One of Machinima’s most popular web series, and arguably its most philosophical, Arby n’ The Chief is back with its sixth full length season. After racking up over 82 million views on YouTube, this could in fact be the final season of Arby ‘n’ the Chief, and it just might be it’s best yet.
Following a growing trend of longer-form web originals, this season’s Arby episodes are longer, closing in on 20 minutes each, more than double that of its earlier days.
We caught up with Vancouver-based creator Jon Graham for his thoughts on what could be the final season of the Odd Couple saga of Arbiter and his pal Master Chief. He goes by a few names in online circles—Jon CJG and before that Digitalph33r—but the 24 year-old Canadian has been making a name for himself in (digital) Hollywood with a string of online films and series almost exclusively surrounding the world of Xbox’s megahit Halo franchise. Halo’s makers at Bungie software even threw Graham some early access perks, like say an exclusive Recon Armor Permutation, before that was a thing.
Tubefilter: Master Chief is a troubled character, but the Arbiter somehow stays loyal as a friend despite his tirades. Is this relationship really a reflection of the gaming community itself?
Jon Graham: That’s definitely a valid way of interpreting the relationship; the Master Chief figurine is a self-proclaimed ‘hardcore gamer’ easily swayed by new advancements in technology and expensive marketing, instantly falling in love with whatever is placed in front of him by who are essentially his creators, Bungie and Microsoft (not implying of course that Bungie and their games aren’t worth loving, they very much are, and Halo: Combat Evolved concretely remains one of my favorite games of all time, but Master Chief fails and flat-out refuses to see the greatness other developers have to offer), and the Arbiter is a retro gamer with a great appreciation for the classics, but still keeps an open mind and welcomes the new gaming age, though maybe with a hint of distaste. And when you put the two together, whoa boy! Hold on to your sides!
Tubefilter: What can we expect this season? Will they turn to a new game while still banned from Halo?
Graham: I don’t have plans for the toys to be playing a new game, I believe Halo still has the smoothest and easiest tools for making machinima films and that jumping to another game in the series would be too jarring. Instead, they find an opportunity to have their online access to Halo reinstated by volunteering their time to work as laughably low-level Terms of Service enforcers as part of a newly established organization named TOSERS (Terms of Service Enforcement/Response Squad); basically a team of in-game ‘police’ who patrol online games and fight and ban violators, comically referred to as ‘tossers’ as the acronym implies. This outrages a clan of hackers named Chaos Theosis who demand that their gaming world not be turned into a ‘police state’ and that TOSERS be immediately dismantled, otherwise they threaten to jump in and out of matchmaking games and use illegal software to frag and permanently ban innocent players from the online network.
There’s a theme of control that runs through this season — the Arbiter has fallen into a deep depression and has begun heavily questioning the purpose of his existence, convincing himself he has no control over his life. He’s reluctant to join TOSERS at first, but once he does and works his way up the ranks with Chief they’ll both be given control over people, and we’ll get to see what the characters do with it.
Tubefilter: Is this the final season or are we in for more Arby after this one?
Graham: It’s looking to be the final season so far, but the development of a season of episodes is a very organic process and I may change my mind towards the end, we’ll see.
Tubefilter: You’ve flirted with the idea of ending it before (Endgame), what brought it back?
Graham: When I did the mini-movie Endgame I was feeling quite burnt out, and then in a certain time period following that I started to take screenwriting a lot more seriously. Not that I didn’t take it seriously before, but not as much as I should have I think. I bought and read many books about screenwriting and story structure and greatly expanded my knowledge of the craft, and when the time came that I felt ready to exercise my new skills I thought to myself, ‘Hey, Arby ‘n’ the Chief still has a following, the characters still interest me, and now I think I know how I can make the show funnier and more engaging.’ Also the show is attractive from a production standpoint since it requires virtually no monetary budget and is quite character-driven, which is great practice for me when it comes to writing dialogue. Even though it’s not really a ‘proper’ live action show, to this day I’m always learning more and more about the core principles of filmmaking as I’m making it, which is invaluable to me and (hopefully) means when I do move on to bigger things, I can hit the ground running.
Tubefilter: What’s the relationship with Machinima at this point in terms of production and distribution of the series? (There was some confusion about this in the past.)
Graham: I handle all the writing, the puppeteering and filming of all the in-game and live action sequences, and the editing, so the bulk of the production. I also voice act for as many characters as I can without it being too weird (there was a time when I voiced every single character in my stuff, including female characters. Creepy much?) But now thankfully I have a great casting director in Ian Beckman who works with all the other talented people at the Machinima.com offices in Los Angeles (I’m based in Vancouver, Canada) to provide me with a variety of voice work that really helps bring the show’s human characters to life, not to mention counter-balance the grating sound of Arbiter and Chief’s synthetic voices. From that point on the episodes are rendered and delivered to my production manager Ron Campbell, OK’d, and then uploaded to YouTube under the company’s channel of the same name, on a weekly basis.
Tubefilter: Is the LA version now considered part of the same canon?
Graham: Although I did write for the LA version starting from about the fourth episode onward, it was during a time where I felt a little creatively stunted and at this point feel that it wasn’t my best work. It remains part of the canon only in a technical sense really, not so much in regards to the story, in the later seasons none of the events of the LA version are mentioned.