HBO’s The Last of Us to Shoot in Calgary, said to be Largest Production in Canadian History

I’m pretty much stating the obvious by this point, but it seems that with each passing year the Canadian film industry grows ever larger. Yet, what is noteworthy about that statement is that its growth continues even in a COVID-ravaged 2021.

It can be largely attributed to international productions increasingly using Canada as a shooting location, more often than not as a stand-in for places in the U.S. And while Vancouver and Toronto are viewed as the general hubs for this burgeoning industry (with the former’s nickname being this magazine’s namesake), it is Calgary, and indeed the great province of Alberta, that has emerged as a go-to spot for many productions, such as the TV series Fargo and big budget vehicles like Interstellar and The Revenant.

Now, it seems Alberta has landed the largest production to ever grace these northern lands.

This is according to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who, as reported by CBC, stated in a Facebook livestream on March 28th that he had a “very exciting announcement” regarding an upcoming production in the territory, and that it “will be the largest ever, I believe, film or television production in Canadian history”. Two days later, said production was confirmed to be HBO’s The Last of Us, an adaptation of the acclaimed video game series of the same name from developer Naughty Dog.

It is still too early to gauge the exact scale of the production, but the fact that the shoot is confirmed to begin in July and will last until June 2022 speaks volumes. This likely also speaks to the faithful approach taken by the people behind the show. The story of the first game takes place over the course of four seasons, and thus it makes sense that production would take place during each of them. Even with that aside, the lead creatives behind the show have emphasised their desire to remain loyal to the series.

Craig Mazin, who has been hot property since the release of HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl (which he created, wrote, and served as showrunner), will serve as an executive producer and writer on the show, alongside Neill Druckmann, who has written and directed both video game entries, though Mazin is ultimately the one running the show. Mazin has even pointed to working with Druckmann as proof of his desire to do right by the games, assuring that “the changes that we’re making are designed to fill things out and expand. Not to undo, but rather to expand.” Hell, they have even confirmed that some segments of dialogue will be lifted word-for-word from the game (a direction also taken in the upcoming Mortal Kombat cinematic reboot releasing this month).

With regards to the cast, HBO has tapped Game of Thrones alums Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, who portrayed fan-favourites Oberyn Martell and Lyanna Mormont, respectively, to play the lead roles of Joel and Ellie. Fans the world over (myself included) rejoiced at such on-point casting, and while the supporting cast has yet to be announced, Pascal’s contract for the show another wink at the production’s dizzying scale. 

Pascal signed a “first position” deal, which means that the show takes precedence over all of his other projects, and that includes The Mandalorian. While it has been acknowledged in the past that Pascal doesn’t necessarily always need to be present to shoot The Mandalorian because it is not always him playing Mando under that helmet, it is still astonishing to be granted this level of contractual freedom when under the thumb of Disney, a strong indicator that The Last of Us will be an even greater commitment than The Mandalorian, which is a massive undertaking in its own right. This is even crazier when you consider that one is a high concept sci-fi space opera, and the other is a grounded drama set in a post-apocalyptic world, albeit filled with zombie-like creatures. In short, they are going for blockbuster quality to match the blockbuster drama.

So, on the one hand, it seems that fans of the franchise will be getting the faithful adaptation of the The Last of Us they always wanted (which seems like a no-brainer for HBO, given how inherently cinematic both games are anyway), and on the other it will offer greater insight into one of gaming’s greatest narratives while offering it to those who have no interest in video games…or a PlayStation, for that matter. But more specifically, Canadians can take this as a sign of the perpetually growing interest in Canada as a cinematic location, and with Alberta’s plan to remove the cap on tax-credit claims for film and television productions, perhaps The Last of Us is a sign of what the future holds.

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