Last of Us Maisie Williams

Naughty Dog, Screen Gems, and Sam Raimi are teaming to craft a big-screen adaption of the video game The Last of Us. In the game a damaged man, Joel, escorts a young woman named Ellie across a United States ravaged by an infection that turns people into zombie-like cannibalistic monsters.

Raimi is producing, and Neil Druckmann, the writer and creative director at Naughty Dog, is writing the script for the film. The idea, according to Raimi and Druckmann, is to protect the original material while focusing the 15-hour game into a two-hour story that really hones in on the relationship between the two main characters.

A director hasn’t yet been chosen (again, Raimi is producing) and it’s too early to announce deals for casting, but the two did drop one name. Druckmann says they’ve met with Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, to play Ellie.

At this point, it’s far too early to say that Williams is cast, and probably too early to even say she’s really in talks. But the meeting is a good sign, and tells us the sort of approach Druckmann and Raimi are taking to cast the role.

Of the film itself, Druckmann explained that the didn’t want to just hand off The Last of Us to an unknown team. They took different pitches, and it was eventually a combination of Clint Culpepper at Screen Gems and Sam Raimi that got things rolling forward.

Druckmann and Naughty Dog had some important questions when making the deal: Can we write it? Can we have final say on casting, and on the director? The answer to all of these was yes, so they were effectively “given the keys to the kingdom” — or, better, they were able to retain the keys to the kingdom. And so, says Druckmann, “it’s on us to not make it suck.”

The pair kept emphasizing that this one is a ways off. Raimi said, “”I think we’re going to make a great picture, that’s why we’re here so many years early to announce it.” Raimi also championed the idea of Druckmann writing the script. “I have great confidence that we’ll have a script that’s really true to the original.”

The game creator said he wants to make some changes, some more drastic than others. He even talked about writing a different opening, and “a very different ending.” But Raimi convinced him to stick pretty close to the original.  It doesn’t need to be different, it needs to capture the core of the game. “I started this process thinking I’d have to protect the story from producers,” joked Raimi,” and then I had to protect it from you.”

They are “laser-focued on the story of Joel and Ellie,” and could pull some elements from the Left Behind expansion into the story.

Asked about choosing scenes for the film, Raimi said “it’s more of an editing job: what can’t be put in? What’s in the game just for gameplay, for the audience to have a great game experience?” He spoke often of protecting the story, and emphasized that “the strength of a movie is the relationships,” and that “actors can bring an extra layer of humanity that animatronic or digital creations can’t.”

Druckmann added that he’s writing new scenes “that glue together the things we really loved from the game.” The movie can have a different flow, he says, and a different way of breathing life into these characters than the game.

And it isn’t a zombie movie, or at least not quite. “The infected play a big role in setting up the world and putting pressure on characters,” says Druckmann. He “doesn’t write just setpeices where they run into infected and have a shootout.” It’s all about how an encounter applies pressure and tension to Joel and Ellie. 

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