How The Last Of Us Team Decides Which Shots to Pull Directly From The Video Game

Joel angry in The Last of Us
(Image credit: Playstation)

One of the best compliments that I can pay to The Last of Us, one of the most compelling shows available now with your HBO Max subscription, is that numerous times throughout an episode, I’ll completely forget that this is an adaptation of an extremely popular video game. Instead, it feels like something completely fresh and new, and not beholden in any way to existing text, even in a video game format. We have already documented some of the major changes the show has made to the video game in telling the story of Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey). But how does the creative team behind The Last of Us treat the game when they are planning out their visuals? 

It would be too easy, I’d imagine, to fall into the trap of merely staging the video game when filming scenes from The Last of Us on HBO. The game itself is surprisingly cinematic. But when cinematographer Eben Bolter appeared on CinemaBlend’s official ReelBlend podcast, he talked about how they used the game as a reference point for the episodes that he worked on, but made clear it wasn’t a mandate in any way. Bolter told us:

The way we approached it is (that) we were never forced to do anything. There was never a case of, ‘You have to copy the shot.’ And equally, it was never a case of, ‘You have to avoid the shot.’ So you just approach every scene on its own terms. Like, the game was the game, and it was a masterpiece. And it exists, and it's brilliant, and we can't change that. You can't deny that. That is what it is. But now in our new reality, in this new adaptation, things are different. And so, sometimes the entire scene is different. So obviously, it's going to feel different. We're going to do different shots.

The Last Of Us Season 2

Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us poster

(Image credit: HBO)

Here's what we already know about the next season of The Last Of Us.

Eben Bolter came to the HBO series as a tremendous fan of the original game, and as such told ReelBlend that he felt it was his duty to protect the integrity of the story and do what he could to ensure as faithful an adaptation as possible. But he praised show creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, the latter who served as a writer-director on the Playstation video game. As Bolter told us, no one knows more about The Last of Us than those two creative minds, from the game’s post-apocalyptic environments to the evolution of the creatures

Because Bolter and the crew admired the game so much, he went on to tell us:

Sometimes, you end up with Joel and Ellie in a truck having a very similar conversation, and she's doing exactly the same action (as the game). And the right place to put the camera is usually… Naughty Dog already proved it. Neil Druckmann is pretty good. They've pretty much found the right place for the camera.

Why mess with perfection, right? If something worked extremely well in the game, and it feels right on the day of shooting, then replicate the source material. No harm, no foul. Here’s our full conversation with The Last of Us cinematographer Eben Bolter on the ReelBlend podcast:

The good news, for fans of the show, is that The Last of Us already has been renewed for Season 2, which makes sense if you know the games, because there is a Playstation title known as The Last of Us Part II, which continues the story of Joel, Ellie, and several key characters we haven’t yet met in the show. This might include Missing co-star Storm Reid, or other actors that have been signed up for The Last of Us and will appear eventually. 

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Having been with the site since 2011, Sean interviewed myriad directors, actors and producers, and created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.