EXCLUSIVE Interview With ‘Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn’ Executive Producers Josh Feldman and Lydia Antonini
With the passing of the Halo franchise from Bungie to 343 Studios, many fans of the Halo universe have been overly cautious of how their much beloved world would be handled. At the end of Halo 3, we are left with in a cliffhanger style fashion, but thankfully ‘Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn’ steps in and bridges the gap from where we left off. As the many millions of viewers have seen in the 5 weeks that led up to the release of Halo 4, the web series ‘Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn’ has shown many Halo fans that the series is in good hands. Here to reassure this point, ScienceFiction.com had a great opportunity to chat with the Executive Producers of the webseries Josh Feldman and Lydia Antonini . Check out the questions below as we quiz them on how they approached this delicate task of not only making a great Sci-Fi webseries, but also keeping it authentic to the Halo universe that we all hold in high regards.
SF: With so many characteristics that make Halo the phenomenon it is as game, what was the hardest thing to bring to reality in the web series to keep it authentic to the Halo universe? Was there anything you wish you could have done that just didn’t make it?
EPs: Some of the most complex aspects of the Halo universe, in terms of authenticity, would have to be the Covenant aliens. Fans have been battling these enemies for a decade and they have a look and feel that was crucial to get right. We have Elites, Jackals, and Hunters in the show. Now, credit where credit is due on this front: we had a top-notch VFX team and precise collaboration with 343 Industries, the studio behind Halo.
In terms of anything that we weren’t able to pull off, with any filmmaking project there are always bits and pieces that get held back for any number of reasons. I wish I could name some hot-button scene that we weren’t able to do, but I can honestly say the big “set pieces” and action sequences made it to the finished product. We did explore some different approaches for the Chief and Cortana sequences on the Forward Unto Dawn frigate with 343. Not in terms of how the ship looked or how Cortana spoke or behaved, but rather from an editorial perspective. We explored those sequences more like proper scenes that we would cut back to in the episodes from the academy plot line. In the end we used these scenes as lead-ins at the beginning, which I think was the right decision.
SF: A large portion of Halo fans have not read the Halo books which give so much more detail of the Halo universe. What research did you do to help bring to light some of these amazing back stories to the fans?
EPs: 343 supplied us with a variety of materials. I read ‘Fall of Reach‘ and kept the Halo encyclopedia in close proximity at all times. We had the benefit of the ‘Anniversary Edition of Halo: Combat Evolved’ come out at the beginning of working on this project. I actually went to the Microsoft Store at the mall in Century City here in Los Angeles at midnight on the day of the release! I definitely started playing that along with other members of the crew. All that being said, the best asset was having 343 a phone call away. The narrative was designed in concert with our writers and 343, so the authenticity and backstories came right from the source.
SF: Each episode now is well over the 4-10 million view mark on YouTube,and has left many fans wanting more. Would we ever see another series like this coming to fans? Or perhaps a full length feature sometime in the future?
EPs: Ultimately, that’s a question for 343. I can’t imagine they’re going to stop innovating and finding new and expanded ways to tell stories. In terms of what they do next, that’s going to be their decision. I will say, it’s amazing to see the numbers of people who have watched the series and engaged in the content. If nothing else, it’s a great reminder at how beloved and relevant Halo truly is.
SF: Josh, as an already experienced producer, what was it like coming in to work with such an already developed franchise?
Josh: The previous project I worked on, ELECTRIC CITY, for Tom Hanks, was a brand new property. We spent years working on building out that world. In some ways stepping into something as rich and detailed as Halo was more like being an archeologist versus an architect, if I can use such a highfalutin metaphor. There was so much to mine, so much foundation already laid. Of course this also means there are enormous expectations from fans to consider. We weren’t trying to change Halo, we’d be crazy to do that. My fellow exec-producer, Lydia Antonini, and I sought to simply enhance what already makes Halo great in the live-action vernacular.
SF: Aside from the cookie crumb details of Cortana stranded with Master Chief for 4 years leading up to Halo 4, why did the web series not focus on the events of Halo 4, but rather the events leading up to it? Could this mean that we can expect some more series in the future covering that storyline?
EPs: Forward Unto Dawn focuses on the character Thomas Lasky, who appears in Halo 4, so there was a pretty compelling narrative reason for the series to focus on his backstory. 343 knew that having Master Chief be a character in the series was important, so it needed to be set in an earlier time frame, because in the events leading up to Halo 4, Chief is in cryo sleep (which we see in the opening segments of the series), so these were the over arching reasons for the storyline that was chosen. This storyline is also a testament to just how infinite the Halo mythology is. We have the details that Halo fans expect but also get to introduce new elements to help expand the narrative.
SF: Were you fans of Halo before the web series began its production? If you were, what was a main driving focus that you wanted to bring to the fans? If not, have you jumped on the Halo fanboy (or fangirl) bandwagon?
Josh: I’m firmly on the wagon! I’ve been playing Halo 4 and even though I was in the trenches of a Halo project over the past 18 months, I find myself totally immersed and excited by it.
SF: I know one of the main goals of this webseries was to bring the Halo franchise to people that were not necessarily familiar with the story and game. Do you think you successfully achieved this goal, or do you think your main audience was mostly people who were already fans?
EPs: Well, I know my mother liked it, to the extent that is any indication of anything! We’re quite proud that the series is as accessible to hardcore fans and newcomers alike. You’re absolutely right, that was one of 343′s goals. Appealing to one audience group could not come at the expense of the other. We couldn’t “dumb something down” and risk insulting the fans. We also didn’t want to ignore non-fans who may be trying to acclimate themselves to the mythology. At the end of the day, the answer lies in being good storytellers. Between Stewart Hendler, our director, Todd and Aaron Helbing, our writers, and the rest of our team, we constantly tested the strength of the narrative from the script stage, during shooting and in editorial. This is actually what I’m most proud of. But remember, even though 343 Industries works with all sorts of advanced gaming technology, they really are master storytellers and the keepers of a mythology told through games, novels, comics, animation, and now, long-form live-action. As filmmakers we were in great hands plugging into their narrative roadmap.
So after all is said and done, and the great ability of hindsight to be the judge now, how do you think the new Halo trilogy will turn out? I’ll admit that even I was very skeptical of that a different company handling Halo would somehow damage the storyline and gameplay. Now after seeing the webseries, playing through the entire Halo 4 campaign, and chatting the Executive Producers of this awesome webseries, things are looking very promising. It is also very reassuring to know that there are many avid Halo fans out there with the same mindset as Josh and Lydia to keep the Halo franchise alive, ever changing and built to handle the constant analyzing that fanboys and haters alike will toss our way.
Just in case you missed any of the ‘Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn’ episodes, feel free to watch all 5 below and let us know in the comment section below what you think.
***(UPDATED)*** Only the 1st and 2nd episode are able to be viewed on YouTube, the last 3 episodes have recently been moved to “private”.