Tomorrow, the new Halo web series Forward Unto Dawn debuts on Machinima Prime and Halo Waypoint, giving us a look into the struggle of a class of new UNSC recruits. I got to sit down with the series’ Executive Producers Josh Feldman and Lydia Antonini and discuss the series’ origins and how it fit into the Halo universe.
What’s your history with Halo?
Lydia Antonini: My history with Halo is really more as an admirer of the franchise. Playing the games, I usually die in the first thirty seconds. I was super aware of the franchise and the wonderful story work that’s been building over the past ten years and then through my work on a show that was cancelled at Warner Brothers – Mortal Kombat – I was connected to the Halo team to talk about what they could do with the series in the digital space.
Josh Feldman: My experience is that I’m a giddy fan of this franchise that changed the course of games as we know them, so it was great to step into this work for the first time.
Did you work on the previous live-action productions, such as the Halo 3 ‘Believe’ campaign or the Halo: Reach spots?
LA: No, but they’re beautiful, they’re stunning. We used them as inspiration for where we needed to go as far as quality of our project. The commercials, even the concept art of the movie, really pointed us toward how we needed to really make a show that built on the series’ incredible legacy and respected the quality that people wanted out of Halo.
A few production questions for you: What kind of cameras did you shoot on?
JF: We shot on Red Epic.
What was your budget?
LA: We don’t have a specific number, but it was healthy enough for us to stretch it to make something really amazing.
(At this point the PR handler expressed they weren’t allowed to talk about specific numbers.)
How many days did you shoot?
JF: We shot for twenty-four days.
How did the project form? Was it always a tie-in for Halo 4 or did it have independent origins?
LA: They contacted us as they were coming into the last legs of Halo 4, so we knew we needed to live in this space between 3 and 4. The 343 Industries team was really open creatively to a lot of different ways to do that and while it was part of the framework, it wasn’t the guiding principle for the overall story. Their instructions to the writers were to find a great journey within this universe between those games.
What was it like to work with 343 Industries?
LA: They’re great talent and have a long history of empowering novelists, comic book writers, and animators to tell amazing stories within the Halo universe. They like to learn and they like creative people who have a great canvas to paint on. It was great to have people who know exactly how things work and know every detail. For example: our Master Chief armor, the level of detail is just incredible and to have that wonderful resource and to have that freeing, creative partner was really great for the whole team.
Halo is a big universe and, personally, I liked how Reach and Forward Unto Dawn focus on a whole new series of characters. Is there room to explore Halo without Master Chief or a Spartan at the helm?
JF: Well, those are questions better directed toward the geniuses at 343, and that’s really what they are: geniuses. We look at those games as admirers of the amazing artistry and skill. You know those games take years to make and their ability to think years down the road is incredible. We spent an amazing year creating Forward Unto Dawn and we’re excited that it fits into the broader mythology, made in full collaboration with 343, and that it’s a part of Halo, rather than as an aside to the series. We’re just as excited about all the places that Halo can and will go.
How big of a part will Master Chief have in the series?
JF: Any time you have the Master Chief, you know he’s fulfilling some kind of essential duty. That’s the only way he is, that’s how he exists, by being essential. You can’t help but to be in awe of the Master Chief and the way his mystique has been established, so we’re honoring that in a very big and bold way. We think that fans are really going to dig our Chief, which is their Chief, the one they know and love.
This is the biggest live-action Halo production ever committed. What’s really stopping Microsoft from making a movie?
JF: Well the thing is, if you think about what they’ve done, it’s Halo, and the fans are amazing and loyal and it’s a humongous franchise and they could essentially take the mythology to any different venue. The fact that they chose specifically to make something at this quality level, which is super high, and deliver in a way that goes right to the fans in the way that Machinima Prime and Halo Waypoint do, that’s very forward-thinking of them. We give Microsoft a lot of credit that they didn’t sacrifice quality and that they’re exploring this new, more personalized way of bringing what fans want to see directly to them.
Lydia, you had mentioned Warner Brothers and Mortal Kombat, which had been distributed by Machinima. Was that a big factor in partnering with them?
LA: I’ve worked with them several times before. I did a Machinima series at Warner for the Terminator franchise, but if you blinked, you missed it, so I had some familiarity with them. For this particular show, Machinima is probably the biggest mouthpiece or network to watch something like this. I don’t think there’s a bigger gaming, entertainment network website that has the scale that they do and I think Microsoft really wanted this to be available to everyone worldwide to enjoy, so there was a natural marriage between the two. My familiarity working with them also made it easy to extend our post production office so we could work on the episodes as long as possible. Josh is still in the mixing room working on some of the episodes and we’ll be working on this until the very last seconds.
Has Microsoft expressed what a qualifier would be for Forward Unto Dawn’s success? Would it be more Halo 4 sales? Would it be more future DVD/VOD sales?
JF: The way they communicated it to us is that it’s completely on the storytelling and aesthetic parameters. If we can make something that is authentic to the franchise so that even the most die-hard fans will appreciate the depths by which we went into the storytelling and the heritage of the series, those are the parameters by which they’re looking at success. I think in this new landscape you can expect that there’s going to be a healthy amount of viewing [the series online], but what’s been so refreshing or liberating creatively is that when we sat down at the table with them, we said, “let’s put on a great show,” and so that’s been our goal. We haven’t let those kinds of business parameters affect what’s right for Halo. And what’s right for Halo is driven by the franchise, the mythology, what’s come before, and what’s coming down the pike. Those are the success parameters that matter. That said, being able to distribute to the most amount of people around the world without limitation, that’s a great thing about this format and this approach.
LA: [laughs] Line up for Halo!
Last question: do we see Master Chief’s face?
LA: That’s not a question we can answer.
JF: No comment!
LA: Watch episode five and let’s talk then.
JF: What I can say is that there’s a lot of humanity and heart in this show, there’s a lot of humanity and heart.