SFU goes extraterrestrial for Halo web series

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      In early May, the Internet was abuzz with rumours that a live-action Halo production was filming at Simon Fraser University. The last time Microsoft’s popular video game franchise was talked about in this context was when a feature film, to be directed by Neill Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson, was cancelled—sorry, “indefinitely postponed”—in 2006. When asked what was up by Kotaku on May 2, SFU officials simply issued a statement that something called “Sleeper” was shooting in the concrete jungle.

      In reality, a crew was busy up on Burnaby Mountain making the five-episode web series Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, which debuts in early October and broadcasts weekly leading up to the release of the Halo 4 video game on November 6. Details of the cast and crew are being announced at San Diego Comic-Con this week, but the Straight visited two locations being used for the series back in May.

      Vancouver actor Daniel Cudmore plays Master Chief, the enigmatic supersoldier who features in most of the games. Cudmore, a former stuntman who went on to join the Twilight Saga cast and play Colossus in two X-Men films, is an ideal choice. Physically, the two are identical: when the 6-6 actor appears in the Seymour Demonstration Forest in the armour created for him, he’s almost seven feet tall and looks every bit the role. “It’s pretty kick-ass,” he told the Straight.

      Directing the series is Stewart Hendler (Sorority Row), who said they were lucky to find an actor who could not only fulfill the physical requirements but is also a “fantastic actor”. Australian newcomer Tom Green plays Thomas Lasky, a cadet at a military academy of the United Nations Space Command. Green, who was familiar with the video games, said it was “mind-blowing” to be suddenly confronted by Master Chief in real life.

      Also starring in the production are Anna Popplewell (The Chronicles of Narnia ) and Vancouver actors Iain Belcher, Kat de Liva, and Osric Chau, who appeared in three episodes of Supernatural last season and appears this year in The Man With the Iron Fists, an action film directed by the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA.

      Few details are known about the plot of Forward Unto Dawn, but it’s set during the early days of the war between humans and the Covenant, and we know that Green’s character, Lasky, among a group of cadets that gets caught up in the action, becomes inspired by Master Chief. We also know that Lasky is an important character in the upcoming Halo 4 video game, so the web series is most likely his origin story.

      Supervising producer Chris Symes told the Straight that they intended to shoot Forward Unto Dawn in Sofia, Bulgaria, until the producers saw SFU. According to executive producers Lydia Antonini and Josh Feldman, it was the futuristic look of the campus that sealed the deal. “We came here principally for aesthetic reasons,” Feldman said, a few steps from where shooting was taking place at the foot of the Seymour Dam on the North Shore.

      Although Forward Unto Dawn is an ambitious project—“This is epic in terms of scope and scale,” Hendler said, “because we really are setting out to deliver an action-packed, sci-fi adventure for people online”—Antonini also conceded that they aren’t working with a feature film–sized budget. “That means thinking about… how we achieve things in new and unique ways that really honour the visual fidelity that the Halo franchise has already established,” she said.

      “The good news is we have an incredible crew,” she added. “They are doing something pretty amazing with a slightly different work method than maybe a film or a television show would be made.”

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      Blaine Kyllo interviews actor Daniel Cudmore about Master Chief

      ”This is fucking horrifying for me!” —director Stewart Hendler

      Actor Tom Green discusses the role of Thomas Lasky