A major HBO television production is taking over some Edmonton streets this month.
HBO and Calgary-based Bear and Pear Productions, Inc. are creating a new series based on the popular post-apocalyptic The Last of Us video game and the multi-million-dollar production is filming its first season all over Alberta.
It looks like the end of the world has arrived on Rice Howard Way in downtown Edmonton, but people walking by say the apocalypse has never looked so good.
“I think that’s really cool this is happening in our city right now. The kids are really interested in it. They think that this is exciting,” passerby Amber Wenzel said.
“Pretty cool, I’d say. You don’t always get to see something like it,” Haven Wenzel agreed.
The critically acclaimed 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.
The show stars Game of Thrones actors Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey.
To set the scene, structures like the Alberta legislature have been covered in vines and decay, while downtown Edmonton streets have become urban battlefields.
The production is not only transforming some areas of the city to look like a wasteland, but it’s also generating some big opportunities.
“We’ve got thousands of people working on this project, from small communities to large communities, and right now, they are in Edmonton. They’ve got the legislature that they are filming in,” Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer said.
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Filming in Edmonton is set to take place next week, according to the City of Edmonton.
A traffic notice was issued this week, saying from Oct. 2 to Oct. 18, the following streets and areas would be closed for pre-production construction, filming and tear down, with both roads and sidewalks closed on actual shoot days:
- 107 Street, 96 Avenue to 97 Avenue (Alberta Legislature grounds), filming Oct. 12
- 108 Street between Jasper Avenue and 100 Avenue (Oct. 2-15), filming Oct. 13
- 104 Street south of 102 Avenue to midblock north of Jasper Avenue (Oct. 2-17), filming Oct. 15
- Rice Howard Way – 100A Street from 101A Avenue – 102 Avenue (Oct. 2-18), filming Oct. 13-14 (On filming days, the city said the closure will be extended to include 101A Avenue from 100 Street to 100A Street.)
The Last of Us production began in the Calgary area this past July.
The show has already filmed in southern Alberta, where casting calls for extras were issued last spring for areas in and around High River, Fort Macleod and Lethbridge.
Part of the video game takes place during the winter in the mountains, and filming is scheduled to continue through to the summer of 2022.
Schweitzer said this is the largest television production in Canadian history.
“HBO’s The Last of Us, their projected budget for Alberta is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, so this is a big, big project.”
“I think it’s great for all Albertans because it’s an economic boost for things like tourism, investment, and many companies thrive,” IATSE 212 vice-president Damian Petti said.
The minister said film industry investment in Alberta has doubled over last year, and he anticipates more projects will be headed to the province.
“We fixed our television film and tax credit. Now, we attract these larger projects like The Last of Us, and it’s just been a win,” Schweitzer said.
“They’ve shown up, they’ve delivered and they are creating jobs in Alberta, and it’s amazing to see this investment happen.”
It’s welcome news to an industry hit hard by COVID-19: earlier this year Petti said there were no productions happening at all for about nine months at the beginning of the pandemic.
Things began to pick back up this winter.
“I think we will see more and more. It’s my goal to help to bring that to Edmonton,” Edmonton Screen Industries Office CEO Tom Viinikka said.
“We are a great place to do business.”
The video game by 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.
There are several other productions being filmed in Alberta right now.
According to the Directors Guild of Canada and IATSE, filming is underway for both the Under The Banner of Heaven tv show and the first season of Billy the Kid, while production is set to begin next month on a movie called Left Behind.