Celestial Sounds: A Conversation with Composer Lena Raine

Lena Raine is an award-winning composer and producer, having written original soundtracks for highly-acclaimed video games, solo albums and orchestral works. Her score for the recipient of Best Independent Game at this year's Game Awards, Celeste, beautifully punctuated the video game's highs and lows, bringing its emotional aspects to their peak. Lena dropped by Fülle Cr. to discuss the making of that soundtrack, her love of the genre, and the music that inspires her.  

Jason Anders: What is it about composing scores in the gaming world that you love, and what inspired you to do so in the first place?

Lena Raine: Games offer something for composers that no other medium really allows you to do. You get to score experiences and craft aural spaces that people can get lost in for hours. It's a unique thing usually reserved for installation art that doesn't really get much appreciation. I love the magic that is writing music that then evokes things for people as they play through a game, enhancing the experience in ways that only an interactive medium can do.

Do you remember what first sparked your interest in becoming a composer? 

Music has always been a major part of my life. My dad was performing in bars and doing sound design and composition for theater and dance while I was growing up. I performed in choirs from childhood up through college. I think it was inevitable that I'd become involved in music in some way. For me, that spark was the music in games I played. My first interests in composing came from replicating the music I loved. Then, when I started writing my own music, it pulled from those sounds in a lot of major ways. It's probably why I'm still so adhered to games as a medium. They run through the lifeblood of everything I write.
You recently joined the Celeste team onstage at The Game Awards to accept "Best Independent Game" - what was that moment like for you, and what challenges did you face along the way in your journey arriving at that moment as an artist?

Really really amazing. And kind of hilarious, too. I was involved in The Game Awards as a nominee, as a performer, and as a presenter. So when the Best Independent Game award started coming up, I was suddenly taken backstage by a stage manager to get ready to present the award for Best Direction. But as soon as I got back stage, another stage manager came up and asked if I was part of the Celeste team. I then got hurriedly re-seated in case we won. So I was on edge already, mentally preparing to be on stage for hundreds and on camera for millions, and then being jostled around by stage folks. It was mostly just hilarious because I had no idea if we were going to win, but then suddenly (after Ninja and a prawn Muppet hammed it up a bit) the cameras were on us and we headed up. As a side note, I'm glad I got to handle one of the trophies in dress rehearsal because I would not have been prepared for how heavy they are!

What is your origin story in being brought on to compose the score for Celeste?

I had been working as a quest designer and level designer in AAA games and managing to do music as a part-time thing when I had the spare time. At some point I had the inclination to branch out and do my own solo project as Kuraine. I had started writing a lot of electronic music, really moody deep house sort of stuff. So I released four of my most solid tracks as an EP called Singularity. I was friends with a number of folks in the indie scene at the time, but one of my good friends knew the developers on Celeste and she passed along my music to them. They super loved my work on Singularity, and so Matt reached out to me in a Twitter DM asking if I'd like to write the music for the game that he and the team were about six months into designing. I had been relatively familiar with their work, and got to play an early build, and thought it really gelled with the kind of music I love to write, so I said sure! It worked out super well, and I really felt like a core member of the development team. By the end of the project we had a really good vibe going, and so I'm looking forward to possibly working on more things with all of them.
It's incredible that the soundtrack was released on vinyl and the B-Sides on cassette! You wrote in your liner notes about the project becoming far more personal than you were expecting - tell me about that experience. 

Honestly, the process of writing the music for Celeste took place over one of the most turbulent 18 months of my life. Between starting the game and finishing it, I had gone from living in Seattle and working as a designer on Guild Wars 2, to uprooting and moving to Montreal to work for Ubisoft on Far Cry 5 for a year, to realizing I wanted to do music full-time, leaving my job and Montreal, staying with friends back in Seattle while I looked for a place, and then finishing everything after I had found a new apartment again. I wrote on three different computers, changed programs I was using to write, and had to buy a new smaller PC to work off of after moving back to Seattle since my desktop tower was on a moving van going across the continent. It's honestly a miracle I was able to do all of that and finish the score at the same time. It was very much my own mountain to climb, but I'm in a better space now.

