This past Monday evening marked the midnight launch for Halo 4 and I was lucky to have a chance to sit down with 343 Industries creative director Josh Holmes to discuss Forward Unto Dawn. We talked about the creative collaboration between the producers, the fan response to five part video series, and even what the future may hold for live action Halo (I can has movie plz?), so read on!
Holly Green: Forward Unto Dawn has been such an impressive effort, I believe I read the costs were roughly around 10 million for the total production. This is the first live action endeavor for the Halo series, yes?
Josh Holmes: Other than some of the live action commercials, This is the first long action piece that we’ve done so it’s been kind of an experiment just to see how can we tell stories in the halo universe using this format and how will people respond to it. So far the response has been incredible from the fans.
Holly Green: I had a chance to sit down and watch the whole thing this week and was really impressed with the casting job, it was nice to see Anna Popplewell from The Chronicles of Narnia. What was the casting process like?
Josh Holmes: For the most part that was our director Stuart Hendler, who would then run it past our counsel over here at 343 [Industries] to provide feedback into the process. For the most part we all just agreed on who the right performers were for each of the roles; I think the key to the success of the series really is the performances, that the actors are able to breath that life and humanity into the characters and make you kind of believe and experience the emotion of the situation with them.
Holly Green: There were some really great performances. Now about the writing, which were assigned to this project, was there overlap with the game writers themselves, was it a lot, a little?
Josh Holmes: Our writing team on the production side were the brothers Todd and Aaron Helbing, who have also written for Carnivale, Spartacus, and Smallville. We worked directly with them throughout the process of developing the script, and that was largely the work of Frank O’Connor our franchise creative director and Kevin Grace our franchise manager worked directly with them throughout the script writing process, fleshing out the characters and story arcs we wanted to tell. The whole thing was done on a relatively accelerated time frame.
Holly Green: What was the time frame like?
Josh Holmes: Production was about ten months, which is fairly accelerated given that this is our first stab at it. So it was really important for us to get all those decisions, casting and location, etc., make sure we got it all right and that we were able to deliver in that short time frame.
Holly Green: Who else did you work with in this endeavor, was it solely Microsoft with 343 Industries or were other production teams brought in?
Josh Holmes: Forward Unto Dawn was produced by 343 Industries and Microsoft Studios in association with Herzog and Company. Lydia Antonini was our producer on the production company side, along with Josh Feldman; both brought a lot of expertise from the linear and film side, and helped us put together everything so quickly. John Sullivan on the effects side is an amazing supervisor who was able to bring all the visual effects together within our time frame and a reasonable budget and deliver on the moments and locations.
Holly Green: Speaking of which, where was the series filmed?
Josh Holmes: We filmed in Vancouver British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, which has been used for a number of sci-fi films because of the aesthetic and architecture of the space, and it suited our needs well.
Holly Green: How popular has the series been?
Josh Holmes: The first episode is up to 8 million views on YouTube so things are going good, the response has been massive and it’s really gained steam as the series has progressed. [With] the earlier episodes, the audience was waiting to see where things were going, but by the fifth you can see how it leads up to the beginning of Halo 4 itself and it sets up the game really well.
Holly Green: With the positive response do you see yourselves doing another series like this in the future?
Josh Holmes: I think it all depends on the story we’re trying to tell and if the medium works for telling that story so that’s something we’re open to. It was kind of an experiment for us so we’re really happy with the way it turned out and seeing the fan response, and how much they’ve enjoyed it.
Holly Green: And of course, I have to ask, is there any chance of a movie in the franchise’s future?
Josh Holmes: I think Forward Unto Dawn is a nice experiment in live action storytelling and proves that Halo can translate successfully to film. We’ve always said that we would be open to the idea of a movie or other live action vehicle if the story was one that made sense to tell and if the right pieces came together. In the case of Forward Unto Dawn it was the result of terrific partnerships across the board and that’s ultimately what made it work.
The RipTen review of Halo 4 should arrive sometime next week, so stay tuned. If you missed our pictorial of the game’s launch party, you should check that out.