If you would kindly indulge me, here is the story of how I met Johnny Millennium:
Around about three years ago, my brother, Brian Milne, was cast in an independent feature film. It was his first feature and I of course was very proud of him. The film was called Happy Console Gamer: The Movie. It was based on a video game review show of the same name.
I had never heard of it.
A few months later, my brother was filming some scenes for the movie using my parents’ house. For one reason or another I was in visiting and got to meet Johnny (who was entirely behind the camera that day) and his friend and co-star Rob Man (who was entirely dressed as Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid. Complete with mullet). I managed to give them a hand a bit here and there, but generally stayed out of the way. Very nice guys. I remember getting Johnny sidetracked onto a conversation about classic anime. Also my belt snapped while I was squat pressing my brother for fun. Those two events are unrelated.
Still hadn’t watched the show.
Just shy of a year later I got a call from my brother saying that Johnny was having to re-cast the role of the movie’s villain and he was hoping I would be willing to step in. My brother was apparently acting as my agent and showed Johnny some photos and clips of me playing a similar character. I was very flattered (since I barely considered myself anything resembling a real actor, my resume be damned) and of course I wanted to help out my brother and these nice gentlemen get their project made. I’m noble like that. Also modest.
I also thought that I should probably break down and watch the show.
That said, I am very glad that I did. The show’s positive vibe and unabashed love of old school gaming totally captured me and I have been a fan ever since. Further, by the time I was finished filming my various scenes for the movie, I am also quite happy to call one Johnny Millennium a friend.
I had a long overdue chat with Johnny and in the context of that, squeezed in a somewhat formal interview to share with you all:
So the best place to start, they say, is at the beginning. Can you quickly recap for us how the show came to be?
Oh wow. Let me think. The show has actually been going about five years. To be honest with you, there’s a lot of other shows out there that are very, very big. After five years they’re at one-hundred thousand or two-hundred thousand subscribers. I only have fifty thousand. I think the reason why is I have a very hardcore, niche audience.
And that gets into how I started the show. I was on YouTube five years ago and I was doing searches on things like the Neo Geo and games I liked, like Phantasy Star and Y’s, and finding nothing. No reviews. Nothing. I wondered “Where are the people who are doing the reviews for these?” and came to the conclusion that nobody was doing them. It kind of bothered me because they were all games that I grew up with and loved so much. I was like “Oh my God! Something weird is happening here. People are forgetting these games.” and I felt this weird obligation to not let them be forgotten about.
So I had a camera and I had a microphone and I thought maybe I should do a review show. But at the same time I didn’t want to get in front of a camera. That was the last thing that I wanted to do back then. But I kind of bit the bullet because I believed in the games and I sat in front of a camera and I struggled, man. It was hard for my first twenty episodes, figuring out what I was doing and all of that. I didn’t know what kind of show I was going to do but it all kind of developed from there. The more and more I got in front of the camera, the more and more I felt comfortable.
Since then, its been five years, now I’m very comfortable in front of a camera and I’ve built a really nice niche audience. A niche audience that I like. I feel like I have a lot of mature people who watch the show, people our age, people in their thirties who remember all of these stupid, weird old games that we used to love when we were kids.
And that does bring me to my next point, which was that your show in comparison to the bulk of other review shows really focuses on nostalgic, happy memories versus finding some bad games and trashing it. So was that a real conscious choice there for you?
Definitely. Honestly when I came onto YouTube there was hardly anybody. I could count all of the reviewers on my hands. But [the reviewers that there were] weren’t saying much positively, there was all a lot of negativity. I was like “Man, doesn’t anybody love video games? Where are all the people who like video games?” I’ve always been very enthusiastic about my hobbies over the years and even just generally in life I try to look at the positives. It’s just so easy to say “Oh that movie is shit! This is crap!” I mean, do that myself sometimes, but I knew that the kind of show that I wanted to have was something positive. I wanted to look at the positive aspects of gaming and nostalgia.
I call my show more of a nostalgia show than anything. At the heart of it, its getting that good, happy feeling that you had when you were younger that you spend most of your life trying to recapture. You know, that great feeling you had when you first played Super Mario Bros and you finished the game. Even twenty-plus years later we can still look back on that with fond memories.
On top of that, getting to hear other people’s stories. That’s what I’m really enjoying with the show. Hearing other gamers and what were some of their happy memories. That’s where all the happiness is found.
Another big component to the show, and still keeping with the origins of the show, is of course Rob Man.
So can you tell us how you know Rob and how he came to be a part of the show?
Rob and I have known each other for twenty-plus years now. I used to hang out with his brother when we were younger, playing Dungeons & Dragons when we were around fourteen years old and Rob was a little kid. We’d chatted about video games and all that stuff back then but it wasn’t until I got older and I moved to England and came back that I ran into Rob a few years later and we started talking about video games and anime. This was back before the internet and it was always very exciting hearing someone else who was into playing video games or interested in anime when you’re into that kind of thing. Very tough to find people who are like-minded into it.
