Calgary

Horrific mutants vacate Alberta streets as HBO's The Last of Us set to wrap production

It's been nearly a year since production on HBO's big-budget adaptation of The Last of Us descended on Alberta, shutting down major roads and flyovers and drawing leagues of curious fans to peer at the production from afar, sometimes with binoculars.

Series began filming last July and is to debut on the U.S. television network in 2023

Some sights from production over the past year on HBO's adaptation of the video game series The Last of Us, which is due to hit screens next year. The production stretched across Alberta, shooting in downtown Calgary, at the Alberta Legislature Building in Edmonton and at various smaller communities in the province, such as Canmore and Okotoks. (Submitted by David Frid, Alberta Counsel, Mark Innes)

It's been nearly a year since production on HBO's big-budget adaptation of The Last of Us descended on Alberta, shutting down major roads and flyovers and drawing leagues of curious fans to peer at the production from afar, sometimes with binoculars.

Albertans will have to wait until some time in 2023 to see the fruits of that labour on screen, but production on the first season is drawing to a close this week. The final day of shooting is scheduled for Friday.

"I think it's been an amazing year for film and television in this province," said Calgary Economic Development's film commissioner, Luke Azevedo. "That particular series had a lot to do with the growth and development of film and television this past year."

The show, which stars Pedro Pascal of The Mandalorian and Bella Ramsey of Game of Thrones as Joel and Ellie, respectively, is based on the hit video game of the same name.

The show is set in a post-apocalyptic world 20 years after modern civilization has been destroyed. In the video game series, Joel and Ellie seek to survive as they are pursued by mutated humans infected by a parasitic fungus.

WATCH | Late last year, production on The Last of Us turned the Fourth Avenue flyover into a post-apocalyptic movie set:

Zombie apocalypse shuts down major Calgary bridge — for filming

1 year ago
Duration 2:12
A TV production based on the video game The Last of Us, recently turned the Fourth Avenue flyover into a post-apocalyptic movie set. It drew a crowd of curious onlookers, trying to catch a glimpse of the show's stars and a zombie or two.

The production's budget for the first season hasn't been officially disclosed by HBO (and the network did not respond to requests for comment), but Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said the series is the largest in Canadian history. 

It is expected to represent more than $200 million in revenue for Alberta.

The series spent time filming at Mount Royal University and at SAIT and headed north to Edmonton, where the production covered the Alberta Legislature Building in vines.

It also shot in smaller communities around Calgary such as Okotoks, High River and Fort Macleod, which was also featured prominently in the latest Ghostbusters film.

A still released by HBO shows a first look at the network's adaptation of The Last of Us, starring Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie. The series, which shot around Alberta over the past year, was written and executive produced by Craig Mazin, who created HBO's acclaimed Chernobyl series, along with Neil Druckmann, who directed the video game series. (Naughty Dog/HBO)

Calgary resident Mark Innes, who resides in Sunnyside, says most of the sets for the production have been within a 10-minute bike ride from his house — so he frequently took to cycling down with a camera to document the production.

"I visited some other sets and was just really impressed with the craftsmanship. And the way that the city was transformed to be Boston or Pittsburgh," he said.

"It just creates some excitement in the city. We've been lacking for [that] since oil and gas crashed. So something like this, I think it brings added excitement to the area."

At left, a drone shot taken by Calgary photographer Nick Coyne reveals a post-apocalyptic version of the city, with cars strewn about the streets. On the right, a shot taken by Calgary resident Mark Innes, who was inspired by the scale of the production and spent time biking to the sites to experience them first-hand. (Submitted by Nick Coyne, Mark Innes)

Azevedo said the size of the production signals that Alberta has infrastructure in place to suit similar film and television projects.

"It has had an impact on the entire province — hotels have felt it, restaurants have felt it, car rental facilities have felt it, infrastructure like studios and sound stages have felt it," he said.

"A project of this size, enabling all of our sector to be able to support it, was an amazing, amazing experience."

The original The Last of Us video game has sold more than 20 million copies as of October 2019, and is one of the highest-selling PlayStation video games of all time.

Boom in location production

The project has coincided with a number of other big-budget productions filming around the province in recent months, including Under the Banner of HeavenFraggle Rock: Back to the Rock and Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

That's led to some memorable moments in recent weeks on the press junket from the actors starring in those productions, such as Under the Banner of Heaven star Andrew Garfield fondly reminiscing about his time spent at the Repsol Sports Centre (recently rebranded as the MNP Community and Sport Centre).

"It has a great steam room," Garfield told Entertainment Tonight Canada. "Big ups to the Repsol Centre."

In March 2021, the province removed its $10 million per-project tax credit cap — something that Calgary Film Centre business development manager Erin O'Connor previously told CBC News had been an effective move.

The province has said its goal is to grow the film sector by $1.5 billion over the next decade.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joel is a reporter/editor with CBC Calgary. In fall 2021, he ran CBC's bureau in Lethbridge. He was previously the editor of the Airdrie City View and Rocky View Weekly newspapers. He hails from Swift Current, Sask. Reach him by email at joel.dryden@cbc.ca

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