A major television production is looking to Okotoks and area for talent.
Producers of HBO’s episodic adaptation of game The Last of Us have put out casting calls in Okotoks, High River, Fort Macleod, and Lethbridge areas for extras.
“We're really excited to see this very cinematic game turned into a TV show and Alberta used as a backdrop,” said Brock Skretting, head of advocacy for Keep Alberta Rolling, a non-profit organization aimed to showcase the province's film industry.
“They’re still scouting and are going to stay in lots of different places in Alberta,” he said. “It’s a very big show, a travelling show, but the Foothills is a very strong and friendly region.”
Speaking as a go-between for the production’s casting, Skretting said there will be numerous opportunities for area talent to find their way into the frame.
“They’re shooting for basically an entire year, so they’re going to need a lot of different people at different times to come in the background,” he said.
The original survival horror game follows two main characters, with Joel, a smuggler escorting the teenage Ellie through a post-apocalyptic United States.
Along the way, they encounter hostile humans, as well as cannibalistic zombie-like creatures.
Production is slated to start on the show on July 5, wrapping up in June 2022.
“For casting, they’re really looking for people either from the areas or willing to drive from Calgary — they want to hire as local as much as possible, and they’re casting a wide net,” Skretting said.
That wide net is also calling for some cars. With the show set in the 2000s, producers need period vehicles from around 1995-2003.
Anyone with applicable trade skills could even talk to the unions about being hired on for work, Skretting added.
Okotoks resident Kevin Gritton, a fan of the games, is hoping to try out as an extra.
“The Last of Us is probably my favourite game of all time,” he said, noting he had beaten the first game eight times, and the sequel five.
“Having this in Okotoks, I think it’s fantastic, especially knowing who the cast is.”
It was announced in February that The Mandalorian and Narcos lead Pedro Pascal had signed on to play Joel, with Bell Ramsey joining him as Ellie. The two share a prior HBO credit in Game of Thrones, Ramsey as Lyanna Mormont and Pascal as Oberyn Martell.
Local economies should feel the magic too.
“There’s lots of good benefits, one is that you have an extra 100-200 people in town and they’re either highly paid or given per diems, so they’re spending locally,” Skretting said.
Okotoks town councillor Tanya Thorn was delighted to see another production look to the Okotoks area.
“I think it’s fabulous,” she said. “There’s the economic benefit; whether it’s film or TV, they have a broad base of economic impact.
“There’s construction industry, there’s hotels, there’s restaurants, there’s coffee, there’s even local employment being an extra.”
Thorn said she has been working to make Okotoks and Alberta attractive to producers, having a resolution passed at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) in 2020 to lobby the provincial government to further incentives and use the industry as an opportunity for economic diversification.
Her hope, she continued, is to reduce red tape for accommodations such as a street closure, while balancing local life.
“It’s a great way to promote our community,” she said. “People like to watch a film and go ‘That’s this place in Okotoks’ or ‘That’s right out by the Big Rock’ so that connection to place happens out of it.
The game’s massive following could indeed create a boon of attention for the area, Skretting pointed out.
Originally released in 2013 for the Sony Playstation 3 (PS3) by game studio Naughty Dog, with a remastered edition for the Playstation 4 in 2014, The Last of Us sales sit at 20 million units as of October 2020.
The widely-anticipated sequel, The Last of Us II, saw the biggest video game launch of 2020, with approximately 7 million sales since June.
“It's going to be a widely watched show around the world,” Skretting said.
“That’s a really good advertising opportunity for Alberta in general, and also the communities that are the backdrop of the show.”
Northern Ireland, he said, has seen a major uptick in tourism to areas where Game of Thrones filmed.
The only criteria for extras casting, Skretting added, is that people be over the age of 18, but beyond that all ages and ethnicities are welcome.
Anyone wanting to be a part of the project can get involved by filling out the extras application form available at https://easyupload.io/6yaqn6 and submitting it and a current photo of themselves to firstname.lastname@example.org