So Rob and I started hanging out then and we became super-good friends because we shared video games and anime and we would get together every day to play games or watch something. We developed a really close friendship over the years. Then after that I started doing the show and then it was just something silly I was doing on the side, I didn’t have a lot of subscribers. It wasn’t really for that it was just something that I wanted to do. One day I thought “Rob is such a big Mega Man fan, it would be so cool to show his collection on the show and have him talk about Mega Man. He’s even got Mega Man tattoos, he’s pretty hardcore about it. I think some people would be fascinated about Rob.” And so I brought him on the show and we did an episode on Mega Man. I also brought him back to do a review of an old Dreamcast game called Blue Stinger, a game that Rob and I really loved back in the day.
This is the thing, I just felt so comfortable with him on the show. It was no longer just me in front of the camera that I was so afraid of before, I just felt more natural, more myself when he was on the show. That’s why he’s still on the show. We have such great chemistry. I love episodes where I can have Rob on. We know each other so well and we feed off each other so well. I know what he’s thinking. He knows what I’m thinking. We can finish each others’ sentences. For a show on nostalgia it works really really well.
As far as the production end of things, starting out did you have experience as far as video production and editing?
Well I went to Vancouver Film School. I studied animation, storyboarding and all that kind of stuff. I had done a lot of amateur films. Those films when you’re back in high school and making like ninja movies with your friends. I dabbled a lot. In film school, what was good for me, was I started to understand going from shot to shot and how to put something together in a more legitimate way than trying to feel your way through it in high school. I went on to work on TV commercials and for software companies doing different types of videos, but I’d never really done a show like what I was about to do with Happy Console Gamer.
I had bought a camera and a microphone thinking I was going to film some grindhouse trailers, just have a bit of fun and make some movies for myself. Back then I didn’t have any kind of audience. I always dreamed about having an audience, but I didn’t. When I started to do the show it was really interesting. When doing amateur filming, its really tough to get everyone together to shoot. Now all of a sudden I had a show where I had a camera set up and it was just myself. I thought it was great. I didn’t have to worry about anyone else showing up or not showing up. It was just me. It came together really great.
As the show progressed I started using all the things I had learned in school and applying them. I think the best way for anyone to learn is –film school is great, but– hands-on, doing it yourself. Every project is different. I had never done a review show before. I didn’t know where to start. It took me five years to figure out how to do it and now the way I’m doing now is the way I wanted to do it in the beginning. In the beginning, the first twenty to forty episodes, I was feeling my way through. The technology, the editing, all of that. My earlier episodes I’m still pretty embarrassed about for sure. I think now is the show that I really always wanted to do.
So you had taken a break recently for a little while there. Of course you had just finished the movie after two or three years.
Yes, three years!
And you also took time off to get married—Congratulations again on that.
So now that you’ve had that breather, recharged and come back full time, has anything changed as far as the approach to the show? Are we going to be expecting anything different there?
Yeah, you know there was quite a few years there of intensity. What happened to me is that I was doing the show, then I created a podcast called the AllGen Gamers with a couple of other guys. So we were doing a weekly podcast for a few years. I’d written the movie and started filming that thinking that was going to take one summer and that ended up taking three years. You know, its weird how those types of things work out. I was also working a full-time job and in a relationship with Kim who –yeah– I married.
It’s so funny, I’m on the other side of things now. Everything was weighing down on me so much. I finished the movie, I stopped doing the podcast because even though I loved it it was eating so much of my time as well. But I went, got married, went on the honeymoon, came back and yeah, I feel very recharged. Now my life is finally the way it should be.
The plan is now that for the next year I am going to do a weekly show. An episode every week for a year. I’m already four episodes into doing that. I have another episode nearly finished and that’s kinda where I’m at with that. I feel really good.
Before the break, you had started dabbling in a couple of other things on your show. You had taken a look at Dungeons & Dragons as well as features on some classic anime. Are we going to be seeing some more of that?
Oh Definitely! I have a lot of episodes written. Actually a lot of Dungeons & Dragons coming up in probably the next two to three months. This time around I’m going to try and do the Dungeons & Dragons episodes more like I do the regular show now. Make it more fun and not so dry. I did a few episodes that were more my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons and it was still very textbook-y.
And anime: definitely! I’m actually getting in touch with companies right now as far as getting permission to use footage for reviews. Getting a few things approved before I go through with the anime.
But yes definitely more of both of those!
Getting back to the movie: How did the movie start for you and how did the production go?
You know, its funny. It all started very innocently, the movie. At that time in my YouTube career I had five-thousand subscribers and I was like “Wow! I’ve got an audience! This is amazing!” The way I am, I just started to think of ideas: what can I do for the audience? What could I create? I thought of some specials I could do, some skits, then all of a sudden one day it kinda snapped in my mind: a Happy Console Gamer Movie! It just flashed in front of my eyes. It was one of those concepts that just went boom! I just started writing it down and thought I’d make a movie out of this idea. It was all very innocent and I thought I was writing this very easy-to-make movie for a small audience. A great audience, but a small one. I thought I’d film it over a summer, four or five weekends and I’d be done. That’s how it started.
