When it was announced that The Last of Us was getting a television adaptation, fans were somewhat skeptical of the concept. But when it was announced that it was HBO doing it, expectations rose significantly.
We know that HBO has sunk a lot into production, and recently learned that it was going to be 10 episodes for its first season, with designs on continuing on into the future (we don’t know if the season 1 will clear the entire first game or not, and there’s obviously the recent sequel). But now we have some picture of how much HBO is investing in the series from the outset, and it rivals its biggest offering ever, Game of Thrones.
According a local news story about how The Last of Us was probably the biggest film project in Canada right now and boosting the local economy, we got a quote from IATSE 212 President Damian Petti, with the IATSE being an association of film artists and technicians in the region. According to him:
“This project well exceeds the eight figure per episode mark,” Petti said, “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.”
Eight figures per episode means that at minimum, the budget is $10 million an episode or $100 million for the ten episode season. But he says “well exceeds,” so that could be what, $12 million, $15 million? So potentially $150 million for the season? If that was true (and assuming this is US, not Canadian dollars, where it’s 0.79 exchange rate at the moment), that would exceed the budget of even the final seasons of Game of Thrones.
Games of Thrones season 6 ran for 10 episodes and had a budget of $10 million an episode, increasing from earlier seasons which were more like $6-7 million. By season 8, the final season, that increased to $15 million an episode for the longer, more battle-focused productions. But with only 6 episodes, that was $90 million. Regardless, it seems that if this budget estimate is close to correct, even the first season of The Last of Us might be costing HBO more than the total of the final season of Game of Thrones.
That’s pretty wild, given that Game of Thrones had that kind of budget because it was a proven ratings winner and pop culture juggernaut, with viewership increasingly significantly year over year. While I’m sure The Last of Us will be well-watched, it’s still the debut season of a show, so this implies a lot of faith in the production to give them a leash this long.
But we are currently living in a kind of pop culture arms race where streaming services will spend a wild amount of money on their highest profile series. The Mandalorian too commanded $100 million for its first season, despite shorter episodes. So it’s not a huge shock to see The Last of Us going over that with ten episodes that are probably close to double the length.
Thinking about The Last of Us, I do sort of wonder…where that money’s going. The Last of Us is not a series full of giant, Game of Thrones-like battles, and yet it will require a ton of special effects to achieve the destroyed world Joel and Ellie will occupy. Ironically, the characters are being played by actors from the two shows I just mentioned, The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal and Game of Thrones’ Bella Ramsey. Past the environment, I would image Clicker makeup and practical effects are going to surpass the sorts of more human zombies we see on The Walking Dead. Still though, it seems with that amount of money they could do anything. And I can’t wait to see what that will be.
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