What has the success of Celeste been like for you, both personally and professionally?

In a purely personal way, it has allowed me to try and get my life on track following the turbulence that ensued during Celeste's development. In a monetary way, it's allowed me to lay low and take on smaller projects while I figure out where I want my career to go. In a professional way, it's opened up a lot of connections with creators that I admire, and has paved the way for me to work on the projects I'm most passionate about and want to pursue. I don't think I'll be doing a Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed or whatever any time soon, because I feel like the AAA space is already difficult enough to navigate. But I have a number of things lined up, mostly with good friends in the industry, that I'm super excited to continue and begin work on.

Do you have a favorite track from the score?

I've been asked this a few times, and I don't remember how I've answered, but I think despite its short length and intensity, my favourite is still Anxiety. It's probably the most personal of the tracks, since it very accurately depicts my own experiences with anxiety and having a panic attack, so scoring that became a very honest depiction on my part.
Name three albums that you love.

Oh god there's so many! Off the top of my head: Archandroid by Janelle Monae, the soundtrack to Xenogears by Yasunori Mitsuda, and Dangerous by Michael Jackson.

What are you currently working on that we can be looking forward to?

I'm on the verge of finishing up my debut solo album as Lena Raine! I spent a lot of time this year needing to calm down and relax, and so I began writing songs with a limited palette of Rhodes piano, zither, and a small string section. I started a rule for myself where if I found myself in a situation where my anxiety or stress were getting to a boiling point I'd sit down with one of those instruments and start writing something relaxing. Eventually, the songwriting got to a point where I was very clearly scoring a specific emotional arc for myself, so I began to think of it as an album. By the time I finished, I reached out to my girlfriend who has done a number of wonderful covers for me and she painted the exact sort of feeling I described in writing these tracks, which I'm using as the cover art. I'm also actually working with a record label on this release, so they're doing the heavy PR lifting this time around. I'm so excited to start getting the word out in 2019!

If you had to sum up your music in three words, what would they be?

Evocative. Personal. Odd.

Buy the vinyl release of the Celeste original soundtrack HERE!

Eat Like Walt: A Conversation with Author Marcy Carriker Smothers

Marcy Carriker Smothers is a noted personality in the Northern California world of food and wine. From radio shows to books on food, her love of dining and Disney recently led to a wonderful new book, Eat Like Walt: The Wonderful World of Disney Food. This week Marcy drops by Fülle Cr. to discuss the making of her book and her favorite places to dine in Disneyland today!

Jason Anders: Where did you first dream up the concept of exploring the history of Disney food as a book?

Marcy Smothers: My agent asked what I was going to do that's different from any of the blogs, and I knew I wanted to write about the food at Disneyland. I started thinking about the culinary history of Disneyland, which had never been written about before, and wondered if Walt had set out to make the food experience at Disneyland entertaining and immersive like the attractions. During my research for the proposal, I found a newspaper insert from an Orange County newspaper where Walt said, "Welcome to the Kingdom of Good Eating, where the food is as fabulous as the fun." Bingo! Proof of concept. 

What makes Disneyland your favorite place? 

Visiting Disneyland was always the most special day of the year for me as a child growing up in southern California. As an adult, and like millions of others, I feel at home there. It really is the happiest place on earth.

What is the origin of your passion for food?

I grew up teaching myself to cook out of defense and curiosity. We ate a lot of TV dinners when I was a kid. I remember the first thing I made was a hamburger patty with Lawry's garlic salt. I think I was ten. It was delicious! I've hosted several food radio shows, including one with Guy Fieri called Food Guy and Marcy. That led to my first book, Snacks: Adventures in Food, Aisle by Aisle.

Did you pitch the concept to Disney before anything had been written?

I wrote the proposal first, researching on my own. That took about six months. My Imagineer pals Tom Fitzgerald and Kathy Mangum vetted it for me before I submitted it to Disney Editions.
What was the process of pitching to Disney like?

The pitch was a blast! I was in my agent's office in New York. Wendy Lefkon, Editorial Director for Disney Publishing, came into the room a fan of the project. While we didn't make a deal right there and then, it was pretty clear it would happen. We decided our anthem would be "Let's Go Fly a Kite" because we were so excited to work together. About three months later I had a contract. 

