Critically acclaimed video game The Last of Us is being turned into an HBO television series that will be shot in Alberta over the course of a year, and it’s set to star two memorable actors from one of the network’s biggest shows of all time.
The video game is about a smuggler named Joel, who is tasked with escorting a teenage girl, Ellie, out of an oppressive quarantine zone and across post-apocalyptic America.
In the game, the country was ravaged by a fungus two decades earlier that turned most people into zombie mutants and left the human survivors hostile and cannibalistic.
However, Ellie is believed to be immune to the disease and thus, may hold the key to mankind’s survival.
Pedro Pascal, 45, has been cast as Joel while 17-year-old Bella Ramsey will play Ellie in the television adaptation of the post-pandemic action-adventure-horror video game released in 2013 for PlayStation consoles.
In February, both actors announced they had landed the roles via Instagram posts.
Part of the video game takes place during the winter in the mountains, which makes Calgary a prime destination for filming (if the television adaptation follows the same storyline.)
Pre-production of the TV series got underway this month, according to both the Director’s Guild of Canada and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 212 — the Calgary chapter of the labour union, which represents over 140,000 technicians, artists and craftspersons in the entertainment industry in Canada and the United States.
Damian Petti, IATSE 212 vice-president, said the union knew location scouting had been going on for some time in southern Alberta but it wasn’t firmed up until quite recently.
“The reaction to the community has been huge because of the number of jobs involved,” he said.
“It’s very significant.”
There were no productions happening at all for about nine months at the beginning of the pandemic, Petti said.
“But since about August and September, it’s been coming back in a robust way and now it’s very busy. We have seven large budget series in southern Alberta.”
The Last of Us production is scheduled to begin in the Calgary area after the Canada Day long weekend and go until June 8, 2022.
Seattle and Washington, D.C., are also listed as filming locations on the show’s Internet Movie Database (IMDb) page.
The news comes as COVID-19 cases have crept back up in Alberta: on Wednesday, there were 871 new cases, which was the highest daily case count since mid-January.
Petti said the film industry has developed some of the highest COVID-19 safety standards in the world.
“We’ve consulted with 10 epidemiologists and all of the major studios and streaming companies have negotiated protocols with the unions and guilds,” he said.
The IATSE protocols include, but are not limited to, having an on-site COVID-19 compliance officer, a written health and safety plan, daily screenings and all cast and crew wear face coverings at all times while in workspaces, except when not feasible.
“These are very stringent protocols that require regular testing and isolation and working in groups,” Petti said.
“So it seems to be working and it’s a very safe protocol.”
HBO is expected to make an announcement with more details, including the budget for the show, soon. But even without those details, Petti said there’s excitement among Alberta’s entertainment industry workers.
“The changes to the incentives that the government recently made have meant that we can compete for much, much larger budgets, which bring a lot more jobs and obviously benefit local businesses.”
The Alberta government announced last week it was boosting the province’s film and television tax credit by $19.5 million to $50 million.
In a bid to draw larger projects to the province, the government also removed the per-production cap, which previously limited productions to a maximum $10-million tax credit claim.
Petti said many people in Alberta’s film industry have been lobbying for changes for decades, “and to see this finally come to fruition and result in all these jobs and all this opportunity has been tremendous to the community.”
The Alberta government said it consulted with stakeholders across the province, as well as large production corporations like Disney, Warner Bros., Universal and HBO to find ways to attract more business to Alberta.
“HBO welcomes the Alberta government’s announcement,” HBO executive vice-president of production Janet Graham Borba said in a statement. “Alberta offers incredible locations, local talent and has much to offer the global production community.”
Petti also noted the amount of studio space available in Alberta has increased, making the province an even more attractive destination for large productions.
“That, combined with the government’s announcement has made Alberta, really, a destination of choice and many of the studios are now considering this area.”
According to IMDb, the video game’s lead developer, Neil Druckmann, is also the co-creator of the television show, along with writer and producer Craig Mazin, known for his work on the 2019 HBO mini-series Chernobyl.
Pascal’s short-but-memorable role as the charismatic, revenge-bent Oberyn Martell in the fourth season of Game of Thrones brought the actor into the limelight.
The HBO juggernaut is also where English actress Bella Ramsey made her professional acting debut in season six, as fierce, young noblewoman Lyanna Mormont.
The two actors never shared screen time on the HBO show, which concluded in 2019.
The Last of Us, by video game developer Naughty Dog, sold more than 17 million copies and won hundreds of awards in its industry. It also inspired The Last of Us Part II, a sequel released last year.