” he added.

The HBO drama series’ upcoming second season was still in the early planning stages when the strikes started.

“Everything is pretty much on hold. Prior to the strike, we had gone through and sort of broken a story for the season, which contemplates more than just a Season 2,” Mazin said. “I did write the first episode and was able to get that in before the strike, which is good. It kind of gives something for some of our team to work on.”

He declined to say how long the strike would need to go on before the show gets delayed, but acknowledged that it’s in an “interesting spot” with filming due to the story’s reliance on weather.

“Because of the way we have to work with weather where we need it and then we don’t need it, we weren’t intending to start shooting right away anyway. So currently we’re actually not yet at a place where we would need to push things, but we’re getting pretty close. Day by day, we get closer and closer,” he said.

“Obviously, our producer has been working up multiple schedules. As you can imagine, with each successive extension of the length of the strike, our start date gets pushed back further and further. And that means the show comes out later and later and there’s nothing we can do about it except just look to the people who I believe have created this situation, which is the companies. They know exactly what they need to do to make this stop. They’re gonna have to do it sooner or later. I don’t know why they don’t do it sooner. It would be helpful.”

As Mazin looks ahead to Season 2, he noted that there are a “billion” lessons learned from Season 1.

“I think making every show is different, every movie is different, every production is different. But now that we’ve gotten this one under our belts, we know quite a bit. I think we have a much better understanding about how to create more efficient interplay between visual effects and practical effects,” he said. ” So I think going forward, we will be a more efficient production and a more streamlined production.”

From a creative point of view, Mazin emphasized that he and co-creator Neil Druckmann are “pretty committed to doing what we did before because it worked, which is to adapt as we see fit, to expand where we want, a bridge where we want, to change where we want, and to keep things exactly the same where we want.”

“We’re obviously working off of a fantastic story, one of the most acclaimed video games of all time. The first was one of the most acclaimed and then the second one came along and said hold my beer and it’s pretty intense,” he said. “We are giving ourselves the space and freedom to do it the way we think it should be done best. And prior to the strike beginning, HBO was fully behind it and supportive of our vision and flexible along with us because we have a certain way we want to lay everything out.”

When asked about how specific story points from the second game would be handled, such as Joel’s arc, Mazin emphasized that he is “always careful to say that we don’t really talk about what might or might not happen.”

“Even if it’s something that feels fundamental to the source material, it might, it might not,” he continued. “I just never want to kind of passively confirm anything because we do things strangely sometimes and sometimes we do them exactly where the game is and that’ll be something that the audience will uncover and experience as it happens.”

Though “The Last of Us: Part II” has its fair share of critics, Mazin pushed back that anything in the sequel’s story is controversial. He noted that “Last of Us Part II” won Game of the Year and went on to sell 10 million copies as of Spring 2022. The franchise has sold more than 37 million copies globally as of December, according to its developer Naughty Dog.

“There are things that upset us about art which I’m OK with, there’s ‘I’m upset because this has been done poorly’ and then there’s upset because it is upsetting. But if it is upsetting in a way that is purposeful and has a point, then I think that’s part of the experience,” he argued. “We certainly know that that was part of the experience of the first season. There’s no reason to think it will continue to be. But the overall point isn’t to just make you miserable. There is and ought to be always a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s one of the reasons why the story of Bill in our show is so radically different than Bill from the game. So I don’t worry about that stuff. I gotta be honest with you.”

Instead, his main concern is creating a show that everyone thinks is “really good.”

“If we think it’s really good and the actors think it’s really good and the editors think it’s really good and the network thinks it’s really good, then we’ve done our gig. I’m relying on the fact that so far, at least when it comes to this show, what we think good seems to match up with what the audience thinks good is and that’s all I care about,” he added.

“There was a lot of ‘controversy’ because we cast Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey. ‘Who is she? We don’t like the way she looks. We don’t like the way his beard is. They don’t look like the characters,’ and our feeling was that’s right. Just go ahead and argue amongst yourselves. But when the show comes out, that’s the thing to watch, that’s where you make up your mind and the numbers don’t lie. It was just seen by so many more people than any of us thought. I mean, way beyond the internal estimates, let’s put it that way, way beyond.”

His comments come after “The Last of Us” earned a whopping 24 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series.

Mazin received two nominations, one as a producer in the Outstanding Drama Series category and one for writing the “Long, Long Time” episode about a gay couple who come together in crisis and live their lives in the face of the deadly infection. The heartbreaking episode was also singled out for Peter Hoar’s directing.

Other nominations include Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey; Murray Bartlett and Nick Offerman; Keivonn Montreal Woodard and Lamar Johnson; Melanie Lynskey, Storm Reid and Anna Torv; and composer Gustavo Santaolalla, as well as costume designers, production designers, casting directors, makeup, hair and visual effects artists, main title designers, sound mixers, sound and picture editors.

“They are incredible people who did wonderful, wonderful work and deserve as much attention and love as they can get right now,” Mazin said. “We are truly all in this together.”

In addition to Mazin and Druckmann, the first season of “The Last of Us” is executive produced by Carolyn Strauss, Evan Wells, Asad Qizilbash, Carter Swan and Rose Lam and co-produced by Sony Pictures Television.

For all of TheWrap’s strike coverage, click here.

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