As Many As 200 Cinematographers Were In The Running To Work On The Last Of Us [Exclusive]

If you didn't already know how huge "The Last of Us" was before the show premiered on HBO earlier this month, it's likely you do now. The 2013 Naughty Dog video game on which the series is based was a tremendous success and an industry game-changer, bringing gorgeous, cinematic style and subtle, character-driven stories to a medium that hasn't always been known for either.

It's no surprise, then, that when it came time to finally turn the game into a TV show (after an earlier movie version fell apart) the production took a go-big-or-go-home approach to getting the story just right. According to cinematographer Eben Bolter, who worked as director of photography on three episodes of the series, that approach included a massive search for the right people to capture the show's visuals.

Bolter's been a fan of the games since day one

I spoke with Bolter in an interview for /Film, and when the conversation turned to how he came onboard the series, he revealed that the hunt for a cinematographer matched the magnitude of the show itself. "Allegedly there were 200 cinematographers they looked at for the role that I ended up taking," Bolter said, after explaining that the series had been his dream job for years. 

This isn't the first big number we've heard in relation to this epic show. Last month, series writer and co-creator Craig Mazin told SFX Magazine (via The Gamer) that more than 100 actors auditioned for the role of Ellie, which ended up going to "Game of Thrones" star Bella Ramsey.

In Bolter's case, the journey to becoming the cinematographer who would craft some of the season's most indelible moments started way back in 2013, when "The Last of Us" hit shelves. "It was a day-one purchase for me," the filmmaker shares. He recalls that the game moved he and his wife to tears "a couple of times, particularly the ending," and that he considered any future adaptation of the game a job he'd be eager to land. "I'm a cinematographer, I make films and TV, but I've always been a gamer as well, as a hobby," Bolter shares, "And this was the first time I really felt like they were digging into my world and doing really innovative narrative choices." The game and its follow-up, "The Last of Us Part II," would go on to win dozens of awards, many of which emphasized their especially cinematic direction and design.

Finding the best behind-the-scenes team

Over the years, Bolter kept "The Last of Us" in mind as his ideal job. "Maisie, if you get this, sort me out," he remembers telling actress Maisie Williams, with whom he had worked on the Netflix film "iBoy" and the short "Stealing Silver," when her name was rumored to be attached to an earlier adaptation. He also considered Mazin a dream collaborator after his acclaimed project "Chernobyl," which Bolter calls a masterpiece. "So then when it was announced that it was 'The Last of Us' and Craig Mazin, I actually got a flurry of text messages from friends saying, 'Your dream job has just been announced.'"

Bolter, of course, landed the gig and became one vital piece of the years-long puzzle that was bringing "The Last of Us" to life on television. Fans of Neil Druckmann's games — myself included — have eagerly sought out behind-the-scenes tidbits from the series, reading interviews like runes to try to divine whether or not the team behind the show loves it as much as we do and will pull the whole thing off. To that end, it's heartening to hear that Mazin and Druckmann, who co-created the show, were clearly as deeply invested in finding the right filmmakers to bring the vivid scope of this world to life from behind the camera as they were in finding the right people to put in front of it.

We won't have to guess about whether or not "The Last of Us" will get it all right anymore, though, because the series is finally here. New episodes of the show air on Sundays at 9/8c on HBO and HBO Max.