The lights are on
The third episode of Halo’s live-action web series premiered today, and we had a chance to talk to Frank O'Connor, the franchise development director for the Halo franchise. He has a somewhat ambiguous job title and it means that O'Connor has his hand in just about everything related to Halo. We spoke to him about creating Halo 4's live-action web series, Forward Unto Dawn, and got some clarification about what his job is exactly.
You’re the franchise development director for the Halo franchise? What does that job entail?
Obviously I’m a spokesperson and that entails being an expert in every aspect of everything that we’re doing and then talking about it, but the vast majority of my work involves building and creating new elements of the franchise that end up in all of the various aspects of it. It’s a very large business at this point, even outside of the game. Obviously the game is the bulk of it, the game is the absolute master of everything else we do in the franchise and so everything feeds back into the game. It’s a really big franchise and it’s a big business on its own.
From that perspective, how involved were you with the show, with the production? Were you writing and that kind of thing?
We were editing and we were tweaking, really all the writing was done by Todd and Aaron Helbing realistically. We make notes and stuff like that but we were in the initial meetings with the Helbings about story and their first pitch, and the reason they got the job actually, was a story set on Harvest, which is one of the worlds from the Halo universe. We’d interviewed a bunch of writers and we had seen a bunch of pitches, and their pitch wasn’t the show we wanted to make, but it showed a really profound understanding of the universe and what the universe was about.
It also mapped directly to what we wanted to do which was tell a story about people because that’s what we wanted this thing to be. Obviously it’s going to be great for fans. Fans are going to look at just about every single detail in this and hopefully love it. We wanted this to be approachable for people who are not familiar with the Halo universe and to do some setup, not in the sense of a pure origin story, but to give context to the beginnings of events that actually end up playing out in Halo 4.
So their Harvest story did a lot of that but we needed to do something much more directly connected to it, so in the early meetings we basically helped them craft the story from the get-go and it was a completely different story from the one they originally wanted to tell. We were very involved in crafting that original plot, but we barely put pen to paper, that was those guys. We had meetings where we discussing things like Lasky’s allergy to the cryo-sleep as a sort of motivation for his character. It was basically world and story building from the get-go but they did all the writing.
You’re talking about getting pitches. Did you guys put out a call for writers?
We did, we put out a call. First we interviewed a bunch of writers and then we narrowed down that list and then we put out a call for pitches, but those guys actually had the most complete pitch to begin with and the deepest understanding of the universe. They had done really good work on serials with Smallville and Spartacus in terms of really quickly being able to establish characters. We don’t have a lot of time with this show, it’s five weeks of content, so we needed writers that could rapidly establish character, and motivation, and universe building, basically in a very rapid time frame. I don’t mean their execution on the script, I mean the five weeks of content that this thing ends up being.
What was the impetus for doing a live action show for a video game?
We haven’t had a numbered Halo sequel in almost five years at this point, and we wanted to refresh people and we wanted to bring people back into the universe. We were talking about doing it both in the game and in TV commercials, and both of those things are actually going to happen. There’s going to be a lot of bringing people up to speed, hopefully in really unobtrusive and non-obvious ways. That conversation started extending out into, “Well what else can we do here?” What can we do to really make people sit up and take notice? And what can we do to tell a really good Halo story? I think people love watching the TV commercials, but they’re not terribly satisfying in terms of narrative content. They’re really big and you see some cool action, maybe an explosion, and while people enjoy seeing Halo stuff brought into the flesh as it were, they’re just not getting a lot of satisfactory resolution to those brief vignettes, and so it literally just snowballed from that conversation and we said, “Well why don’t we just make a show? We can do that kind of thing.”
The next step was starting to talk to first a production company and our producers, so we hired Lydia and Josh (the executive producers behind Forward Unto Dawn) and with those guys in tow we started farming out the pitch to various writers and directors. We were really trying to pick people who would fit the scale of this project and honestly give us the most bang for our buck. All of the people we’re working with have worked on pretty cool things that are able to do a lot with fairly limited resources. We’re trying to get as much of our budget up on the screen as possible.
Read on to find out exactly how Forward Unto Dawn fits into the narrative of Halo 4.
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