Exploring the Disney Archives must have been a thrill!

It's as exciting as Christmas. You present your wish list to the archivists and they do their best to fulfill it. Holding memos that Walt held brought me to tears. The Research Library and Art Archives at Walt Disney Imagineering was equally thrilling.

What were some of your most memorable moments interviewing Disney Legends?

Far and away the most memorable is how each and every one of them care deeply about ensuring Walt's legacy. It's as if they all still work for him.

What is your favorite thing that you learned about Walt while writing this book?

How human he was. Many of the people that knew Walt (everyone in my book knew him, by the way, no third person accounts) used that word often to describe him.

Which locations would recommend for a unique Disneyland dining experience today? Mine would be a table by the water at Blue Bayou Restaurant then catching a show at The Golden Horseshoe with a Churro Sundae. 

For the vintage experience, go to the Plaza Inn, which was probably Walt's favorite (originally Swift's Red Wagon Inn) and ask to sit at Walt's table. That restaurant is largely the same as Walt and John Hench reimagined it in 1965. For a modern day experience, and my personal favorite, sit on the top deck in the very back of the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country. With the Disneyland Railroad now running along the Rivers of America, the view of Tom Sawyer's Island plus the Mark Twain and Columbia sailing ships, it's both nostalgic to Walt's era and present day practically perfect!
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

I get asked this all time. In my opinion, it's really simple: Writers write. You don't need the job title "author." Just a good story you want to share and the discipline to put it down on paper.

Do you have an all-time favorite Disneyland restaurant?

Really tough to pick one! That's like asking "What's your favorite attraction?" The aforementioned Hungry Bear Restaurant for the ambience reasons I outlined. For the food, it's a three-way between the Plaza Inn for a sit down meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and biscuit. The Bengal Barbecue in Adventureland for any and all of their skewers. And when I am lucky enough to be a guest - Club 33!

Buy Marcy's book at EatLikeWalt.com!

Mufasa's Pride: A Conversation with Alton Fitzgerald White

The only African American actor who has played a lead role in five iconic hit shows on Broadway, Alton Fitzgerald White drops by Fülle Cr. to discuss the journey from his boyhood home in a Cincinnati housing project to playing a record-breaking 4,308 performances as King Mufasa in Disney's The Lion King, which he writes about in his Disney Editions book, My Pride: Mastering Life's Daily Performance.

Jason Anders: In your book you write about being influenced by your time spent in front of the television, which I definitely relate to - tell me about the positive impact that TV had on your life.

Alton Fitzgerald White: Television was different when I was a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s, parents could leave their children in front of the TV and not be afraid of them seeing something that was inappropriate. Variety shows were something that the whole family could watch; I loved that they were about entertainment, not competition. I have the blessing of benefiting from programs in my childhood that were meant to make you laugh and feel good, it was an escape and it was inspiring. Learning how to speak well and how to present yourself were things I learned from watching TV, and I soaked it up.

Which shows did you most enjoy watching?

Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore and fun shows like Gilligan's Island and Afterschool Specials came on during the afternoon and were all about fun and glamour. At night we had The Flip Wilson Show, which was huge because it was the first successful variety show hosted by an African American. It was a manifestation of all my dreams, "He looks like me, he's singing, dancing, acting, and hosting... it's possible for me when I grow up." 

What do you find is the best way to cope with the rejection that inevitably comes with this career?

I write in my book about the concept of service. When I do have moments of doubt, a lot of it comes from my ego (which is never fully satisfied), and I have to remind myself that it's all about service. You are talented. Look back on your history, you've worked before and you will work again. The right "service" will show up for me that I can do willingly, gratefully, passionately and happily. If I audition for something, my responsibility is to go in there and do the best I can which means going in prepared. Prepare for whatever your service is, and if it's a match it'll happen - nothing will stop it from happening. Showing up and doing well is all you can really control, do that and you'll get to your destination against any odds. Focus on what you can do. Rejection is sometimes protection from things that are ultimately not good for you. Choose to focus on those moments and see them as lessons - don't get stuck in feelings of rejection, it's about moving through it. Service helps me to move through it.

