The yr of the zombie: How HBO’s mega-budgeted The Final of Us took over the province from Waterton to Grande Prairie

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Within the fourth episode of HBO’s upcoming The Final of Us, viewers will get a fleeting glimpse of an iconic picture of downtown Calgary.

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It’s a small a part of an action-packed sequence that finds our two protagonists, Joel and Ellie (performed by former Recreation of Thrones co-stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, respectively), in peril. They’re racing down an in any other case unrecognizable Stephen Avenue in a pickup truck after an tried ambush. A lot of the storyline takes place 20 years after a 2003 zombie apocalypse turned cities into ruins. So the road is kind of deserted. Wreckage is in all places.

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However at one level, they drive previous the extremely recognizable blue, white and yellow marquee of the Globe Cinema, which appears to be like just about because it does proper now aside from the actual fact it’s promoting the 2003 movies Underworld and Matchstick Males.

“That was type of just a little homage in a means,” says Jason Nolan, the Calgary-based supervising location supervisor for The Final of Us. “We needed to resolve what films to placed on (the marquee.) It was type of neat. We took over that avenue for, I feel, 4 days.”

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There usually are not many moments like this in The Final of Us. Sharp-eyed Albertans might acknowledge just a few landmarks, however the entire level was to remodel the town and numerous areas throughout the province into all kinds of decaying post-apocalyptic vistas. Among the many wrecked cities that Calgary performs, as an example, are Boston, Kansas Metropolis and even Jakarta. The aforementioned zombie apocalypse has given most of those locations the same aesthetic: empty, crumbling buildings, burned-out automobiles scattered throughout streets overgrown with weeds, an eerie, oppressive stillness. That is a part of the explanation the formidable manufacturing spent greater than a yr in Alberta, using a whole bunch of locals, pumping a whole bunch of hundreds of thousands into the economic system and serving to fortify the province’s fame as a flexible backdrop for big-budget movie and tv that isn’t restricted to westerns and picturesque interval items.

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The Final of Us isn’t the primary big-budget manufacturing to be shot in Calgary. It’s not even the primary big-budget zombie manufacturing to be shot right here. However on this golden age of status tv, large is relative. The Final of Us is large, large, BIG. By some educated guesstimates, the nine-episode collection value upwards of $100 million. This makes it one of the costly tv collection within the historical past of the medium and positively the largest venture within the historical past of the Alberta movie and tv trade. For greater than a yr, the manufacturing travelled from Waterton to Grande Prairie and most factors in between. The present will lastly land on Jan. 15, when it is going to debut on HBO.

“You may outline ‘large present’ in some ways,” says Mohammed Qazzaz, who additionally labored on the collection as a location supervisor. “It may be an enormous present due to the expertise behind the manufacturing, like if it’s an enormous director or large actor. However The Final of Us was large in each means doable. We had a humongous crew, numerous particular results, numerous sensible results. It was an ideal storm. All of it comes right down to what the look of the present is. With The Final of Us, I personally have by no means seen something prefer it and I don’t assume we are going to for some time. It was fairly the epic.”

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A post-apocalyptic scene was created in Edmonton’s Rice Howard Way, as crews prepared for filming on the HBO series The Last of Us in October 2021. Photo by David Bloom
A post-apocalyptic scene was created in Edmonton’s Rice Howard Approach, as crews ready for filming on the HBO collection The Final of Us in October 2021. Picture by David Bloom Picture by David Bloom David Bloom /David Bloom/Postmedia

Based mostly on the acclaimed online game collection, The Final of Us is definitely epic in scope. A lot of the motion takes place in 2023, 20 years after a pandemic turned a big portion of the human race into fungus-fused, flesh-eating zombies. Survivors are saved beneath the thumb of a brutal, militaristic authorities in quarantined zones. Freedom fighters and harsh raiders are among the many numerous factions roaming the streets and countryside. Joel is a hardened smuggler residing in what was Boston. He finally finds himself taking Ellie throughout the nation as a result of she could also be key to a treatment for the pandemic.

