Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi and Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann surprised the Hall H audience Friday at Comic-Con International in San Diego by appearing onstage to discuss Raimi’s early-in-development adaptation of the game company’s hit post-apocalyptic survival game The Last of Us. The filmmaker will serve as producer while the game creator Druckmann will write the script.
“Sam Raimi wants to meet with us, don’t geek out,” Druckmann recalled thinking when the director of the first Spider-Man series came to visit the Naughty Dog offices and discuss the possibilities of translating the game to the screen. Although Raimi was effusive in his praise of the relationship between Joel, the player character, and Ellie, the young girl he meets along his journey, Druckmann turned him down.
At that moment, Raimi was only one of several interested parties courting the game studio. Another was Screen Gems, a company willing to give Naughty Dog executives the level of control they were looking for; specifically over the script and casting. Raimi eventually found a way to become involved. “Clint Culpepper at Screen Gems gave them the power,” the producer said. “If the keys to the kingdom were in the right hands, they’re in Neil’s hands.”
“That’s why we’re here to announce it so many years early,” Raimi explained, adding that he was “super excited” to be part of the project.
He also noted that Druckmann’s involvement would set it apart from most video game adaptations, known for their generally subpar quality. “The writer of the video game is actually writing [this],” Raimi said. “[That’s] the strength, so we’re going to push his talents.”
Aware of the realities involved in adapting any material to the screen, Druckmann provided Raimi an outline suggesting material from the 40-plus hour game that would have to be excised to fit a two-hour film. He also suggested a new ending. He recalled the producer was “almost pulling his hair out” during his pitch for the revised conclusion, but allowed him to complete his thoughts. Following a brief pause, he remembered Raimi immediately responding with, “Here’s what I liked about the original ending.” It led to a discussion that found Druckmann going back to original story ideas from the game.
“It’s getting more laser focused on Joel and Ellie,” the writer said of the still-in-development script. He added that “we’re going to get something that’s equally as powerful” as the game in terms of the human story … There’s so many great strengths in the game. It’s more of an editing challenge. The strength of a great film is [the] relationships and that’s the heart of the game. Our job is to push it farther.”
Druckmann was also excited to tackle new material that will take the place of the game’s fighting sequences and “glue” the existing story together.
Prodded for any early casting ideas, Druckmann admitted they had lunch with Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams. The audience cheered at the thought of her taking on the role of Ellie.
Before taking questions from the audience, Druckmann mentioned a new Uncharted game is on its way and “something” related to it will available soon. A feature film may also happen in 2016.
During the Q&A, a fan asked Raimi how he first learned about the game. The filmmaker, a fan of games, said a business partner told him about it. While he enjoyed the survival elements, he “didn’t expect to be moved” by the human portrayals. That led to his first meeting with Naughty Dog.
Asked if Raimi’s brother Ted will find his way into the film, the producer said, “I love working with Ted, but I can’t say. Neil and the director will be in the first position to cast.”
Druckmann, responding to another question, said the game’s infected antagonists will have a part to play in the film. “They apply pressure on the cast and that’s the approach on the film: How does this tell us something new about Joel and Ellie?”
When a young fan wondered if Joel’s daughter — already gone when the game begins — might appear in the movie, Druckmann said it was one of the changes he suggested in his initial outline, but Raimi encouraged him to be faithful to the opening of the game.
Druckmann told another fan that he and Raimi have discussed bringing back some the support cast to reprise their roles, but with production so far away, it may not be possible. “But there is a way to get those actors in the film,” he said.
Raimi added that recasting the parts was roughly analogous to a stage play acquiring a new cast with each revival or tour. He said, “We’ll find the best people available.”
One fan asked Raimi if the announcement was too soon in coming. “Anything else, I’d say it’s too soon,” he responded. “But I’m a fan myself and I believe this is going to be fantastic. It’s not too early.”
“There’s never been a great video game adaptation for film,” Druckmann added. “We’re going to try our hardest to do it.”
Raimi continued the point by saying making an early announcement sets a high bar of expectation and presents a terrific challenge to the filmmakers. “We’re going to rise to [the bar],” he said. “And hopefully exceed it.”