At the Future of Television East conference last week, Microsoft's Frank O'Connor sat on a panel that focused on the grail of transmedia.
Halo's franchise development director is a shortish, stocky guy who looks like a feisty boxer. And he's proud bordering on arrogant about the lauded series of games that sold so many Xboxes. "We want to have Halo on any screen we have access to," said O'Connor. That would be the height of ubiquity indeed.
After the panel, a high level network executive came up up to O'Connor and said, "We want to do something with Halo."
O'Connor shot back, "Bring piles of money."
The executive, taken aback, responded, "For Halo, we will."
Moments later, I spoke with O'Connor in a lounge area, fashioned for the event by conference producers outside NYU's new Stern school of business auditorium.
The first thing O'Connor said was, "There will be a Halo movie."
Still? After all these years, after the end of Peter Jackson as the director and Denzel Washington as the star, you're still talking about it?
"Everyone wanted to do a Halo movie, the director, Microsoft, the highest placed people at movie companies."
So what happened? "It was the lawyers," said O'Connor. "When they went behind closed doors with the contracts, things fell apart." O'Connor said that the primary sticking point was the fact that Microsoft owns all rights to Halo, and that means licensing as well. "The problem was that the movie company couldn't make any money beyond the movie."
Hollywood is populated by a weird breed of bean counters and lawyers. They expect, said O'Connor, to make money even on a movie that bombs at the box office, not only through DVD sales, but through licensing products with both alacrity and occasional abandon. They couldn't do that with Halo, so the project grew fallow.
O'Connor is adamant when he says Microsoft would happily permit any prominent director to shine in his or her own way on a Halo film. "If Danny Boyle wants to make a Danny Boyle-style movie, that's great. Let Danny Boyle be Danny Boyle. We would not constrain a director."
But perhaps the smartest place for a Halo project would be at a network like Showtime or HBO. "We'd love to see Halo as a television series. Look what HBO did with Band of Brothers or even Rome. Something like that would work because the Halo universe is so vast." In a miniseries or a longer running series, fans would be treated to deeper, more explorative narrative that drills down deep into the Halo mythos - if the writers and directors were intelligent enough.
Then, he said it again: "There will be a Halo movie. We don't need a movie. But we'd like a movie. We'd like the moms of gamers to see the movies because they would love our characters. Maybe we'll even fund it ourselves."
It makes sense. If a group of fans can make a something as moving as what's below, imagine the possibilities for a Halo movie done right.
Harold Goldberg, a long time videogame journalist, is the author of All Your Base Are Belong to Us, How 50 Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture. It will be released on April 5. 2010 from Crown/Three Rivers Press.