The executive producer behind the Terminator franchise talk about the new film, the video game, and the upcoming Machinima series starring Moon Bloodgood
Terminator Salvation opened today in theaters across the country. We caught up with the executive producer behind the operation, James Middleton, to talk about the film, the future of the franchise, Arnold Schwarzenegger's cameo appearance, and the just released Terminator Salvation: The Machinima Series, which stars Moon Bloodgood as Blair Williams. This new animated drama is being co-produced by Middleton in association with McG, director of Terminator Salvation, and Machinima Inc. It is a six-part adventure that utilizes real time computer animation generated from the Terminator Salvation video game.
Terminator Salvation: The Machinima Series is set against an original story written by Andy Shapiro and directed by Tor Helmstein. Fans will follow "Blair Williams" (voiced by Moon Bloodgood) on an action-packed journey that will reveal the origins of her character and how she became involved with John Connor's resistance unit two and a half years before the new movie begins. Cos Lazouras, President of Halcyon Games, also joined us for a chat about how this new six-part series will tie into both the film and the video game upon which it is based. Here is our conversation with Mr. Middleton and Mr. Lazouras about this and other things:
What can fans expect to see from Terminator Salvation: The Machinima Series?
Cos Lazouras: We had access to the tools and engine of the video game. We utilized those assets. And shot a piece of animation in real time. The technical aspect had us detaching the controller from the character. We use the camera to set up themes. We record that and edit that into a narrative. The really important aspect for us was utilizing the wealth of stories available in the Terminator world. We could bounce off of what was being set up in the movie. We could utilize the characters that are in the movie and the game. In particular, we have used Blair Williams. We are giving her more and more backstory, and giving a reason why certain things happen in the film. Why she is in this particular place in her character arch.
What was it about Moon Bloodgood's character Blair Williams that made you decide to devote an entire series to her?
James Middleton: I think we have all fallen in love with the character of Blair Williams. She has been a character that has stood out since the original drafts of the screenplay. As played by Moon Bloodgood, she has come alive in a really vibrant, cool way. One of the reasons I like her is that she is a quintessential Terminator hero. She starts out from an origin that might not be so auspicious. But she eventually becomes a great hero. That is what we see with Blair Williams. At the time of Judgement Day, she was in her late teens or early twenties. By the time we see her in the movie, and in the video game, she has become a stellar operative for the Resistance. The cool thing about her, which is akin to other great female characters like Sarah Conner in the Terminator series, is that she does not lose her emotions and connection to humanity. That leads her to do some things in the story that are very surprising. We love her character. I was really psyched to do something new with her in this really cutting edge form of animation.
Cos Lazouras: From a gaming perspective, the interesting thing about Blair was that she was played by Moon Bloodgood, who is obviously a very attractive lead actress. But Blair wasn't a sexualized character at all. She is an atypical female character that we have not seen in a lot of video games. She is using the aesthetic qualities of the character. It's less about her behavior. There was an opportunity to get away from all that and focus on the idea that in this world, any regular person could rise to the top in the Resistance. She does that within twenty-four hours, and that is a really good grounding for the type of game we are making, and for the Machinima series. There is a really good grounding to create this story around her.
Its interesting that you bring up her sexuality. A lot of fans were disappointed that Moon's nude scene got cut from the film. I don't assume that scene will reappear in this new series?
Cos Lazouras: (Laughs) That was a joke with Moon. We told her this is where we should do it. We thought it would be very funny. But its not going to happen. It's not that kind of show, really. It's bad, visually, to see that. And it's not that kind of character. It's really about this strength that comes from avoiding that aspect of her. I don't know if you've seen the film yet, but there is an obvious sexual tension between her and the male character that she interacts with. I don't want to spoil anything for those who may have not yet seen the film. Her sexuality is acknowledged, but not overtly.
How does the series change or shape the Terminator Salvation film and the video game?
James Middleton: Its another dimension to the world of Terminator Salvation. The movie takes place in 2018. This is fifteen years after Judgement Day. Skynet has not yet reached its peak of power or technical prowess yet. Nether has the Resistance. They are still recovering from the nuclear apocalypse, and are dealing with an increasingly difficult battle. Blair Williams is a part of that effort. And she is part of the Resistance cell John Conner works with. In the video game, we see Blair and some of the other character two years before the events of Terminator Salvation. This new Machinima series takes place around that same time frame. You see a little bit of an origin story for Blair Williams. I will tell you that we will see more stories about Blair Williams in the future. Because she is such a fantastic character. This character has really come to life as performed by Moon Bloodgood. That is the context for how this Machinima series fits into the whole world of Terminator Salvation.
