Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn interview: Executive Producers Josh Feldman and Lydia Antonini
With just under a month to go until the release of Halo 4 for Xbox 360, excitement for the long-awaited return of Master Chief is at a fever pitch. The game is pre-selling extraordinarily well, and 343 Industries is thrilled to show off their new vision very soon.
But they're not the only ones pushing a new Halo project. Microsoft has moved forward with a new live-action film series titled Forward Unto Dawn, which launched with the first chapter last week on Machinima Prime. The content will also be available for streaming on Halo Waypoint, and a DVD/Blu-Ray release will follow in December once all the chapters are released.
To get more insight behind this stellar new series (which has a higher budget and better focus than you might expect), we spoke with executive producers Josh Feldman and Lydia Antonini about what folks can expect from the series – as well as what kind of Halo fans they truly are.
First off, how did Forward Unto Dawn get off the ground? Did Microsoft come to you to make the production happen, or did you make a pitch to them?
Lydia: Microsoft and 343 first reached out wanting to understand more about linear narrative and digital series. From there it was a very collaborative process as we worked towards a plan that made sense for Halo and for Game 4. But ultimately, they did make us pitch them the final plan, on powerpoint no less!
Josh: 2012 was going to be an exciting year for Halo already by virtue of Halo 4. The fact that 343 wanted to do something this ambitious and that Lydia and I got to be a part of it as executive producers was incredible.
Did you look over previous Halo productions, like the Neill Blomkamp production from a while back, to help figure out which direction to take Forward Unto Dawn? Or did something else inspire you?
Lydia: The great legacy of the Halo commercials and Blomkamp work informed us in the sense that it places a very high bar for the quality level that we needed to hit to be truly additive to this amazing Universe.
Josh: The bar was set high, for sure. The Halo live action ads are some of the best game commercials ever. They’re almost like mini movies in a way. That said, we knew we had to adhere to that quality level but we had a variety of influences stemming more from canonical Halo fiction.
Tell us about the story revolving around the project, for those who might be unfamiliar with it. Does it tie in with the forthcoming Halo 4 at all? We caught glimpses of Master Chief...
Lydia: Forward Unto Dawn is somewhat of an origin story of a character who features heavily in Halo 4. We explore his early relationship to Master Chief and plant many of the seeds that precipitate his choices in the game.
Josh: Set against the backdrop of a UNSC military academy, a group of highborn cadets are training to be the next generation of soldiers in the UNSC’s ongoing war with insurrectionists in the outer colonial planets. Among these cadets, Thomas Lasky struggles with his doubts about this war, and with the burden of expectations he may not be able to carry. As Lasky comes to terms with his potential as a military leader, the terrifying alien alliance known as the Covenant arrives and turns his world upside down. Inspired by the Master Chief, he must decide what it means to be a hero.
How did you go about selecting a director, as well as your cast? Were you looking for the people who "fit" with the Halo universe?
Lydia: We were under very strict NDAs as we put together this project so at every step we had to rely on research and recommendations to put together the team. Our primary focus was to find creative whom looked at the limitations of the schedule and the budget as opportunities rather than challenges.
Josh: Any time you are filling key creative roles on a project you are trying to anticipate how an individual’s capabilities will complement the rest of the crew to conquer the unique challenges of the job. The director for this project needed to have all of the traditional directing competencies but also have a full understanding and appreciation for the world of Halo and how this project fits into the canon – we had a larger master that we had to please.
Did 343 Industries, the development team behind Halo 4, provide any sort of consulting? Tips on the filmmaking process? And in turn, did they apply any sort of mention of Forward Unto Dawn in their game?
Lydia: The process was deeply collaborative throughout every step, they were the studio that we made this for and were also the keepers of the canon, we couldn’t have moved forward with such ease without their partnership.
Josh: 343 was an active participant in the production of Forward Unto Dawn. We broke the story with them, fact checked every canonical detail in writing the script, they provided literally hundreds of designs for our visual effects teams, and we had a 343 expert on set every day of production to ensure authenticity. What is really cool, and speaks to the future of storytelling across platforms, there are some key details that first appear in Forward Unto Dawn that will show up in the game in ways that are impactful than if they were just in either component by themselves.
How did you feel about positive reaction to the project at Comic-Con? Were you nervous about what hardcore fans thought of the project at first?
Lydia: We felt great going in and even better coming out. There was such a great energy through this project that we just couldn’t imagine that it wouldn’t evident on screen. We made this show with the fan in mind, knowing we wanted to take them on a journey they have been clamoring for and it was deeply exciting to share it with them.
Josh: Being nervous about the hardcore fans’ reaction has been an asset to be perfectly honest. With these fans in mind we knew we had to adhere to the mythology that has been developed and scrutinized for over a decade. By the time Comic-Con was upon us we were more excited and humbled than anything else. It was an opportunity to actually see many of these fans face-to-face. We’re not a theatrically-released movie, so we can’t just go down to the movie theater and look in on some performances to see fan reaction, so this was a little taste of that.
Tell us more about the characters, and how they tie in to this series.
Josh: As mentioned, the central character is UNSC cadet Thomas Lasky. When we first meet him, we become aware that something in his life haunts him and is preventing him from realizing his full potential. He finds tough love and encouragement from fellow cadet, Chyler Silva and Colonel Mehaffey a wise and proficient instructor at the academy. Less encouraging initially is firebrand cadet Walter Vickers who has no time Lasky’s struggles. Michael “Sully” Sullivan spends his time assembling classified combat footage that foreshadows a coming conflict that will affect all of his fellow cadets.
Do you have a particular favorite character from the game series that you wanted to see in Forward Unto Dawn...or made it in, perhaps?
Lydia: I’m a big fan of Miranda Keyes but unfortunately she wouldn’t have made sense in this show.
Josh: I love the Chief and we definitely have the Chief. Franklin Mendez is a pretty cool character from Fall of Reach, he trained the SPARTAN II’s, but he doesn’t appear in our series.
We see that the series is going to be released on DVD/Blu-Ray once it finishes its streaming run on Machinima/Halo Waypoint. Are there any significant extras fans should keep an eye out for?
Lydia: Definitely! No one wanted this to just be a retread of the experience one had of watching the episodes online. We packed the DVD with as many extras as we could fit on that disc and we think it will be a wonderful experience for everyone.
Do either of you play much Halo at all? Were you invited to take part in any Halo 4 multiplayer?
Lydia: I am one of in the smaller group of rabid Xbox users who uses the console for everything but gaming. But having gotten a peek at the game I am going to have learn to play, it looks amazing!
Josh: I came later to Halo fandom, my enthusiasm was completely rejuvenated with the Anniversary Edition of the original game. It’s a great reminder of where Halo as a franchise began, how far it’s come but also the strength of the foundation on which the entire franchise was built.
Finally, if this production meets with enough success, can you see yourselves returning for a possible sequel or another story tie-in? Maybe something with Warthogs...?
Lydia: That would be completely up to 343 but we had a blast and would love to do it again.
Josh: When I see a Seattle area code pop up on my called ID, I answer very quickly! I’d jump back into this universe in a heartbeat, but of course, I serve at the pleasure of the Chief… Master Chief. The opportunity to set foot in the world of Halo over this past year is not something I’ll soon forget.
Check out Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn now through the YouTube clip below!