According to Executive Producer Josh Feldman, the live-action short series Forward Unto Dawn was an attempt by 343 Industries to do something big for their first outing with the franchise. After taking the reins with Halo Anniversary last year, Halo 4 represents the studio's first new entry in the series, and Forward Unto Dawn was a way of both celebrating that and expanding on the fiction.
Feldman reminds me that this is "the largest investment in live-action Halo" to date, following live-action promos for Reach and ODST before that. The five-part series, currently in its fourth installment via its YouTube channel on Machinima and Halow Waypoint tells the story of a group of UNSC recruits in an early encounter with the Covenant and how the Master Chief saves and possibly changes their lives. For Feldman, it's also a gift to the fans: "[It's] a project that will really satisfy their craving for more mythology in an exciting way."
I ask him why not just go with a story of the Chief ripping through Covenant baddies for five episodes and calling it a day. "The Chief is definitely in Forward Unto Dawn and does all of the things that fans expect," he says, but talks with pride about the introduction of Thomas Lasky, a new character in the Halo canon who plays a pivotal role in the series as well as in Halo 4. lasky, played by actor Tom Green, is one of the UNSC cadets at Corbulo Military Academy, one of a long line of military men ambivalent about his role in the military and not really interested in leading others.
Feldman shrugs off terms like "transmedia" and other buzzwords, saying that the net result will be Lasky being prominent not only in Forward Unto Dawn and Halo 4 but beyond both those titles. The live-action iteration of the character creates what he says is a "compelling, emotional portrayal of a character with a really fascinating backstory." It's important for Feldman that Lasky lives and breathes inside of the series mythology in a way that honors what came before.
Much of Feldman's faith in the final product seems to stem from his enthusiasm for director Stewart Hendler, who brought the live-action vision for the Halo universe to the Internet and beyond. "Stewart is just amazing. I think [he] broke the record for the number of setups for an individual day. Stewart rolled up his sleeves, and was an amazing director to accomplish that much in that period of time." Feldman credits the H+ with bringing creativity, positivity, and a can-do attitude to the production that allowed everyone to soldier on in the rapid shoot.
He doesn't sleep, Feldman tells me.
He says that level of enthusiasm was high across the crew who knew the importance of the franchise and the dedicated following that it has. I asked why that kind of enthusiasm has yet to translate into a full-length feature. While Feldman hasn't been directly involved in any of the aborted attempts to get Halo onto the big screen, he hazards a guess: "The expectations are humungous." Feldman rattles off the list of comic and novelization tie-ins and additional content that has come to make up the franchise over the last decade.
He says that it's not as though the series hasn't found success in other formats--it's more of a deliberate path on the part of 343 Industries and parent company Microsoft. Feldman again reminds me that he's had no direct involvement with the previous efforts to bring a movie to the screen, but based on his working relationship with 343 he hazards that if a movie didn't happen, it's because 343 and Microsoft weren't quite ready to pull the trigger on it.
It's not for lack of resources (read: money), either: "When it came time to do a project like this, I have to credit them, because they chose to resource us with the highest spend for live-action Halo, and chose to deliver it in a way that goes right to the fans."
I ask about the fanbase and its loyalty to the property: was there any anxiety about delivering the Super Mario Bros. movie of the Halo universe. Feldman says that was in their minds the entire time, and that in a way, it provided something of a boost to the team. If they didn't meet or exceed fan expectations, they would hear about it from the series' very vocal community. He says they were cautious to keep a 343 expert on set as well as getting guidance in breaking the story from the developer.
So Forward Unto Dawn is out there in the wild now, again, four episodes in and people have been watching it. Will it drive up excitement for Halo 4 as intended? And will it lead to the next wave of Halo live-action content?
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