The budget for the live-action Last of Us is as ambitious as it is inordinately pricey, a recent CTV News exclusive reveals. The Toronto-based broadcast station interviewed IATSE 212 president Damian Petti on July 13 about the set pieces currently being installed in Fort Macleod, Alberta, where the show is filming. “I cannot confirm the official budget numbers, but will say it is likely the largest project shooting in Canada,” he explains in an email. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees is a Canadian film artists union with an expansive 128-year history.
Apparently, it takes a little over eight figures to replicate post-apocalyptic America for the screen. The Last of Us is reportedly spending more than $10 million per episode, amounting to $100 million overall. That’s $3.5 million more than Netflix’s most expensive television exclusive, The Crown, and $6.6 million more than each episode of The Walking Dead, a horror drama series with a similar premise.
That would make The Last of Us in the same price range as the most expensive television show ever made; Game of Thrones started out with a $5 million budget, only to crank the numbers up to $15 million by the last season. Considering The Last of Us “exceeds the eight-figure episode mark,” according to Petti, that would mean the show costs as much as a 10-episode equivalent of Game of Thrones.
HBO is notorious for its massive budget allotments, having produced both Game of Thrones and — yes — The Last of Us. The series is shaping up to be the studio’s most demanding project yet. The actual number is rumored to be in the hundreds of millions. It sounds ridiculous but consider, for a moment, the source. Naughty Dog’s stories are fantastically larger-than-life, with Homeric set pieces and equally extraordinary plot specifics. Tom Holland’s Uncharted, another Naughty Dog classic, might have to take notes.
Quotations aside, a large spending margin bodes well for the people of Fort Macleod, whose small town economy took a major licking during the pandemic. The crew of The Last of Us reportedly enlisted the help of much of the Alberta town’s local populace, building intricate set pieces over existing businesses with way more than a show’s usual share of extras. “The Last of Us, which commences photography this week, is indeed a monster,” Petti elaborates. “It has five art directors and employs an army of hundreds of technicians. It has had six months of prep and shoots for 12 months. There is a multiplier effect on our economy in terms of its impact. There are hundreds of related businesses benefitting from the plethora of work.” Set photos reveal gigantic rigs populating the town’s Main Street. Cars and shop signs from the Last of Us video game also make a comeback in the show.
Fort Macleod’s Chief Administrative Officer Sue Keenan expresses her gratitude to the crew; the project will help repair the town’s fractured economy in part due to the active pandemic. “This town has been very embracing of the film industry,” she shares. “We believe in the economic benefits and the diversification needed in Alberta and filming is definitely one of the ways to make that happen.” Eagle-eyed cinephiles might recognize the streets from another famous project. Fort Macleod was the site of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain and FX’s Fargo. Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife will also be shooting here, presumably after The Last of Us wraps.
The Last of Us stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey as protagonists Joel and Ellie, with Gabriel Luna playing Joel’s brother Tommy and Nico Parker playing Joel’s daughter Sarah. Merle Dandridge is reprising the role of Fireflies leader Marlene in the upcoming series, while Jeffrey Pierce — the voice of Tommy in the video games — portrays an entirely new character.
The main cast already shot the opening scene on July 2, as evidenced by an Instagram update posted by Luna. Executives have been buffing up the cast list as they go, with Murray Bartlett and Con O’Neill now playing survivalist friends Frank and Bill. Other main characters, like Joel’s partner-in-crime Tess, haven’t been cast yet. The games’ original writer Neil Druckmann (Uncharted) is working with Chernobyl’s Craig Mazin on the script. Composer Gustavo Santaolalla, who also worked on the games, will be handling the score. Filming should conclude around June 2022.