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HBO's 'The Last of Us' crew gifts provided by New West business

Rich Patterson and the team at PBJ Merch Co. helped create more than 800 backpacks for the Alberta production

Rich Patterson (right) owns PBJ Merch Co., the New West-based company that created backpacks for more than 800 people who were a part of 'The Last of Us' production/supplied

It's considered the biggest Canadian production in history, and it has a pretty cool tie to New West.

It turns out PBJ Merch Co., which you can find along Eighth Street, was asked to provide crew gifts for more than 800 people who worked on The Last of Us, which stars Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian, Game of Thrones) and Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones, Becoming Elizabeth). The show is based on a video game, and made its debut last Sunday. The show follows a smuggler, Joel (Pascal) as he escorts teenager Ellie (Ramsey) across a post-apocalyptic America.

"I'm not embarrassed to say I'm not a gaming nerd, so it was several weeks into the project I'd been working with them, and then I found out, 'Oh, this is based on a game! Cool!' And that's the really common theme for us, is that we work with these productions, and we treat them just like any of our other corporate clients," Patterson tells New West Anchor. "We don't get drawn in too much about what the project is about."

Patterson says it's ultimately about providing great service and exceptional products with cool designs.

PBJ has a pretty extensive profile, having worked on gifts for clients like The Twilight Saga: Eclipse production team, Atomic Cartoons, Lizzie McGuire, The 6th Day, and Nintendo.

"These were actually production people from Vancouver that went to Calgary to do The Last of Us production, and I knew them quite well. When it came time to doing crew gifts—that's a lot of what our business is—they called me out of the blue and said, 'Hey, we're working on this project, we'd really love crew gifts.'"

While crew gifts may be given to actors, it's more common for items like hats, sweaters, jackets, or backpacks to go to the hundreds of people working behind the scenes to bring a show or film to life. The item is seen as a collectable or memorabilia item, and Patterson says it's more common for it to be something you'd wear for years to come.

In this case, PBJ Merch Co. was responsible for about 800 backpacks.

A mock-up of the backpack designed for the crew of The Last of Us/PBJ Merch Co., supplied

Patterson says the production company chose to go with backpacks for The Last of Us crew. PBJ Merch Co. then reached out to Projekt—a Vancouver company—to help provide the backpacks. The backpacks were then decorated in Calgary, one of the cities in which The Last of Us was shot.

"We love it. It's great business, it's fun, it's really great to see so many people acknowledged and recognized. Those people work so hard ... watching it from afar, it looks like three or four months of really intense pressure," he says.

So how exactly does one end up in the crew gifting business? Patterson says he got his start in the 90s, working for Roots.

"Roots very intentionally made a lot of inroads with celebrity culture, so they made a lot of contacts in Hollywood proper, in Los Angeles, and then those contacts spun off to the Toronto production centre and the Vancouver production centre."

Patterson explains it was common for people to order sweatshirts or other articles of clothing with a production's logo on it, and he was often the contact who would work on these orders. He kept those contacts going when he moved out to Vancouver, and eventually New West.

"The jackets with Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Sixth Day, that was a Roots project. Another one we filmed at the PNE Coliseum, called Miracle on Ice ... that was another one, so that's how it started," notes Patterson.

Fast forward 22 years later, and he says a lot of those same people are still working in productions. He says he's extremely grateful for the ability to do this—and for the opportunities it also brings to New West.

"Sometimes when I'm out in the community and I hear people grumbling about productions—it's often a simple knee-jerk thought—a humbug reaction, but usually just about people on the street and parking, I take that to heart and I don't like that."

While Patterson admits it can be a short-term inconvenience, he hopes people understand how it can help our local economy in the long run.

"I don't think they realize the spin-off benefits this industry has in the entire province of BC, but even locally, down to New West. A small business like mine is benefitting greatly."

Patterson says he's also made good friends with people who are in the industry—one of whom, Chris Smirnoff, who was a producer on Modern Family—rents a suite from him.

"Chris responded to the ad, he came to see it, and I was like, 'I don't know if this suite's quite up to [your standards],' and he said, 'no, I just want to see it!' And he's just so down to earth, now he has this nice quiet space. And he's been renting it from us in New West for three years. Now he works on a show called A Million Little Things."

A Million Little Things has done some filming in New West, and has been spotted in locations like Queen's Park, as well as at New West Secondary. The fifth and final season of the show will be out on Feb. 8.

"Turner and Hooch was filming in front of our office for a couple of days, and it screwed up the traffic, sure. But whatever! It was fun, and I think for two days of inconvenience, it's 100% worth it. They spend a bundle here."

As for those who want to start a business in New West, Patterson says don't be shy—and to know you have the backing of an extremely supportive city behind you.

"Go for it. Talk to people, that's the best thing to do. And just share."

If you're interested in learning more about what Patterson does, be sure to check out his company's website here.