SAN FRANCISCO – Microsoft Corp.’s full-length, Hollywood-style movie based on the next “Halo” video game will skip the big screen, streaming instead on YouTube before heading to store shelves as a DVD.
The Redmond, Wash.-based maker of the Xbox console, promoting the November release of “Halo 4,” has taken the unusual step of creating its own 90-minute movie, at a cost of almost $10 million.
Microsoft plans to release weekly installments of “Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn” on the Web before offering the game and DVD, a move that highlights the influence of new media, including promotional options and the ability to cut out traditional channels like theaters.
The film was scheduled to start airing Friday in five 15-minute segments on the YouTube channel Machinima Prime, leading up to the game’s debut Nov. 6.
“We’re either the best-funded Web series of all time, a sort of mid-road healthy TV pilot, or a super-low budget movie,” director Stewart Hendler said in an interview.
The clips of “Forward Unto Dawn” will stay online through Nov. 23, then disappear until Dec. 4, when a Blu-ray disc goes on sale that includes an added 15 minutes, for a suggested $28.99.
The film will also be available for download from Apple’s iTunes, Microsoft’s Zune Marketplace and other online movie stores.
Microsoft almost didn’t make a “Halo” movie. In 2006, the company shelved plans for a live-action theatrical release with Universal Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox over financial concerns, Variety reported at the time. The trade publication put the budget at $135 million.
After the stumbles in Hollywood, Microsoft began financing and distributing short videos and animated films online, while selling rights to make novels and comic books based on “Halo.” For “Forward Unto Dawn,” the company hired Hendler, whose directing credits include the horror movies “Sorority Row” and “Whisper,” and developed a script based on one of the novels and tied to the pending game.
While the production team hired the actors, Microsoft retained final say, including the decision not to use Steve Downes, according to Matt McCloskey, a Microsoft business director who manages Halo’s development. Downes’ distinctive voice as Master Chief in the games is known to legions of “Halo” fans.
By self-producing a movie and then releasing it both online and through traditional home-video outlets, Microsoft has carved a new distribution path, Laura Martin, a media analyst at Needham & Co., said in an interview. YouTube and other streaming sites traditionally show short-form video.
“They’re basically replicating the traditional film-window strategy of movie to home video, but they’re releasing it on the Web,” Martin said. “With this experiment, they’ve now given us another window into, ‘What does the premium online content market look like?’ ”