Nolan started doing prep work for the collection in January 2021, main a areas group that at occasions ballooned to greater than 115 individuals.

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Given the present’s excessive finances, the sky was the restrict when it got here to areas. Nolan and his group labored intently with co-creator Craig Mazin, numerous administrators and the manufacturing design group to seek out and rework greater than 180 areas. “If it was the best location, that’s the place we went,” Nolan says. “That was type of good.”

Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in a scene from HBO’s The Last of Us. Courtesy, Bell Media.
Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in a scene from HBO’s The Final of Us. Courtesy, Bell Media. jpg

At one level, crews spent months remodeling almost three blocks close to Stampede Park right into a destroyed metropolis. Mount Royal College and SAIT campuses had been taken over, as was the airport tunnel. The manufacturing shot in Edmonton, Canmore, Nanton, Okotoks, Lethbridge, Bragg Creek, Grande Prairie, the Stoney Nakoda Nation and the wintry climes of Kananaskis Nation.  In October 2021, crews spent simply over per week taking pictures on Memorial Drive’s Fourth Avenue flyover.

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Some of the breathtaking sequences, a fiery motion scene involving huge gunplay and hordes of zombies, was shot throughout the partitions of the Calgary Movie Centre in southeast Calgary. That was simply one of many metropolis’s sound-stage amenities the manufacturing took over.

“Proper from the start, it was determined that we didn’t simply wish to discover deserted issues, ruined issues or destroyed areas and script them in,” Nolan says. “They needed to go after actuality and current the world that we see right now however 20 years into the long run after this has occurred. How can we rework that in a means that brings the viewers in? It was tough when you find yourself taking a look at streets or sure areas of downtown or sections of freeway or rural roads and even smaller cities and communities. We wanted to get all people concerned. If you work on sure reveals, you possibly can movie at a sure enterprise on a avenue. Clearly, you speak to all people and make them conscious of what’s taking place, however you don’t essentially want their involvement. On this case, we wanted all people concerned. If we had been in a state of affairs the place one particular person within the neighbourhood or on the road wasn’t prepared to play ball, we wouldn’t be capable of do what we wanted to do.”

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HBO’s The Last of Us during filming in downtown Calgary in October 2021.
HBO’s The Final of Us throughout filming in downtown Calgary in October 2021. Picture by Fish Griwkowsky /jpg

Calgary and Alberta are very accommodating to movie and tv crews. Nonetheless, filming huge scenes in the midst of a metropolis, notably in the event that they required prolonged shutdowns, may be sophisticated affairs that require numerous prep work. A part of location scouting is discovering the best spots to movie, however an equally essential half goes by the best channels and leaping by the best bureaucratic hoops to get permission. Taking up the Fourth Avenue flyover for greater than per week, as an example, is not any small matter.

“You develop a relationship with metropolis roads and metropolis infrastructure and the Calgary Police Service and all of the departments,” says Qazzaz, who has labored within the Alberta movie trade for 10 years. “So you understand these individuals. There’s a relationship. The important thing factor for us was clear communication and as a lot lead time as doable. Taking that for example, I feel it was both six or eight weeks of talks and conferences with the town and the police means earlier than we shut it down. There have been a minimum of three months of ‘That is what we wish to do, that is what we wish to get at, these are the departments we’d like concerned.’ ”

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Each Nolan and Quazzaz have labored on large productions earlier than. Nolan was a location supervisor of 2022’s Prey and Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Quazzaz labored on the primary three seasons of FX’s Fargo and is presently engaged on its fifth season.

They each hope internet hosting a present as hotly anticipated as The Final of Us will ship the worldwide movie trade a transparent message.

“There’s nothing that may’t be achieved right here,” Nolan says. “Now we have quite a lot of appears to be like and the crew and the willingness from all jurisdictions, not simply the province however the cities and small cities. Everybody tends to welcome it.”

 The Final of Us begins Jan. 15 on HBO. 

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