A term you use in your book is "commonplace achievements", how do you define that?

It's the little victories in life. When I do my public speaking, I guide whoever I'm speaking to on a gratitude meditation. You may look back and see that you've had a promotion, a new car, a new relationship... but what about the little bitty things, like when you were running late to work and doing everything you could to get there on time and then actually making it? Those are the little things that we tend to discount. There are things we ask for and then we get them, but we never really take the time to acknowledge them. Simple things that mean a whole lot in the moment, things that actually work in our favor; the more that you recognize those things the more you'll realize that you get a lot of what you ask for. We tend to find the things that never work out for us more attractive because many times it’s more dramatic, but it's important to give the commonplace achievements attention as well.
Were you armed with this thinking going into your career?

These are things that I learned in my career and in life. Any career that we pursue is so consuming it's important to have a balance of what's happening in other parts of our lives. Any career, especially in show business, is so unpredictable that it helps to be rooted in things that you know work for you for sure.

What were the biggest challenges on your road to Broadway? 

The biggest obstacle was really believing that it was possible. Getting into a Broadway show is like getting into the NFL, and it really makes you think about how many people are pursuing it versus how many people actually get there. What makes me think that I'm an exception? Especially when I was younger and didn't know anyone on Broadway I would think, "Wow, what does it take? I couldn't possibly be enough."

When you're pursuing anything it's so easy to slip into desperation because you want it so badly. Desperation takes the air out of everything. When I was investing my time and money to get to New York for an audition - to buy the music and to prepare - I wanted it to be worth my investment. My focus was, let me not just think about the end result, let me stay on the journey and in the moment... the moment is all there really is. Our fantasies take us there, but all you really have is here and now. I went from believing "this will never happen for me" to getting an audition, and I knew that I really didn't want to blow my shot. Creating a space for the possibility of it happening was probably the most difficult thing.

When you're performing full time do you stay completely in the moment or are you planning for what's next?

When I was performing eight shows a week there was a whole set of skills that came into play that I needed for thriving through it. Part of that for me was staying open to how I could turn the present opportunity into other opportunities. That's the "business" part of show business. When I was younger I would do a lot of workshops because it was a chance to meet other creative teams. It's important to take whatever you have presently, connect the dots, and help it hopefully lead to other opportunities.

What was your experience in landing The Lion King? 

I had my first audition with Julie Taymor before it came to Broadway just after I had been cast in Ragtime - I wanted to meet her and instinctually I knew that we clicked. I had a work session with the stage manager who told me what Julie likes. I absorbed that and saw it as a huge blessing because all I had to do was put my own stuff into what he told me. After the audition she said, "It might finally be time for us to work together." That's where the journey began.  

What did you love most about playing Mufasa?

Mufasa was all of the wonderful, varied and positive things he represented. He's this iconic father who loves his son so much, and I was honored to be a black male actor playing this character that represented everyone, even though the message wasn't specifically black. What he represents is human - in spite of race or gender he was just an iconic father. My prayer is that people tap into their own Mufasa, their own king or queen within them – their own courage and leadership. 

For many kids The Lion King was their first theatre experience and could potentially be just like me seeing Flip Wilson as a kid and saying, "That could be me when I grow up." Knowing that I could be that for some other minority kid is huge and very gratifying. What Mufasa represents is very powerful and his image is one of the things that helped me do it for so long.

When did the idea of documenting your journey as a book first spark?

When I hit the 4,000 mark and people kept telling me how lucky I was! If one more person told me how "lucky" I was, I was going to explode. "Luck" discounts any hard work or sacrifice and it felt like a backhanded compliment. I started writing down what I sacrificed and what I did, even though it may have looked easy. People don't realize what it takes for theatre actors to perform eight shows a week, we need the stamina of athletes. I started thinking about how my spirituality, my foundation, is what helped me keep moving forward in all parts of my life and wrote about that, too. 

