An Interview With Xerxes Sangco, Creator Of Halo: The Fallen
Hollywood is a strange beast. With every passing day, hundreds of thousands of dollars are pumped into film productions that make-up the major studios' theatrical output for the coming years, and hundreds of millions at a time for the biggest, most extravagant tent-pole blockbusters.
And yet, film adaptations of popular videogames remain largely absent from our multiplexes. Why? It's a question we ask ourselves more often than we'd care to admit, where we're often left shaking our head at the atrocious attempts seen thus far – Disney pumped an estimated $200 million into the likes of Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time and Constantin Film a rumoured $90 million into the Resident Evil pictures. Who else hasn't wanted to see a science-fiction blockbuster on the scale of Bioware's terrific space opera Mass Effect 3?
There's one gaming franchise that fits the bill perhaps better than any other. Halo's telling of the war between humanity and the Covenant is a story so cinematically rich that the fact a movie based on Microsoft's crowning glory has yet to be green-lit is still staggering to say the least. District 9 director Neill Blomkamp came closest in 2005/2006 when 20th Century Fox and Universal Studios decided to partner in producing the film. Peter Jackson was slated to produce, but the project was officially declared dead in 2007 after production delays led to cracks between the two studios, despite some terrific proof-of-concept shorts produced by Blomkamp, that to this day stand true as the closest Halo has ever come to the big screen.
“Halo is a huge pie and everybody wants a piece of it,” speculates Xerxes Sangco; writer, director, producer, visual effects artist and editor of Halo: The Fallen. “The [problem lies in that] the original investors of the franchise want the biggest piece and I'm not surprised. I'm not saying they're greedy, that's just the nature of business.” The nature of the business it might be, but that's something Sangco and his crew have steered away from for their non-profit fan project that looks to re-address the many misfirings made by studio's to bring the spectacular science fiction franchise to film. Built from the ground-up on a shoe-string budget that would appear to be loose change amongst studio executives - Sangco pin-points a figure of around $200 to create the stunning Prologue, a tantalising taster of what's to come – and a labour of love for its creator and the team behind it, Halo: The Fallen is without question one of the most exciting film projects on our horizon at this moment in time.
“Halo has a huge fictional universe. From the fall of 'Harvest' to the invasion of Earth, there are so many untold stories, characters and events that one can create that fall within the story's canon,” Sangco reasons on the inspirations behind the project. “The Halo videogames to me were always more than just videogames, they were an experience – an experience that has stuck with me since the first time I played Halo: Combat Evolved back in 2002. As an aspiring filmmaker, making a short film based on one of my favourite videogame franchises was a no-brainer.” And what a wise choice it might prove to be. Not only does the Halo universe hold some truly compelling stories from which to base a film around, but the rich resource of its fan-base can also never be underestimated. As Sangco explains, Halo: The Fallen has been built from the ground-up by a team not motivated by money or instant gratification, but the faith they all have in the property and the film they are building around it. Oh, and by those re-paying Sangco himself for the generosity he has shown others through the years.
“I first started the project after posting on 405th.com, a very large community of DIY costume designers, back in July 2011. All of our costume designers are Cosplayers and go to various conventions, the main one being ComicCon in San Diego, CA. I also love helping students. One of the best ways to learn is to learn from someone with experience, something I wish I had when I first started getting into filmmaking. So by helping students...for free, I'm able to get favours returned to me and have those same people help me on my no-budget productions. Everybody donated their time and talents to the film. Not one person was paid, or asked to be paid.”
And still, the dedication and the perseverance to get the project made is paramount. If there's one thing that has become abundantly clear to myself through speaking to Sangco and perusing the trinkets of information and media resigned for The Fallen from around the web (the dedicated Facebook group is a must-see), it's how much time, energy, commitment and attention to detail he and every single one of his crew seem to be gifting to the cause. It looks to be paying off in a big way, as early VFX tests shown off through YouTube have now become reality in the shape of live-action sequences, the costume designers' demanding efforts in accurately re-creating spartan armour (documented in tens of photos and a superb making-of) now being worn by the costume designers, doubling up as The Fallen's human troops.
“The 'Prologue' is just a taste of things to come,” teases Sangco. “[The Fallen] will take place on 'Installation 04', the ring Master Chief originally lands on in 'Combat Evolved'. Our story is inspired by the mission where you first get to drive the Warthog, the mission where you have to defend scattered Marines until an evac arrives. A few of those marines are hidden within rocks... We're also hoping to find a location that be a stand-in for the [UNSC ship] 'Pillar of Autumn' *hint* *hint*, if decorated correctly of course.”
If the plot to the main Fallen storyline sounds ambitious and out of grasp for Sangco and his team then we'd like to divert your eyes once again to the sublime 'Prologue', which manages to deliver (albeit in a relatively short space of time) some fairly solid action, superb visual effects (from the enemy models, to the introduction of the Pelican pick-up) and is apt in showcasing the terrific work everyone from Sangco, to the prop makers, cast, crew and costume designers have achieved thus far. Wrapped up in a visual polish rarely matched by films of a similar budget, the short also demonstrates the glorious level in production value we can look forward to from the main 'feature'.
“The response has been mostly positive and I couldn't be more thankful,” says Sangco on the recent release and reception of The Fallen's Prologue, which plays out a battle between human soldiers and the Covenant in flashback as an ageing veteran recalls his first encounter with the alien species. “We couldn't have achieved it without the amazing team of costume designers, cast and crew, [though].” Indeed, reeling off the ever-whirring cogs of the production – costume designers Chris Kraemer, Ryan Valera, Gene Ross, Francesca Kraemer, PR Manager and military advisor Daniel Yuan – it becomes obvious the adoration and appreciation Sangco holds for the crew that's made his vision so far possible. But it'd be unwise for him to over-look his own indispensable influence over the project, triumphing The Fallen on its journey through funding, staffing, conceptualising, designing, location scouting, casting, directing, editing and publicising. If Sangco feels unwilling to pat himself on the back just yet, it's because the ever-determined writer, director, producer, VFX artist and editor of this particular Halo beast still has the best part of his journey to go. And what a journey it could turn out to be...
Keep track of the project's progress by heading on over to Halo: The Fallen's Facebook page. Alternatively, visit the official YouTube channel to see making-of videos from the production and the Prologue itself.
A big thanks goes to Xerxes Sangco for taking the time to answer our questions and the co-operation he's shown throughout the process. Keep up the great work!