What ended up happening is I finished the script, started shooting and realized how big it was. It was a lot harder than I thought. I became larger in scope and I didn’t suspect that it would be that large. So it became my nightmare after that. Because I promised. I can’t go to my audience and say I’m making a movie to five thousand people and not do it. I couldn’t be that kind of guy. So I had to hold my promise and it just kept going on and on and on. It never stopped. Then I started editing the movie and I realized how time-consuming the editing was. I spent thousands of hours on this movie. It was an insane project.
Just because I put so much time into it doesn’t mean its a great movie. You know, it wasn’t meant to be. It was meant to be something funny and felt like it all got blown out of proportion. The other thing is I ended up getting more subscribers and then expectations were getting bigger. It was this weird predicament that I had put myself in. I was like “I really hope people like this movie!” I was really nervous about it.
But since [the movie] has come out, the reaction has been very good. I think people got the concept that it was a fun movie I did with my friends. It wasn’t a big budget movie. It wasn’t supposed to be anything dead serious. It’s just supposed to be a lot of fun. I’m glad people got that and I didn’t get roasted with pitchforks.
The movie of course is available free streaming on YouTube right now, but is there plans for a DVD release? When can we expect that? What can we expect with that?
People have been asking me on YouTube, through Twitter, on my Facebook page why I’ve been taking so long with this. I mean, I had a lot going on with the wedding obviously, but I really wanted to make the special features worth it, because (as you said) the movie is online for free. Anyone can see that, so how can making a DVD of it be worth it?
The one thing that I wanted to have was a commentary track with Rob, and we’ve got that. I have three other special features that I’m not going to announce until I actually announce the DVD release, but the one thing that I will say is that I’m working on a very intense “making of” that is over 33 minutes long and it really tells the story that I touched upon, the experience of making a movie for no money. All the ups and downs and how it has an affect on your life. I think if anyone is interested in making movies and amateur films you should really watch this “making of”. I think it shows you the pitfalls as well as the inspirational moments and why you end up making movies in the first place: for fun. And its too bad that a lot of things can ruin that kind of fun. But those kind of things are in the documentary.
There a couple of other special features that are really cool and I think people will really, really like them. I’ve been working with two guys: one in Germany and one in Texas, along with me in Canada to make one of these special features a unique one.
I don’t know exactly when [the DVD will be released]. I’m finishing the features and authoring the menus and will be going from there.
One last one for fun, going back to that note of nostalgia for games when you and I were young: If a contemporary, new school gamer came to you and asked you to recommend three classic games from our era that they’ve probably never played that they should go check out, what would they be?
It does really depend on what types of games they like and that’s where I would have a tough time. If they were into role-playing games I would recommend the Phantasy Star series and the Y’s series. (laughs) I’m always trying to pimp Y’s and Phantasy Star! Oh my God, Contra—there are so many Greg! What would you choose?
Phantasy Star is definitely on my list. It was my first role-playing game and I always felt that it got eclipsed by Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior, even Saga, which are all great games to check out too. I know the series has come back in the new school era, but the original Shinobi on the Sega Master System, I played that to death! I was glued to it.
Did you ever play Shinobi in the arcades?
Yes I did. That was why I was so excited when it came out for the Sega Master System. The arcade version I remember was brutally hard. Another one of my favorites to date, and I am shocked that it never got resurrected somehow was Space Harrier. I had both Sega Master System games in the series and played it tons in the arcades as well.
I love Space Harrier! Here’s something, there was actually another sequel called Planet Harrier for the Dreamcast that was announced but it never got released.
The last one on my list would probably be R-Type.
Oh yeah, great shooter! You know I think its funny, today games like [Halo, etc.] are called shooters, but back in the day, to us, a side-scroller game like R-Type is what we would call a shooter.
Or “Bullet Hell”.
Yes! That’s how old we’re getting!
Do you have any other games to add to your list before I let you go?
Castlevania. You can really go wrong with any of those early Castlevania games all the way up to Dracula X. Great action games. Even Symphony of the Night, or “Metroid-vania” as some like to call it. That’s a great game. Would highly recommend any of those.
Excellent. Thank you very much, sir!
Leave it to Johnny Millennium to turn an interview around on me and start me on nostalgic stories of my own!
So for those of us who love and fondly the eight and sixteen bit era of gaming, for those who remember trips to the toy store to pick out one game on the high shelf behind the counter at the toy store, for those of us who packed ourselves in to sweaty arcades to blow an allowance’s worth of quarters or simply for those who want to know more about the era, be sure to check out Happy Console Gamer.
Happy Console Gamer – The Movie: http://youtu.be/_UUBJFtBkDA