I thought about self-publishing but then had a meeting with Thomas Schumacher, the head of publishing at Disney, asking him about a book which he had just released about introducing kids to theatre. He asked what I was writing about and I told him my idea and he asked me to send him some stuff. A couple of months later he told me, much to my surprise, that "Disney might want to publish this." I got a literary agent, found an editor, and then it was published. A few weeks ago it had its first birthday. 
How has the reception been?

It's been amazing. I didn't really know what to expect, I have discovered a whole new service for myself. It wasn’t about how many books I would sell or how much money would be made, but more about being able to share my story and hopefully inspire and touch people, not as a character but as me. It's been a dream. I did my best, authentically putting it out into the world without expectations, and have reaped wonderful spiritual and financial rewards. 

Do you still have surreal "pinch me" moments?

Every time I sign the cover for someone I still can't believe I wrote a book. I just can't believe it! It was never in my realm of possibility. I don't like typing and I don't know anyone more impatient than I am, I never imagined having the time to sit down and being able to write. That frustration with the whole "luck" thing and how insulting it felt, I had no other way to express it. I started typing just to get it out of my system and it turned into this thing. The main thing I love about all of this is that I started writing for myself as therapy - I needed to remember my story and how I went from being the shy kid afraid to sing in front of anybody to 4,000 performances. 

I love the title - were there ever any other working titles?

It was always My Pride. There's no greater feeling than making yourself proud. If you know that you've done your best and you've made yourself happy, that's something that no one can take away from you unless you allow them to.

In terms of pride, it is important who we surround ourselves with. Surround yourself with like-minded people who inspire you, who push and challenge you, not people who just tell you what you want to hear or people who are constantly complaining. It's another reason I chose that title, to remind you to be protective of your spirit and not just give it up to anybody who might take advantage of it and not appreciate it. 

When did you become cognizant of who you surround yourself with?

As I was pursuing the business and started getting more roles and making more money I had groups of friends who I loved and thought we wanted the same things - what they say is true, you can't take everybody with you. It's heartbreaking but people's agendas, dreams and desires change. That’s okay, but there's nothing worse than getting good news about a show or anything in life and being worried to tell your friend because it will turn into a conversation about their problems and you feel guilty because they don't seem to be doing so well - especially when you really know them and know they are not doing all they can possibly do for themselves or their situation. It can feel like a burden. I think for a lot of us it's hard to "break up." We sometimes wind up dragging people along even though they drain our energy, and that is something that we all have to be conscious of... in life, and especially in the business, because it's so unpredictable. It is vital to be deliberate with where you put your energy and your overall investments.  
What advice do you have for those pursuing a career and are feeling discouraged? 

It is important to be realistic with what your dreams are. You need to really know what your strengths and weaknesses are. In some cases, know what type you are and commit to that. Being honest with yourself is important. Be prepared. How prepared are you to get that big break that you say you've been waiting for? Become incorporated and be prepared to make money so that you won't be eaten alive by taxes. Do it because you're your own best investment. In 2018 they changed a lot of the tax laws for actors and we can't write off a lot of the things that we used to write off, which is really hurting a lot of people. Becoming incorporated many years ago helped me not have to worry about a lot of that. I say all of this because some people finally get their shot and become overwhelmed by it. You can sabotage it if you're not prepared emotionally and financially. As artists, we can never forget that pursuing the arts is a business.

A book about money is something I'm actually thinking about writing. I think that people who pursue against-the-grain, self-employed careers that have terrible relationships with money need it. We as actors carry the label of "starving artist" and if once we start getting work we don't have a healthy relationship with money it can be intimidating. As soon as someone becomes successful and commercial (which is the idea to begin with) we call them a sellout. Why can't they just be a "thriving artist" instead of a "starving artist"? If you don't put conscious energy into that mentality shift it's so easy to sabotage it.  

What is one musical you think everyone should see? 

My favorite musical is Once on This Island. I saw the original thirteen times. It's just a musical about love. It was this 90-minute show with no intermission and no major sets, it was just earthy beautiful music about the power of love. The music and human story are both extraordinary, told through black islanders but their color becomes secondary because it is about similar journeys that many of us go through. A show that can make you think about your own life but also entertain you is a very special thing. That takes real craftsmanship, to not be put in one category, and have you walking out of the theatre thinking "what if I hadn't had the experience I just had?" It's heart-opening and a show that I think everyone should see. 

