Before fans of Halo 4 were counting the days to release, and before names like ‘Thomas Lasky,’ ‘Hastati Squad,’ and ‘Corbulo Academy’ were significant aspects of the franchise’s canon, a special project was being planned by Microsoft. The work culminated in Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, the live-action web series setting up the events and cast of Halo 4.
Even in the face of those expectations, executive producers Josh Feldman and Lydia Antonini have worked tirelessly with 343 Industries to begin a new chapter in the Halo universe. Feldman and Antonini opened up to Game Rant on the challenges and surprises the development brought, and just how important it was to all involved to stay true to the source material.
When all is said and done, you both will have produced a 90-minute live-action film set within the Halo universe. Now that production is (mostly) behind you, were you adequately prepared for an undertaking of this magnitude? Was it anything like you thought it would be?
JF: The enormity of the task and responsibility that comes with working with such a beloved franchise like Halo never left our minds. Every project is unique and comes with its own set of challenges; to the extent any producer can be 100% prepared, we just tried to stay true to the franchise and make the best, most authentic decisions, both artistic and logistic at every step of the way, keeping the loyal fans of Halo in mind.
LA: We had great partners in 343 who were also great listeners, they allowed us to bring the breadth of our experience to the table and trusted to hire the right people. We took that very seriously and by the time we were on the ground in Vancouver we had such a wonderful team anchored by our supervising producer Chris Symes that it truthfully went more smoothly than I thought it would.
Microsoft has a strong history of critically praised Halo marketing, TV spots, and even short films, but have never taken the plunge into a standalone narrative series. There’s obviously been demand for a serialized story like Forward Unto Dawn for some time, so what made this the right time for a live-action web series? Why this format, and why now?
JF: You really have to credit 343 Industries, with a franchise as popular as Halo they really have the pick of the litter in terms of what format they want to pursue. The fact that they chose a digital-series format that directly delivers to the fans a quality-level that exceeds previous “web series” is very forward thinking on the part of 343 and Microsoft.
LA: Microsoft and 343 are some of the smartest people I’ve had the pleasure of working with and for. They have always been active in the narrative space with their books, animated projects and comic books. In many ways the natural evolution of that activity led to this series and coincided with a lot of really wonderful game series content that was hitting the web.
For years, fans have hoped for a feature film based on the Halo games (read our article on why Forward Unto Dawn could help make that a reality). Yet Microsoft’s commitment to overseeing their largest property has been seen as somewhat intimidating. Having worked with Microsoft firsthand, what are your overall impressions?
LA: I probably say this too much, but we worked with some of the smartest, most thoughtful, self-aware execs that I have worked with so far in my career. They are very focused on quality of storytelling and fidelity of the Halo world, I’m sure Forward Unto Dawn is only the beginning.
JF: To be the temporary custodians of Halo in a live-action incarnation is intimidating for sure. But when we started to put the project together with people like Frank O’Connor, Matt McClosky, and the other amazing talents at 343, it became a true collaboration. That realization is when I knew we were creating something that would truly be better than the sum of its parts. We brought live-action production expertise to the table and married that to their incredible franchise.
Did 343 and Microsoft’s dedication to preserving the ‘Halo’ brand lead to a more constructive relationship, or simply a different one than you were used to?
LA: It was incredibly helpful, we could have never made this aggressive schedule without their knowledge of the world. It was like having an art department that had been open for 10 years!
Stewart Hendler and the writing duo of Aaron and Todd Helbing both have experience with episodic web series, short films and television. What was it that convinced you they were right for the job? Was familiarity with the franchise a contributing factor, or did their vision coincide with Microsoft and 343’s proposed direction?
LA: I had worked with Stewart and with Todd & Aaron when I was at Warners. Knowing their range, abilities and openness to these types of projects certainly got them in the door. Franchise familiarity was less important than an ability to learn and digest the world in an interesting way. At the end of the day, the choices came down to thinking about how the ensemble would work together and how each person’s strengths would add something new and exciting to the overall show.
JF: Our full creative team (including Stewart, Todd and Aaron) had an amazing collaborative spirit. We all knew we were stepping into an established franchise with serious aesthetic expectations — never again will research for a project be so much fun as playing hours and hours of Halo!
Having been on the project since the beginning, did your hopes for the series’ story, production, and overall feel remain the same from beginning to end? Was there any time during production when your expectations were particularly exceeded? For that matter, any unforeseen challenges?
LA: Fan or not, standing in front of a life-size Master Chief will make anyone pinch themselves, it’s an awesome experience. We went in with a great team, great department heads and a great crew in Vancouver — everyone understood and relished the challenges, and what you see on screen is that excitement and dedication. I had very high expectations and the incredible team we had exceeded them.
JF: There were moments at every step of the process that seemed dream-like. Visiting 343 for the first time, visiting the Legacy Effects (the company that built the Master Chief suit), walking onto the completed cryo-chamber set… We’re just huge giddy fans ourselves. Our expectations were exceeded because the entire creative team knew we were all making something bigger than all of us, our crew pulled out all the stops.
Is this the last we’ll see of the ‘Forward Unto Dawn’ characters and series (until the extended cut releases with Halo 4’s Limited Edition)? With 343, cast and crew singing the praises of the experience, can fans hope to see this format explored once again? If the opportunity arose, would another chapter in the ‘Halo’ universe be something you would be interested in?
LA: As I’m sure all of your readers know, 343 plays their cards very close to their chests so I’d be flat out lying if I said I knew. What I do know is that I had a great time and I would love to do it again.
JF: 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 first episode of Forward Unto Dawn showed that the time and energy was well spent, but where the story leads remains to be seen. We have yet to see the full ambitions of the crew assembled by Antonini, Feldman and 343, as the special effects and the Chief himself are still awaiting their introductions.
Stay tuned for the next episode of Unto Dawn releasing this Friday, via Machinima Prime and Halo Waypoint. We’ll keep you updated on everything related to Halo 4 , releasing November 6, in the meantime.
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.