Cos Lazouras: Exactly. To touch on what James was saying, the time frame of the video game being two years before the movie, and then six months before that in the Machinima series, what you will see is her, as a character, having quite an impact on John Connor. This will be in the game. When you pick up with John Connor by the time the game starts, he is on the verge of giving up. The future has not gone the way he expected it to go. And the Resistance has taken a lot of damage. They are essentially losing. There is this race between both the Resistance and Skynet, which partially destroyed itself by setting off the nuclear holocaust, scrambling to get it together. The actions that you see Moon take, and how she behaves, do have a big impact on Moon's character arch. That happens in the film as well. There are things in the movie that do stir John into different directions. The seeds for all of that are in this Machinima series. You see where this woman comes from. And how her character make-up does drive her to do things in a certain way.
Can you tell me more about the Machinima process?
Cos Lazouras: It is a very interesting experiment. We are making movies that are very challenging, because this is a very different process than we are used to working with in regular animation. It is like shooting live action within a video game. You have the axis that is already created by the video game, and that is what your are accessing. You are moving the camera and playing the game in a way that moves with how you are telling your story. And you are recording that. A variety of things can happen. Your digital axis may not behave the way you need it too. You don't create a storyboard, and then create models, and rig them in a very carefully way. This is all happening in real time, and then you edit from there. You try to turn that into the story you want to tell. You are limited in certain ways. But those limitations help you concentrate on the strengths of Machinima. Which is camera movement, and setting up these very high-octane action scenes. At the same time, you have to get across the subtleties of acting. It has been very challenging, but incredibly rewarding. What you end up with is watching an animated short or episode that does look and feel like a video game. At the same time, it is very cinematic. There is a very specific aesthetic to that. This is a medium that only fans and amateur filmmakers have played in. This is the first time that a studio and a film production company have come together to recognize the medium as a very legitimate way to tell a story. Ultimately, we are doing this because we are those filmmaking amateur, geeky guys that like to play in this video game space. We wanted to do something that was inspired by all of the Machinima that we have seen. And take it as far as we can. That is the process and the reasoning behind this.
Some amazing work was done in bringing 1984's Arnold Schwarzenegger back to life for this new film. Can you talk about the difficulties in utilizing that technology and how we may see it further used in the sequels and in future video games?
Cos Lazouras: This is one of the reasons why the video game looks identical to the film. We were able to have our video game guys sit side by side with the filmmakers during the production of the film. We all worked through the inception of this utilizing both mediums. We understood the process and knew why everything happened in the movie, like the inclusion of Schwarzenegger in digital form. That does have a profound effect on storytelling. That first moment when you see Schwarzenegger, and he looks like Schwarzenegger from Terminator 1, is an incredible moment. It took me right back to watching that first movie. To begin with, it is a little odd. At the same time, it was exhilarating to recreate this actor at a particular point in time. How is that going to affect storytelling going forward? Some of the actors that I personally grew up with, like James Cagney and Steve McQueen, can come back. I would not be surprised in the near future if there is an agency that represents digital actors who are representations of real people who may or may not be still around, acting. I am very curious how that is going to be included in films and storytelling in the future.
Do you think gaming is more apt to take this process and utilize it?
Cos Lazouras: I think filmmakers are going to continue to explore what they have done with this particular actor. From a gaming perspective, we have had digital representations of actors in lots and lots of games. As the technology moves forward, and we get to the platforms that can achieve more graphically, and these images get more and more realistic, that line will blur. I think you will see images that are closer and closer to photo-realistic digital actors. That is inevitable. And I think it will spill into cinema at some point. To some degree, it will be interesting to see if there will be the creation of a digital actor that is original. It is not something based on an existing person. And this digital human gets hired to appear in multiple movies.
Do you see this as an extension of what we see happening in the Terminator films with the uprising of Skynet?
Cos Lazouras: (Laughs) Seriously, no. But I think technology moving forward is indicative of the type of story they are trying to tell. That is the basis of the Terminator franchise. The idea that technology becomes self-aware is something that may never happen. But some of the technology that does exist is based in thinking engines. And it is all happening faster and faster. We are seeing great leaps forward.
What can you tell us about the future of the Terminator franchise?
Cos Lazouras: Everyone is waiting to see what happens with this film. There are conversations that are happening. Everyone is very excited. Everyone that was involved with this movie is suspected to come back. We have so many stories to tell in this universe. Conversations have definitely started. Right now, the focus is on Terminator Salvation:.
Is Marcus going to come back, or is he finished?
Cos Lazouras: You wouldn't want to spoil anything, right? I don't think that has been determined yet. There are a lot of avenues a sequel to this movie could go down. I think everything is on the table, right? This has always been envisioned as a trilogy. And I think that is what we are planning.