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HBO's 'The Last of Us' returns to Alberta for another take

Filming of the post-apocalyptic series returns to the Bow Valley for season two.

Season two of the HBO mega-hit The Last of Us will be filming in Exshaw and along Highway 1A this week.

While preparation and filming are in progress March 21-24, a portion of the provincial highway – between Grotto Pond and Lafarge – and a residential road in Exshaw will be closed. 

“Specifically, there is a scene that will be [filmed] at Mount Allen Drive,” said Laszlo Uhrik, a location manager with Calgary-based Bear & Pear Productions Inc. at the MD of Bighorn’s Feb. 27 governance and priorities committee meeting.

The production company did not disclose the title of the television series production during the public portion of the meeting, requesting instead to go into closed session to discuss further details.

The working title, or code name, Mega Sword, has been assigned to season two of the production – a common practice, especially for anticipated projects, when anonymity is desired on a production. 

Uhrik said residents on Mount Allen Drive were notified of upcoming filming dates and one person on the Bow Valley Community Connection Facebook page indicated residents may have been asked to vacate, with plans to put affected residents up in local accommodations during that time. 

Uhrik said the scene being filmed on Mount Allen Drive requires a “snow-covered landscape.”

Season one of the show, adapted from video game production company Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic game of the same title, ended with its main characters, Joel and Ellie – played by actors Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey – still set in Jackson, Wyoming.

“For our purposes, if there’s a massive snowstorm two days before we film, we’d be so happy,” said Uhrik. “If it doesn’t happen, we’ll have to drag some snow in and set it up.”

The dates were well-planned as a special weather statement issued by Environment Canada Monday (March 18) noted up to 15-25 centimetres of snow is possible between March 19-21.

“Higher amounts are possible over the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains,” stated the weather agency in its notice.

A letter issued to affected residents from the production company said a crew of technicians will be working on Mount Allen Drive in Exshaw from March 18-26 to prepare the street for filming, including set dressing. Any necessary snow removal and clean-up of the set will be completed over the last two days.

The street will remain closed until the morning of Monday (March 25), however, Highway 1A is expected to reopen the evening of March 24.

“During this period, the approved detour route [for the highway] will be along Highway 1 and 1X,” states the letter to residents. “Access to all residences and businesses remain open at all times.”

MD of Bighorn Reeve Lisa Rosvold asked representatives with the production company during the governance and priorities committee meeting how the flow of traffic, including school buses, would be affected.

“What is advantageous about this particular location is the fact that there’s no through traffic, normally, on Mount Allen Drive. So there’s only traffic that would be to the Exshaw School and, of course, the fire hall,” said Uhrik.

“Our proposed detour to get around Mount Allen Drive is simply to go on the east side along Yamnuska Drive and around the fire hall to the north of Mount Allen Drive.”

He said there will be “clear, open access” to all affected, including the MD’s operations shop. There will also be traffic controllers and production staff equipped with radios to assist traffic on the residential street and highway.

A 72-hour closure of Highway 1A has been approved by the Alberta government, as per a news release from the MD. 

The release also notes production crew vehicles will be parking on MD of Bighorn land adjacent to the Bow River for the duration of preparation and filming and a couple days thereafter, from March 18-28. 

It assured emergency vehicles will have access and egress from Exshaw Fire Hall.

“Emergency services shall be able to pass through any road closure on Highway 1A in the event of an emergency,” states the news release.

A special event permit was issued for the production by the MD for filming on Mount Allen Drive, noting it does not have jurisdiction over the highway. 

“The natural beauty of our environment is part of what makes the MD such a special place to live, work, and play. The MD is proud to be considered for such an opportunity. Thank you for your patience and please drive carefully around film crews, obeying all traffic laws.”

Season one of The Last of Us was filmed in locations across Alberta including Canmore, Calgary, Okotoks, Fort McLeod, Olds, High River, Edmonton, Waterton and various others. The majority of season two is set to be filmed in British Columbia. 

Just under $325,000 in gross revenue was brought into Town of Canmore coffers from last year’s filming of the show, which was the the largest film production in the province’s history. 

Data released by Oxford Economics last year found that $141 million was spent in Alberta during the course of filming the series, supported by Alberta’s film and television tax credit introduced by former premier Jason Kenney in 2020.

Recently proposed amendments to the program in 2024 aim to enhance competitiveness of the film and television industry by extending application windows, allowing productions to claim tax credits for each year expenses are incurred, expand eligible production genres – including reality television and game shows, as well as adding considerations for rural and remote filming. If passed, the changes would become effective in spring.

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.

About the Author: Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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