The Last of Us is not the first video game to receive a cinematic adaptation, and it won’t be the last either. The Last of Us appears to be most prepared to make the shift from interactive media to passive television, possibly more so than any other franchise. There is no player choice in the poignant and visually stunning tale of Joel and Ellie.
Neil Druckmann, the co-creator of The Last of Us, who was actively engaged in creating the show and directed a few episodes, was also interviewed about the adaptation before the show’s debut.
Even though the recording procedure for a TV show is different from that of a video game, Druckmann is experienced in managing actors.
“There is a certain luxury we have in video games that when we capture a performance, we have every camera angle under the sun. We don’t have to worry about coverage because we have all the coverage in the world,”
In a roundtable discussion, Druckmann discussed his involvement with the program
“We can after-the-fact decide – the way that line was delivered? That’s going to be a close-up. The way they were fighting over here? That should be a wide shot. What they’re wearing? Let’s try different outfits and we can figure that out after the fact. We can change the weather, we can change the setting – we can do all these things after the fact.”
For television, the procedure is much more well thought out. Making decisions in advance, ensuring that everything is precisely way you want it, and wishing for the best are all necessary.
“What happens is you have all these different departments: the actors, the costumes – everything has to come together for this moment where you say, ‘Action!’ And you hold your breath and hope all the pieces kind of come together,”
“And usually they don’t the first time, so you make some adjustments and you say it again. And when it does work, it’s this high. It’s a thrill. It feels like a high-wire circus act. I get the addiction people might get to this process.”
In the world of video games, the majority of the work is done after the shoot, as opposed to before in television and film, but for Druckmann, the entire process seemed remarkably familiar.
“Giving art direction is giving art direction, except you’re doing it in real life instead of on a screen,”Druckmann comments on the unexpected and expected commonalities.
“Working with actors is working with actors. Writing it is a lot of the same conversations – just trying to make it authentic and honest.”
When I spoke with Druckmann, it sounded like he enjoyed the process of helming television and working on the film adaptation of his book, but video games remain his true passion.
“I love all forms of storytelling. At this point I’ve gotten to do a little bit in comics, a lot in video games, and a little bit in TV and I think there is always something to learn from all of them, and help improve all of them by having a better understanding,”Druckmann says.
“My love for games will never go away, but this was a thrilling experience, as well.”
We have seen the first few episodes of the program, and so far it appears to be a faithful copy of the original work, albeit with more background information to build the universe and the opportunity to spend more time with people we may have only briefly encountered in the game. There is still opportunity for the performers to grow despite the decision to stay so true to the original game (at least early in the program).
During our conversation with Pedro Pascal, we specifically discovered how he addressed the accent while playing Joel in the show. Compared to Troy Baker’s voice, which has a stronger southern taste, it is toned down for the TV show.
“I think it was more a matter of kind of composing a quality amongst many other ones. It was all of these different pieces that were part of a puzzle,”
In a roundtable discussion with the authors, Pascal revealed this to us.
“Joel’s from Austin, so a thick Texas accent, isn’t technically applicable. I grew up in San Antonio. Before I was two years old, my family landed in San Antonio, and I lived there until I was nearly 12 years old. It was more matter of playing with, what’s in my system already. What’s the sound that shapes the words that are on the page. What harkens to something that is from the game, that is familiar to us already. What is the music of it all? A bit of a twang was definitely part of it.”
HBO will start broadcasting The Last of Us on January 15.