Behind The Live Action “Halo 4” Trailer, A David Fincher/Tim Miller Collaboration

Director Tim Miller talks about how the new two-minute teaser took shape, his collaboration with Fincher, and how the poem “Invictus” inspired him.

As Microsoft ramps up for the November 6 release of Halo 4, the intensely anticipated next installment of the genre-defining videogame epic, the company has released “Scanned,” a two-minute, 20-second, live-action and CGI trailer that’s available on Halo Waypoint and the Xbox YouTube channel. It’s directed by Tim Miller, who was the lead visual effects artist behind Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and the opening credits of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so he knows the live-action-meets-CGI world well. Miller told Co.Create how it all came about.


The Origin

Initially, Microsoft approached David Fincher in hopes that the Oscar-nominated director of The Social Network, who’s behind Netflix’s upcoming series House of Cards, would take on the task of directing the trailer for Halo 4. “David gets that a lot,” says Miller, who has worked with Fincher for years on various projects, including commercials and The Goon, a movie they posted on Kickstarter earlier this week. Fincher suggested Miller for the trailer and said that he, Fincher, would produce it, thereby having a hand in the creative process.

On Fincher’s recommendation, Miller went to Microsoft with his pitch. “I had to really do my homework,” says Miller. “There were multiple rounds of meetings in which I gave my pitch.”

Miller’s Pitch

“The goal of this spot was to see more of Master Chief and what makes him a hero,” explains Miller of the series’ faceless supersoldier. “The harder the road you make a hero walk the greater a hero he is when he achieves it. My goal was to make his childhood and his early introduction into the military as painful as possible. We didn’t want to make it some patriotic call to arms, or mankind’s destiny waiting for him to arrive; it was more about him really being forced into his role and growing into it. It wasn’t pleasant; the military didn’t ask his permission. He was forcefully recruited and ripped from what otherwise would probably have been a happy childhood.”


“Invictus” is Miller’s father’s favorite poem and served as significant inspiration (see below). “It’s about being beaten down but never giving up,” says Miller. “To me, that is the story of Master Chief.”

How This Videogame Trailer Thing Works


As Miller explains, when Microsoft has pitch meetings with directors for a trailer the company has already spent plenty of time deciding which aspects of the game story will be revealed and how the trailer will play out. “There’s a huge story already in place. They tell me what to reveal, but how it is revealed is left up to me.”

That said, Miller got to add some elements that weren’t in the original outline. “There’s a scene where Master Chief is waiting for an operation to be performed on him and the other recruits,” says Miller, whose job it is to show the fear that’s building in anticipation of the dangerous, part-surgical, part-chemical procedure, meant to turn the recruits into supersoldiers.

“We set it up but we didn’t pay it off,” says Miller. Or at least that’s how he claims it was until he suggested adding a scene in an operating room where Master Chief witnesses a recruit on the next table die. “He looks over blearily as this guy next to him goes into seizures from the process.”


The Fincher Factor

“Working with David is great,” says Miller of his famous associate. “He’s feared in the film community by so many, which is funny because he is without a doubt the smartest guy I know and the funniest. He’s not a screamer, he’s a great collaborator. The thing that comes with David, why he has that reputation is–and I’m not blowing my own horn when I say this–you have to prove you deserve a seat at the table. Just because you’re in the room doesn’t mean you deserve to have an opinion.”

Miller and Fincher have known each other for five or six years, so, Miller says, they’ve moved past that awkward stage: “Now David knows that when I say something I’m not full of shit. And we can have a creative dialogue. Conversely, he tells me when he thinks something different. He can look at something you’ve done and say, like, If you move that to the right and change that cut that’ll make it so much better. You can instantly see that he’s right.” For instance, the abduction scene that Miller referred to earlier: “David was instrumental in that scene. Child abduction is touchy. He was great in early meetings, comparing Master Chief to Batman. The trauma that shaped him has to be severe enough and, David said, don’t soft-sell that he was taken from his family at a young age. If you don’t let it be painful, you’re not serving the process well. David has a wonderful way of expressing his opinions. He chimed in at all the important moments.”


Oh, the Scrutiny

Despite how exacting Fincher may be, it seems he’s nothing compared to a corporation that has potentially billions of dollars riding on this project. “This kind of work is incredibly scrutinized,” Miller explains. “There’s a lot at stake. This guy Master Chief is probably the most iconic figure in all of gaming. My contribution is small–and heavily overseen–however, it’s an honor to contribute in some small way to his legend.”

“Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley:


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.


Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


About the author

Ari Karpel is a frequent contributor to Fast Company and Co.Create and an instructor at UCLA Extension. His writing about culture, creativity and celebrity has also appeared in The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Men's Health, The Advocate and Tablet.