In 2005 Microsoft’s video game title Halo was enjoying massive success. They had recently released a sequel and a third installment was imminent. It was during this time that Microsoft set out to turn the popular video game into a cross-media franchise by bringing it to the big screen. They paid 1 million dollars to have the script penned to their specifications before it talked to a single producer or executive in Hollywood. By mid-2005 the movie was set to start pre-production with Peter Jackson on board to produce and rumors of Denzel Washington in the lead. Less than a year later, the Halo movie was declared dead in the water.
How does a sure thing fail? The official story was that Microsoft was seeking an unprecedented rights deal that neither Fox nor Universal could get behind. When looking closely at the abandoned blockbuster it becomes clear that vastly different corporate cultures contributed to a breakdown in communication between Silicon Valley and Hollywood. This is exemplified in Microsoft’s attempt to play Fox and Universal against each other only to find out that the two studios had been talking to one another about the project the whole time. This type of collaboration, while not uncommon in Hollywood, is virtually unheard of in the software world.
In a world of media convergence where synergy often appears natural, it becomes easy to oversimplify these complex relationships - as this video does - by implying that Bill Gates and Peter Jackson personally struck a deal. In drawing attention to the complex system of relationships that exist within a franchise, these instances of failed synergy support Keith Negus’s argument that the cultural industry is a “less stable and predictable entity” than it is typically imagined to be. The failure of the Halo movie provides a rare moment where the curtain of the entertainment industry is pulled back to reveal the “micro relations” and various (often conflicting) business practices that are part of the process of cultural production.
It seems, at this moment Microsoft is comfortable using Hollywood primarily as a promotional tool. They have recently produced and self-distributed a short film aired in segments on YouTube and have tapped Academy Award-winning director David Fincher to produce the official trailer for Halo 4. How these new relationships with Hollywood insiders will differ from the previous ones remains to be seen.