If you had to describe yourself using only four words, what would they be?

Passionate. Honest. Courageously vulnerable. 

Buy an Autographed copy of Alton's book, My Pride: Mastering Life's Daily Performance, HERE!

Heart in Motion: A Conversation with Amy Grant

Singer, songwriter, musician, author and painter. Having made her debut as a teenager, Amy Grant has since sold more than 30 million albums worldwide, won six Grammy Awards, and had the first Christian album to ever go Platinum. She was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006. Today she stops by Fülle Cr. to discuss the little things in life. Sometimes, there's nothing bigger... 

Jason Anders: What hobbies do you have when you're not making music?

Amy Grant: I go through what I call cereal passions, where I'll just get eaten up with something that I love and invest myself in it 100%, and then after a little bit of time I will jump to something else. To me that's just a fun way to enjoy what you love. I love anything outside, the heat doesn't bother me... I love to sweat. Before this interview I was in my garden out back picking okra that was no kidding bigger than my hand. I love nature. Later on today I'm going out with one of my daughters - we're going to ride horses, and I am not a fancy horseback rider. We just trail ride. I like camping. I also enjoy cooking, but I'm very average. I also love to read.

I couldn't sleep in the middle of the night last night, so I went and tuned up my bike. I knew that if I got on a computer that I'd never go back to sleep, so I thought I'd do that just in case I had a chance to go ride... and I don't ride like Lance Armstrong. Bottom line is I'd rather be outdoors than in a shopping mall any day of the week.

What books are you currently reading?

Well this is going to sound really like the "spiritual girl", but I've never read the Bible cover-to-cover, so I'm trying to do that by my birthday. I also love fiction. This last year I've enjoyed Olive Kitteridge.

Do you have any phobias?

Bridges. I can hardly bike over a bridge... the older, the scarier. I don't know why, but they just make me nearly hyperventilate. I was in California with a couple of my daughters for a cousin's wedding in June, and my 17-year-old pulled over on the side of this bridge that went near Santa Barbara and over a canyon and she said, "Get in the driver's seat. I don't care how slow you go, but you've got to face this fear." I was sweating from every pore. I don't know why. That's the only phobia I can think of.
Do you collect anything?

I used to collect quilts, but now I have more than I need. I used to collect teapots after I went to Southeast Asia. I also used to collect dishes, but I collected more than I could use and started giving them away. When I was little I collected seashells, and I still do. I have the same seashell collection that I've had since I was kid, and still add to it. After a while you go through so much stuff. What I love is using something until it's all worn out. I don't shop very much, and any great clothes I get is probably because it was for a photo shoot.

I invite people that are a part of my fan club to come to sound checks, I think it's more interesting than waiting in a line to get the same autograph for the twelfth time, and I can sing songs that maybe I wouldn't do in a show or work out new stuff. People will come up to have me sign a picture from the last time and I will be wearing the same t-shirt. My whole family is that way.

Do you remember the first album that you bought? 

The first album I probably bought was John Denver. I think I was the only John Denver fan in my family. I inherited The Beatles, Elvis, Joni Mitchell, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and Jethro Tull. I had a great record collection when I was young because of my sisters.

Do you have a top three favorite records of all time?

My brain really doesn't work that way. I can say three records that I love, but tomorrow I'd have a different answer.

Are there specific albums that influenced you to start making your own music?

Joni Mitchell's Blue and Carole King's Rhymes & Reasons. Those records were a daily part of my existence in my little yellow bedroom with my first turntable. Also The Jackson 5. I love Michael Jackson. I also love Aretha Franklin. The great thing about music is that on any given day it depends on how you're wanting to be moved. Something that is so perfect in one moment for you could make you want to jump and shout and feel so alive, and later can be something that is so interior and still. There are no three best records. They're all important - the famous, the infamous, and the unknown... because you never know how you're going to be moved.
What do you love most about making music for a living?

