Director Peter Hoar on ‘The Last of Us’ Episode 3
By Elise Czyzowska
14 March 2023
Just one day after episode three of The Last of Us aired, The Guardian hailed it as ‘the single best episode of TV that will be broadcast this year’.
Based on the award-winning video game created by Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann, The Last of Us has become HBO’s third-largest debut of the streaming era, recording 4.7 million views across platforms for the first episode alone.
Directed by Peter Hoar, the third episode tells the story of Frank (Murray Bartlett) and Bill (Nick Offerman). While the show’s main characters – and other visitors – do make appearances in the episode, the focus remains the love story between these two men.
MetFilm School were lucky enough to host Peter Hoar for a recent Masterclass at our London campus, and in today’s blog, we’re recapping everything we learnt about the episode – from casting Nick Offerman, to that heart-breaking ending…
The actor-director relationship
Peter Hoar had twenty days to shoot episode three, and despite there being 250+ people on set, he described it as ‘a family vibe’, especially thanks to so many scenes focusing on only two or three people interacting.
Typically, when a director comes in to film an episode, the cast is set in stone – but, when Con O’Neill, originally slated to play Bill, got stuck in the Caribbean filming Our Flag Means Death, Peter had the opportunity to find his own version of the character.
‘It was a shared moment of just… Nick Offerman,’ he said, ‘because he is Bill on the surface, 100% Bill. Even on set, if things were going wrong, he’d just pick things up and starting fixing them for us.’
After the casting was set, Peter Hoar turned his focus to building the relationship between the cast, which he remarked on as one of the most important tasks for a director. ‘Let actors enjoy their work,’ he said – whether this be asking their opinions on character decisions, or making sure they feel comfortable. Peter added: ‘If you’re not allowing your actors to enjoy themselves, you’re doing the wrong thing.’
How to adapt a video game
While episode three has become a cultural moment of its’ own, the focus on a gay relationship, and departure from the main storyline, also received backlash, with the episode ‘review-bombed‘ by people and bots alike.
‘I knew there might be some “haters”‘, Peter acknowledged, but added that while he was a huge fan of the video game, he never felt ‘daunted’ going into this project:
‘Maybe that’s because it’s who I am. I was telling a story about two middle-aged men, with grey beards, falling in love, and I thought, “yeah, I can do that”‘. And, of course, with moments like the poignant final shot of the open bedroom window, a direct reference to the game’s menu screen, Peter showed his dedication to the original game.
Looking at the wider adaptation of the show, Peter countered the so-called ‘curse’ of video game adaptations with the argument that, often, these projects don’t work because they’re ‘simply not that good’. This was never the case with The Last of Us, which saw one of the game’s co-creators, Neil Druckmann, co-write the show (and direct episode two) alongside Craig Mazin, the creator of HBO’s Emmy-winning Chernobyl.
I think they were smart about how they put it together. And Craig adores the game. Him and Neil had a complete bromance about it – and even if other directors didn’t love the game, they were appreciate, and they understood. I just think that that’s not always what happens.
At the end of the day, too, Peter pointed out that the show would never have pleased everyone. ‘If we’d done an exact replication,’ he added, ‘it would have been boring! You would’ve been going, “I want to fight! Why can’t I fight!”. Plus – the game already exists! It’s even been remastered!’
Discussing THAT ending
Throughout this session, Peter spoke about the importance of collaboration and teamwork on set – as a director, you should never try to do everything. With this in mind, he shared the detail-oriented approach that the team took to ensuring the emotional impact of episode three landed.
The last thing we shot was in the bedroom, when Frank wakes up and says, “This is my last day”. There was bawling all around the monitors, even Craig [Mazin], so I knew I was getting it right. But for that last shot of them, walking away, we did about five versions.
These versions ranged from over-complicated rigs, to tracking shots, to, of course: the final choice: a static shot that slowly shifted out of focus.
‘It’s a big moment,’ Peter explained, ‘but it’s a tiny shot, in relative terms. And I think that’s once again a testament to the fact that we all really cared about how this story ended.’
Placing emphasis on the details is what allows the heartbreak to carry through: mirroring the earlier dinner scene down to the way that the plates are turned, or Murray Bartlett’s small but powerful choice to place his hand out to Offerman’s Bill – all of these were, as Peter described, ‘little thoughts that took the episode a level further’.
The cast and crew were always aware that they were making something special – and their dedication elevated the episode. Giving one final example, Peter recalled decisions over how much emotion should be on display after Bill and Frank have eaten their last meals. ‘I’d suggested there be a calmness to it,’ he said, ‘but Murray couldn’t do it without crying.’
‘In that moment,’ said Peter, ‘it transcended acting – it was just feeling.’