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Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn’s Director Chats Up The Live-Action Series

Halo’s live-action web series premiered its first episode today, and we had a chance to talk to Stewart Hendler, the series’ director, about the show. Hendler is no stranger to directing web series, or full-scale film production. He directed the recent H+ web series and the 2009 horror film Sorority Row. We asked Hendler about his thoughts on the Halo universe, video games, and how he feels about 3D as a filmmaker.

Do you consider yourself a gamer?

I’ve always been a gamer for Halo. I’m sort of a partisan gamer in that sense. I would be completely lying to you if I said that I was good at anything beyond that. The way that I discovered Halo was that my roommates in college were huge gamers and I really wasn’t. When they got Halo for the first time, that was the one property that kind of sucked me in, and I felt myself spending a lot more time on the couch than with any other ones. So it’s always been my favorite franchise. Over the years I’ve sort of drifted in and out of playing other stuff, but always kept up with Halo, and always kept up with the story world of Halo, which is what I’ve always loved about it. So Halo is my main game.

Working on the Halo series must be a dream come true.

Oh dude, yeah, for sure. I actually got an e-mail from the producer on the show who was an exec  at Warner Bros. when I did my last project over there. And she basically said, “Hey, I’m doing another web series, it’s for one of the major game franchises. It’s sort of the vein of…” and she listed some of Halo’s direct competitors. “Would you be interested?” I wrote back, “You know, probably not my thing. If you were to say Halo, that would be a different story. Thanks anyway.” And so the phone rang thirty seconds later and she told me what it was. And of course, I dropped everything.

So you really like Halo. If it were any other video game franchise would you probably have just passed on it?

Yeah. Never say never, but I was just coming out of H+, which is a different web series with Warner Bros. Web series are so much fun to direct but they’re a hell of a lot of work. It’s kind of like guerilla film-making. You’re wearing a lot more hats. So I was at the peak of exhaustion from that when she called, and I was like “Oh dear god, no.” And of course, the magic word came out, and I said “Okay, yeah, for sure.”

This is the first time you’re working with a license. Was it intimidating to create something based on a franchise that people already know and love?

Yes and no. In some ways working within that world is super exciting, because it’s built so you can come play in a sandbox that has so much depth and rich characters already established in it. On the flip side of that, there’s a reason why it’s such a big franchise, and that’s because it’s beloved by millions of people. But we also felt a huge sense of responsibility coming into that space and being the first long form live-action to try and bring this stuff to life. So yeah, absolutely, it’s super intimidating and exciting, all rolled up into one.

How familiar are you with the expanded universe of Halo with the novels, comics, anime, etc.?

I dabbled in some of it before I got this job. Obviously, now I’m way more caught up than any human being should be. But I had read a couple, and I definitely had the encyclopedia, all that nerdy stuff. The amazing thing about the Halo universe is that it’s so big that I don’t know if there’s ever a limit to what you can find if you want to explore it. They’ve done so much with graphic novels and anime that it’s just immense. They brought me in and they didn’t really have a sense of story, so it was funny because where do you even start in a world that has a timeline that’s like more than 100,000 years long, already filled out? It’s also been horrifying trying to figure out which corner of that universe to focus on and bring to life.

How different is working on an online web series from working with film or television?

Some stuff is obviously the same. You work with actors, you work with gear, and you put shots together in a certain order, that’s what it is. But the infrastructure and mechanics of the big studios that come with a feature just haven’t been built in a web series yet. So everybody is trying to figure out what the right way to do it is, and there’s a different sense of experimentation and adventure and freedom within the web series space. So from a director’s standpoint you spend a lot of time on a studio feature just managing the machinery of the studio, and dealing with the mechanics it takes to make a movie that big, which are very well entrenched. In a web series, there’s a totally different vibe. From a director’s standpoint, anything goes. You can pitch anything; no idea is too crazy. The sky is the limit, creatively. It’s also tempered with the fact that web series don’t have the budget that movies do yet. It’s a balance, but from my point of view, I’ve spent the last two years doing it, and I’ve had a blast being in this space.

Read on for Hendler's thought's on 3D, which one of the Halo games is his favorite, and how much freedom he was allowed with the Halo universe.

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