I would be making music whether or not I could pay the bills with it. I love it. I am just as happy to be onstage as I am to be in a crowd, just as long as somebody's making music. I was so fortunate to get the breaks that I got and for the doors that opened. I always exposed myself to and was surrounded by people who were talented in different ways, and in my opinion were much more talented than I was. I did what I did because the doors opened up. Whether it was listening to records or playing guitar in my bedroom, I just love how music brings people together. I love the community that music creates because it's equally shared ideas. Nobody is more important than anybody else.

That's what makes Nashville such a unique town, so much of it is based on creativity that you just can't hammer down and fly through the schedule. In order to be creative you have to slow down. You have to ponder. You have to think. You have to reflect and articulate. You have to turn off your computer and cell phone and think of something that matters, and say it in a way that's interesting. To be able to do that is a gift.

Which three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?

Curious, hyper-focused, and easy-going.

If you knew that this was going to be your last interview, what would be the most important message you would want to get across to people?

Life goes by faster the longer that you live, and it's such an amazing journey. The hardest parts are the most valuable, even though you hate every second of them. I tell my children that if and when you sense God, always open up.

The Last Days of Letterman: A Conversation with Author Scott Ryan

Jason Anders: "This book is dedicated to that poor monkey on a rock." Your book dedication alone is a sign that we are in good hands for the journey back in time through the final six weeks of Late Show with David Letterman...

Scott Ryan: Thanks so much for noticing the dedication. I came up with that before I started writing the book and you are the first person to mention it. It was my signal to readers that I am a deep-cut fan. I knew most people wouldn’t get the reference, but the ones who do would really get it. 

I talk about my journey watching Dave from around 1987 through 2015 in the first chapter of the book. I wanted readers to know how much the show meant to me, not just as a viewer, but in my real life as well. I basically make my living now as an interviewer, and I learned that skill from watching Dave.

JA: The cover art perfectly captures the spirit of the show - who designed it and were there any other versions of the cover in mind?

SR: Mark Karis did the cover and the inside design of the book. If I told you the entire story of how all that came to be, it might just fill up your entire webpage. I had done a design and cover and everyone hated it except for Barbara Gaines and I, so my distributor suggested Mark. I am so grateful they did because he did such a wonderful job on the design. I will have him do all my books from here forward, but at the time it was really rough to give up the control. 

I really wanted Dave running across the stage to be the cover. In the end, I got it on the back cover. To me, that picture explains the book — you are only gonna get a glimpse of Dave. Again, in the end, I am very happy with the changes. It was all for the best.
JA: What was the exact moment that you knew you were setting out to write a full book on this subject, and what challenges did you face with getting started?

SR: Wait, I still am not sure if I am going to be able to finish this book. You mean it is done and it actually came out?! I never really knew how any of this was going to work out. I came up with the idea in 2017. My last book, thirtysomething at thirty, came out and everyone was asking me what show I wanted to cover next. Late Show was a dream project. I figured the only way this would ever happen is with Barbara Gaines (Executive Producer). I started tweeting her and asking her for an interview. It took forever, but she finally said yes. Once I interviewed her, that is when the gates opened. I think the other people knew that if Gaines was agreeing to speak with me that they knew they could trust me. I never asked anyone about anything besides their job and their daily routines. I wasn’t searching for gossip, just facts on how they produced those final 28 episodes.

As for challenges, there were only about a million. I started my own publishing company with a partner. It is called FMP and the hard part was trying to get the book national distribution. I knew I had to start the company with a Letterman book because the chances of me ever getting access like this again is rare. The path to getting this book out was so crazy that sometimes I think I should write my next book about writing this book.

JA: Did you ever attend a taping of Late Show?

SR: I attended four. The most amazing one was the show after his heart scare. So I was there when all his doctors came out — Regis was there, Robin Williams, Seinfeld... it was amazing. I also saw the show after he won the Kennedy Honor. I loved going to see the show. I had no connections back then (I really still don’t.) So it was just luck that I got to see those shows.

JA: Talk to me about the process of putting this book together.

