Television isn’t just television anymore. It’s blockbuster movies separated into chapters. Watch the Star Wars or Marvel shows on Disney+, Star Trek shows on Paramount+, or any number of massive shows on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, and you can see that the days of television being simpler and smaller than movies are over. And the bar just keeps rising, even at the place where this trend began: HBO.
HBO, largely credited for the modern TV renaissance thanks to shows like The Sopranos, is currently in production on another series with big aspirations: The Last of Us. Based on the super popular video game of the same name, the show follows a man named Joel (Pedro Pascal) who’s forced to bring a young girl named Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across a zombie-infested United States because she might be the key to a cure. Filming is reportedly now taking place in Fort MacLeod, Alberta, Canada, and there, the head of one of the labour unions working on the project offered up some fascinating information to the local CTV News, via Forbes.
“This project well exceeds the eight figure per episode mark,” said Damian Petti, president of IATSE 212. “So 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.” Work that, according to Petti, began with six months of pre-production leading into a 12-month shoot. The first season is expected to be 10 episodes.
HBO wouldn’t comment to Gizmodo about the budget or quote but it’s certainly worth remembering Petti is representing his city and union, not HBO, so there’s a chance of some discrepancy or misunderstanding. If accurate though, this number is interesting because it puts The Last of Us, a show that seems relatively compact since it’s primarily about two people, on the same level of the final season of Game of Thrones. That show’s largest season reportedly cost about $US15 ($20) million per episode. If each Last of Us instalment “well-exceeds” eight figures, it seems like a logical conclusion that it could cost more.
But why would The Last of Us be so expensive? Transportation probably isn’t as big of an issue since it’s shooting in a populated area adjacent to the United States, unlike the remote locations favoured by Game of Thrones. And there aren’t any dragons to create or elaborate suits of armour to make or armies of undead zombi… wait. Yes, yes to the last one. Budgets are complicated though.
That eight-figure budget per episode isn’t just going into physical production. Some of it goes to pre-production. Part of it is everyone’s salaries. Food. Bathrooms. And yes, lots of it goes to digital effects, but that doesn’t necessarily mean blue creatures running around or huge cities burning to the ground. With visual effects, it could be just as expensive to do massive set extensions to expand the scope of the world than it is big action sequences. Budgets, whether accurate or rumoured, are not a good way to predict what a show is going to be.
What a budget is good for, though, is showing how much faith a company like HBO has in a project — and even if Last of Us costs half of what this suggests, it’s a significant investment in a property with a lot of expectations.