By Corrinna Massey

Calling all gamers …. Calling all gamers ….

A major Hollywood production crew had burst onto the Edmonton scene, turning our downtown streets into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and I had the inside scoop.

On October 3, a friend of mine, who wishes to be anonymous, informed me that Edmonton was going to be the backdrop for the series based on the popular video game The Last of Us. Several streets would be shut down in preparation for this project, including Rice Howard Way, the Legislature Grounds, and 104 Street and Jasper Avenue. Filming was to start October 13th with an anticipated release date of late 2022.

The Last of Us hit the gaming community in 2013 and sold over 17 million copies worldwide. Gamers stood in line for hours just to get the first released copies, myself included. I don’t regret it one bit. This game was the top-of-the-line. It’s animations and graphic design made the PlayStation famous.

The plot is relatively simple. The country has been ravaged by a deadly fungus turning most of the people into zombies. Those who survived the outbreak are both hostile and cannibalistic. However, Ellie was believed to be immune to the disease and held the key to mankind’s survival. Your mission, if you chose to play, was to protect Ellie and get her to safety.

Players control Joel, the smuggler, and must get Ellie across the post-apocalyptic United States to safety. Facing many dangers, the player can access a multitude of long-range weapons, rifles, shotguns, and a bow. In addition, they also can get short-range weapons that include a handgun and a short-barreled shotgun.

As the journey progresses, players can scavenge a wide range of other useful weapons that are used to ward off the attack of the zombies. My favorite is the Molotov cocktail. I used to love to throw it and watch as the zombies blew up into a bunch of little pieces. The graphics of the game were so amazing. I wonder if the TV production will do this justice.

So, being a fan of the video game, I rushed downtown to get the first glimpse of this production. Maybe I would even be one of the lucky ones and become an extra – a zombie taken out by the strong and resourceful Joel.

Arriving to Rice Howard Way around 7.30 a.m., I was surprised there was no one around. The area was fenced off and a couple of empty police cars were posted outside the barricades. Security, however, was nowhere in sight. This was my chance. I could pretend to be Ellie or Joel and run around hiding behind the rocks shooting zombies. Wouldn’t that be something to tell everyone!

I looked through the chain link fence. The scene was amazing. Reminiscent of the video game, the streets looked like a war zone.

Rice Howard Way during filming. Photo: Corrinna Massey
A Boston police car on Rice Howard Way. Photo: Corrinna Massey

I could imagine Joel and Ellie as they made their last stand against the encroaching zombie mutants. Reaching through the fence, I touched a boulder covered in zombie bile. Next to that were a couple destroyed cars with the Boston Police Department insignia. These were left abandoned after the attack. This was the game I remembered.

Around 8.30 a.m. the HBO crew and security started to arrive and set up for the action scene. Their first order of business was to move people who had gone past the fencing back away from the sets. I took up a position on a cement block. Then around 9, I caught my first glimpse of Gabriel Luna. He plays Tommy, Joel’s younger brother, and shortly after that the one I was waiting for – Pedro Pascal. Best known for his role as the Red Viper in Game of Thrones, he is exactly what I thought Joel would look like – with some graphic animation of course. And finally, much later I caught a glimpse of Bella Ramsay, the young actress who will, forever, be known as Ellie.

Now with everyone on set, I waited, anticipating the word “action”, but instead the crew just milled around repositioning everything. They repositioned the cameras, the sound equipment and even the way the actors held their artillery. What does it matter which arm Joel is holding his rifle or who is standing on which side of the rock? All this took another fifteen or twenty minutes and finally the actors walked down the middle of the street looking around nervously. Then a stop in action and another repositioning of the camera, the sound equipment, and a switch of who was in front. Another sequence of them walking down the street again.

Watching as the scene unfolded, it was apparent that this was going to be a long day. Filming was going to be done in brief action sequences. Walk, crouch, walk … retake … walk, crouch, retake.

Finally, the actors made it to the middle of the street. They jumped and crouched behind a couple of huge boulders, raised their weapons, and began shooting at nothing. I stood up to get a better vantage point. I wanted to get a better look because maybe I missed something.

It was then that the real magic took place. The zombie-like creatures came crashing through the boarded-up doors. I gawked at the blood as it spurted out from the chests of the dying. This was the video game played out in real life. This was what live action filming was all about.

Overall, I think I sat there for about five hours, me, and my Tim Hortons peppermint tea. I wanted to be able to tell everyone I was there when …. and guess what, I was there when, as long as those scenes didn’t end up on the editing floor.

Once filming was over for the day, the stage crew (and my secret informant) began packing up. She motioned for me to come over and together we walked around this post-apocalyptic scene. She talked about this scene and that – how the little blasts were done by mini explosive charges. I laughed when I saw one of the stage crew pick up this huge boulder and toss it into the dumpster. Still, based on what I had seen, this was going to be a fantastic series, one that everyone should watch.

I wondered, though, what would bring Hollywood to us. According to Premier Kenny, thanks to the new Film and Television Tax Credit initiated by the Conservative government, Alberta has become the popular venue for blockbuster filming. He would take all the credit.

He forgets the numerous, pre-Kenny years, in which Alberta and Edmonton are featured in many blockbuster films … think Brokeback Mountain, The Assassination of Jesse James and even Unforgiven. We can, however, look forward to many of these types of productions in the coming years. I hear Yellowstone is coming to Camrose … maybe I will find myself as an extra in that production. I think I would look good in a cowboy hat and boots since I didn’t make it as a zombie in this one.