SR: The trouble is you really need access to do an oral history. It is almost impossible for someone like me who doesn’t have an agent and only knows the people that live in my house. I am very persistent when I come up with an idea. It is mostly about being interested in other people and learning how to get people to talk, and then keeping on track to your vision. Lots of people told me not to just cover the last six weeks, but do the entire Late Show. I had a vision and I stuck with it. Putting together a book is like building a big puzzle. That is the fun part. Making sure that it tells a story and is interesting outside of just Dave fans.
JA: What is your fondest memory of working on this book, and do you have one favorite moment captured in your interviews?

SR: I made Bill Scheft laugh. Not just laugh, but howl. It was a joke I could never repeat because it was part timing and part inappropriate. He actually said, “That was a honey of a joke.” I thought about making that my ringtone, but realized it might get obnoxious. I also was truly honored to get to talk with Carson’s writers. They told me some great stories about Johnny that really didn’t fit in the book, but what a conversation to get to have. I also was a big fan of Brian Teta. He seems like someone I could be real friends with. The fact that Barbara Gaines will answer an email from me is a pretty cool thing, too.

JA: What is one thing you feel you learned about Late Show that you didn't already know going into this?

SR: I think just how close of a family the staff was. I always liked seeing when Dave went upstairs to the office and you would get a glimpse of their office life. To find out that they were excited about, that stuff was really cool as well. Also that they would do anything to protect and support Dave. I think everyone I talked to felt the same way about Dave as I did. That was really nice to find out. On the flipside, I am so angry I didn't try to get a job there. I think I would have fit in and had a great time.

JA: What I'd love to see are the full performances of Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra that took place during commercial breaks - any chance you discovered that the footage exists in a vault somewhere, or do you know?

SR: I can’t answer that one. It seems unlikely to me, but if anyone has it, it would be Don Giller. He has a YouTube page and has all kinds of great stuff, but I don’t know if it exists. I will say being in the audience and listening to them play was so much fun.
JA: What advice can you offer to aspiring writers based on your experience with Last Days? For those wanting to follow in your footsteps, what do you feel helped guide you to success in seeing this idea through to completion?

SR: For anyone trying to follow in my footsteps, I would tell them to turn around and run as fast as they can in the opposite direction. I have never really been one to shoot for any kind of success. My tastes never jive with the rest of pop culture. This will probably be my best shot, but even still, Dave really was never #1 for very long. But here is my advice to everyone; don’t expect anyone to care about what you do and never give up. I have been doing things like this since I was 18. I have done movies, TV shows, music, podcasts, live shows, books... this is the first thing in thirty years that had any kind of positive feedback or any real light. I just keep working on what I want to do and I never worry about if anyone else will be interested in it. Here is another key: I take it very seriously. No matter what I do, I do it like a professional and I never try to waste anyone’s time. 

Every bit of success I have ever achieved, I got from being kind to people. So that is my other piece of advice. Be kind. Is this going to be a graduation speech as well? Should I also tell all the kids out there reading this to not do drugs and stay in school?

JA: How has the reception been since the release of the book, both from fans and those who worked on the show?

SR: It's been really supportive. Jill Goodwin, one of the writers, told me she learned stuff she never knew about the show she wrote on. That was an amazing compliment. She also said she can’t read the end because it hurts too much. Dave fans have been really kind to me. I have all five star ratings on Amazon which my distributor says really helps. I don’t read them because I know at some point someone will slam me and I don’t need to know any of that. I honestly did the book for myself. It is the book I would want to read about Letterman. That is all I can control. 
JA: Now that this Everest has been climbed, what is your next project? Do you have anything on the horizon you'd like to share with us?

SR: I am the managing editor of The Blue Rose Magazine which covers the work of Twin Peaks and David Lynch. I have been shirking my duties while I have been promoting the book, but we are getting ready to get year three going in March 2019, so I really need to focus on Issue 9 of The Blue Rose. As for books, I am toying with doing an X-Files book and a music guide to Barbra Streisand. How about that for eclectic?

JA: If you had to sum up Late Show with David Letterman in only three words, what would they be?

SR: Comic with Beard.

Buy The Last Days of Letterman HERE!
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