The series, which takes place 20 years after the world’s population has been decimated by a deadly fungal plague, was chosen to shoot in Alberta for its vast scenery and film tax credits. Unfortunately, any savings were offset by having to employ costly VFX to tone down the Alberta city’s “inherently desolate vibe”.
“We thought the wide open spaces surrounding Calgary were perfect for our show’s setting,” explains The Last Of Us location scout Gretta Tompkins. “But if anything, Calgary’s grim and never-ending suburban sprawl proved almost too deserted for our storylines. There’s barely any transit or decent restaurants – we had to paint in some extra fungus zombies just to lighten the place up.”
“And that’s not even getting into the so-called ‘entertainment district’. Past 1am there isn’t even a single sign of life,” added Tompkins.
VFX managers for The Last of Us reported having to digitally cover up weather-beaten Calgary roads littered with both salt and gravel. As well, makeup artists found much of their zombie budgets diverted to covering up the actors’ skin, which had become cracked and leathery from the lack of moisture in the local air.
Beyond Calgary’s unplowed streets and year-round threat of snow, post-apocalyptic signifiers had to be toned down for the story department as well.
“We kept needing to do last-minute rewrites where characters got turned by the fungus pandemic,” notes frustrated showrunner Craig Mazin, “just because the dayplayers kept succumbing to something called Chinook Headaches.”
Sources report that the third episode, which features two men finding true love amidst the zombie outbreak, “was received okay within Calgary itself, but once we shot out of the city limits they were less accepting than the characters living in The After Times.”
Finally, extra care had to be taken to shoot around some of Calgary’s more colorful elements of post-societal frenzy.
“Every year the local Calgarians hold this bizarre Mad Max Thunderdome carnival,” adds Mazin, “full of people cheering as men tame beasts, and meat being charred out in the open air. I get that they all love their ‘Stam-Pede’, but we’re trying to do a tasteful and realistic end of days story here.”
At press time, HBO refuses to confirm reports that The Last Of Us season 2 will incorporate a storyline about the utterly hopeless despair that is being a Calgary Flames fan.