‘The Last of Us’ showrunner reveals the surprising differences between making a game and a TV series

Photo via HBO Max

The Last of Us Showrunner Neil Druckmann has opened up about making the leap from VFX filmmaking to shooting HBO’s warmly-received live-action adaptation.

In an interview on The Last of Us Podcast, host Troy Baker asked Druckmann to describe some of the differences between shooting footage for the game and filming for the television series.

Druckmann explained that the use of performance capture technology made shooting for the game far more efficient. He pointed out that filming a TV series requires extensive planning.

“The big difference is you have to plan everything ahead of time on the TV show in a way you don’t on the game.”

He also observed that filming for the game offered greater creative freedom and a wider margin for error for changes in the post-production process. He says:

“Once you get the performance and you have it in 3-D, you can place the camera wherever you want. You can change the costumes, you can change the set, you can even change the character.”

Druckmann pointed out that while filming for television was far more restrictive, VFX technology provides some latitude to filmmakers. Nevertheless, he seemed to revel in the tremendous organizational skills required to bring a scene together for television.

For the most part, the frame you have is pretty much going to be your final frame. So there is all this prep work you have to do ahead of time. You are meeting with all the department heads whether it’s special effects, whether it’s costumes, whether it’s the set, whether it’s the actors and doing a table read with them just so you can get to that moment where it’s like, ‘Okay, everything is ready to go,’ and you say, ‘Action!’ and then you hold your breath and hope it all comes together in the way that you’ve envisioned it.”

The Last of Us is a drama that takes place twenty years after a global pandemic. It tells the story of the morally ambiguous Joel (Pedro Pascal) and teenage Ellie’s (Bella Ramsey) journey across the post-apocalyptic United States.

The television series was created by Druckmann and Craig Mazin. It’s based on the concept for an action-adventure video game conceptualized by the former in 2004 when he was a computer science major at Carnegie Mellon. Eventually, he sold his concept to video game developer Naughty Dog. Sony Computer Entertainment released the game in 2013.

New episodes of The Last of Us air every Sunday on HBO.