Last year heralded the unexpected Return to Monkey Island. Perhaps inevitably, if somewhat coincidentally, Monkey Island fan-works have made a comeback, too.
One such outing was Tales of Melee Island—certainly one of the better realised (and produced!) Monkey Island fan outings we've had since the series's beginning. Mixnmojo had the chance to interview the film's director, Julian Stamboulieh.
Firstly, congratulations on making Tales of Melee Island! I liked it a lot! I was curious about your career. What work have you done? How did you end up deciding to make Tales of Melee Island? How did it even all come together?
Thank you! Glad that it resonated with the Monkey Island community as well as it did. I’m coming from both a filmmaking and acting background. As a performer, I work mainly in the voice studio dubbing Netflix content, such as Alice in Borderland (Japan), Vincenzo (South Korea), and Dale Gas (Mexico).
I began my filmmaking career co-creating and directing LARPs, a digital series whose two seasons (the second alongside Geek & Sundry) did really well both socially and critically. It is currently available on Amazon Prime as well as Geek & Sundry’s YouTube page. After dabbling in some more dramatic short film content with my main production company Beanduck Productions, I decided to return to my roots as a gamer and as a content creator for online audiences through Hit Point Films.
Fred Nguyen, the writer and main actor in Tales of Melee Island, talked to me about his script…It was fun, silly, and within our means to produce. So off we went!
Do you remember how you first discovered Monkey Island? Is it your favourite adventure game, or are you more of a, say, Full Throttle fan? Do you have a favourite Monkey Island game?
I discovered Monkey Island late in life, about 6 years ago, through a friend of mine named Sara. We streamed it together, with her excitedly watching from over my shoulder since she’s been a fan of the game since she was young. I connected with it pretty quickly, because I had grown up playing several other point-and-click games, including the King’s Quest series, Willy Beamish, and my personal favourite (sorry Guybrush): Day of the Tentacle. That being said… Stan? Maybe the best character in any point-and-click game.
Did you have any influences that went into creating Tales of Melee Island?
As I played through Secret of Monkey Island a second time, I was really focused on the aesthetic, music and characters as being my main influences, as Fred had already written a hilarious script. The purple window lighting in the SCUMM Bar, the tight framing of the characters, the memorable music; while my future films plan to have much more complicated interpretations, I wanted to keep this one simple and authentic with great comedic timing.
What sort of things—whether the arts, like books or movies, or anything else—influence you in general?
95% of my inspirations come from gaming: the content itself, the creation of gaming, the developers and players, and the community that’s built around geek culture as a whole. I’ve written scripts about the politics in gaming studios, about streamers struggling to make ends meet, and I’ve written fan films within some of my favourite IPs (the day I get to make my Diablo fan film, I’ll be able to die happy). I find that, as such a booming industry that began as an underground nerdy passion with a dedicated community, there’s so many rich story possibilities surrounding the world of gaming. And now people are starting to see that, with the success of comic book movies, TV adaptations of video games, and the enormous success of “by geeks, for geeks” content such as Critical Role.
What was the hardest part of making Tales of Melee Island? I noticed that the actors looked eerily like the characters. That must’ve been a lot of work…
The actors were actually surprisingly easy to find! Plus the main cast are all close friends of mine, so I guess that was pretty lucky…
The hardest part of any Hit Point Films production at this point is budget. As this is beginning as a series of passion projects, we’re paying our cast and crew out of pocket. So the tiring question is always, “How can we stretch a dollar?”
Past that, for this project in particular, half of our already tiny crew got COVID within 36 hours of the shoot. Luckily for me, it was literally the only people on set who could have gotten sick and us still continue, in that I or someone else shared the skills that they were bringing. So in the end, for the SCUMM Bar scene, I ended up directing, lighting, and doing the cinematography myself, while Fred took on a lot of the art and our third executive producer Carlo Mestroni helped everywhere he could, including keeping us on schedule as our assistant director.
Do you see yourself doing more Monkey Island or Mixnmojo-related (Double Fine, Telltale, Ron Gilbert, LucasArts) work in the future?
I would love to. We have several more ideas within the Monkey Island world, some including the characters you saw in this film, and some involving other characters from the franchise.
Could you tell us a little about Hit Point Films? What are your plans for it?
Hit Point Films is my return to online geek content, currently purely creating fan films within existing IPs. It definitely is a tricky endeavour; would Monkey Island fans who subscribed to our channel be interested in fan films from entirely different IPs / genres, and vice versa? Maybe, maybe not. But I want to continue making content for such a wide variety of fandoms, because I know my interests are varied as a gamer.
Achieving the goals for the company very much depend on the reception and reach of these videos. In the end, we would love to work with game companies to produce content for their upcoming games, expansions, DLC, etc. We also would love to eventually create our own live-action game, in the vain of Her Story mixed with The Return of Obra Dinn. Something that really shows off the incredible talent of Montreal’s actors.
I am tangentially looking to create online filmmaking workshops (something I already do in person in the city), and perhaps viewers inspired to create their own content would find value in that. Essentially, it all boils down to this: I will happily dedicate my time to creating content I love and want to share, but as I continue to surround myself and support professionals in their craft, Hit Point Films needs to find a way to make the creation of its content sustainable. If you like Tales of Melee Island, and you want to support us, the best thing you can do is share with people who you think would also enjoy it.
You’re hosting a dinner party with three other artists/filmmakers/writers/actors. Who would they be? Why?
Emma Watson, because I’m in awe of her work as an actor but even more so as a rights advocate. And cause… I may or may not have a small crush on her.
Jordan Peele, because he’s worked so hard to break into film with his own unique voice, and has done amazing things with the horror genre.
Matt Mercer or Marisha Ray, because their work with Critical Role, both in the content they create and in the community they’ve built, has been very inspiring.
Joss Whedon used to be #1 on that list, but turns out that, like so many other people in a position of power, he’s a real dick. Soooo… uninvited.
I noticed from your emails that you were proud this was made in Montreal, with Montreal-based actors. Could you tell us a little about the city’s film and arts industries?
I’m very proud to be a Montreal-based creator and actor. As the co-owner of an audition coaching studio, and as a council member for Montreal’s branch of the Canadian acting union (ACTRA), I’ve managed to meet an enormous number of talented actors in the city. And they aren’t small time; Shawn Baichoo (who plays Estevan) is the actor who plays Wrench from Watch Dogs 2, and Simon Peacock (who plays Cobb) is the performance director for many well-known game franchises, including Assassin’s Creed, Deus Ex and Gotham Knights. Fred himself is filming on HBO’s The Sympathizer as I write this. But that they all actually want to work with me? Despite me directing like a dairy farmer? A+.
It's a struggle for English artists to make a living in Montreal solely off their craft, as while the city is bilingual, most financing and grants go to French productions. We are a legal minority. Even I work as a teacher, photographer and freelance editor in addition to acting/the work I do with Beanduck. Though I think I’d want to be a teacher regardless of my financial status, hence why I started a YouTube channel at the beginning of the pandemic called The Nerdy Filmmaker, so that I can share filmmaking tips.
And so, if I can play even a small role in getting the artists in this city work, I’d be very satisfied.
Do you have a dream project? Or maybe a project in the pipeline you’d like to tease?
My dream project would be to direct either a Diablo live-action trilogy, or to visit Sega’s Phantasy Star franchise. I’m currently working on my next fan film, based on Overwatch’s Widowmaker, that will hopefully be shooting in March 2023.
I also would love to explore the cosplay community, as I had done for LARPs. I think that world is so much fun, the people are great, and the artistry is dope.