BWW Interview: For The Record, Shane Scheel's An Expert At Producing LIVE Hits
After a most successful run last December, For The Record's LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE encores at The Wallis beginning November 27, 2019. FTR pairs the actual screening of the 2003 perennial holiday hit film Love Actually with live singers and a 15-piece orchestra on stage complementing the movie's soundtrack. I got the chance to grab a few minutes and some behind-the-scenes with the prolific, ever busy, For The Record Live executive producer Shane Scheel.
Thanks for taking the time for this interview, Shane!
Your initial run of LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE last December at The Wallis did quite well with 12,000+ attending. Any new tweaks to this year's production?
It's a privilege to be able to return to LOVE ACTUALLY this year and continue to build on the success of last year's production. We have found a wonderful partner at The Wallis. Paul Crewes, Rachel Fine and their incredible staff are family. The Wallis has carved out an important role in the cultural landscape of Los Angeles over the past five years. The core of their programming is to support Los Angeles artists and creative organizations like For The Record. I pinch myself going to work in Beverly Hills everyday to this state-of-the-art venue and watching our vision come to life. The response to the 2018 production of LOVE ACTUALLY enabled us to reunite with Universal Pictures, Working Title Film and Richard Curtis (the writer and director of the film). Are there tweaks? Absolutely. Tweaks are our favorite part. Live shows should always be evolving and getting better with age.
Any audience reactions from last year's Wallis run that surprised you?
LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE was a new format for For The Record. It was the first time we've incorporated film clips into our shows. It was incredible to see this new format in front of an audience. I guess the surprise was how well this experiment worked and that Los Angeles fell in love with LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE. Another surprise is how well this production works for those who have never seen the film. I'm shocked that those people exist. I watched Love Actually in July just to watch Emma Thompson and have a good cry with her.
What hurdles did you have to jump through to be able to use actual footage from the film Love Actually?
Fortunately for For The Record, Universal Pictures has long championed our work. We've spent ten years building relationships by producing quality theatrical celebrations of films. The hoop was earning their trust. I also have to thank Janet Billig Rich for helping me build that trust and for showing me the ropes.
You've covered Tarantino, the Brat Pack, Baz Luhrmann, Scorsese. What criteria do you look for to develop a show around?
The use of music in storytelling is the core of For The Record. The directors you've mentions are masters of the art of the soundtrack. We are honored to add Richard Curtis (writer/director of Love Actually) to that list as well. Great songs paired great cinematic moments....
What sparked the creation of For The Record?
What happens when an ambitious small town boy from Kansas moves to Los Angeles? He starts a piano bar! That sounds like a joke, but that's kind of what happened. The piano was ultimately a way for me to find a community in a new city. Coincidentally, there were a lot of people like me looking for the same thing. The L.A. self-absorbed stereotype is not what I experienced. I'm very fortunate to have forged lifelong friendships with some of the most genuine, giving and talented people on the planet (literally they are all around the world now).
Now to answer the question. The concept of For The Record happened over margaritas and queso at the Shady Grove in Austin, Texas during SXSW in 2010. I remember the moment clearly. L.A. is the city where people come to realize their dreams in film and music. We wanted to create a live theatrical experience that celebrates both and represents the city we create in.
How did you come up with that name for your production company?
The name represents the celebration of soundtracks (records) and the celebration of a film and/or director's canon of work. We are encouraged about the current state of the music industry and that film is often a vehicle for new music. We take our lead from the movies and are delighted to see films filled with brilliant musical voices. Music and movies are twins. They've always been together. Since the days of silent films, music and movies have been inseparable. When people listen to music, they imagine stories. Often times music has inspired entire movies. FTR is a tribute to both.
As executive producer, how much of the pre-production are you hands-on in (casting, hiring creatives, arranging venue)?
All of it. I love the puzzle of making live shows. When you put the right group of people with the right direction and support, magic happens. However, none of this would be possible without my incredible partners and team. Anderson Davis (along with Sumie Maeda) adapts and directs all of the For The Record shows and has mastered the format. Siobhan O'Neill believed in this concept since the very beginning and has helped me structure our business and find opportunities around the globe. Jesse Vargas has built a music department with some of the best creatives in the business. And our core design team (Matt Steinbrenner, Mike Berger, Steve Mazurek, Ben Soldate) have been with me for many years and found brilliant ways to transform traditional and non-traditional spaces.
At what point in the production process do you sit back and give free rein to the qualified talents you've delegated creative responsibilities to (i.e.; director Anderson Davis, music maestro Jesse Vargas; both whom I've interviewed before)?
Again, I have a very qualified team. I don't think a producer should ever sit back. There is always work to be done and support to be given. It's incredible to have complete confidence the folks I work with.
Who has the final say in creative decisions? You? Consensus of department heads, sometimes?
There's no dictatorship here. I don't think a good creative environment works that way. We all trust and lean on each other. Of course, there are disagreements and occasionally we have to put something up for a vote. We do our best to foster a collaborative environment where all ideas are acknowledged and celebrated.
For The Record must have a large stable of vocal talents. Do you perfectly fit them into your shows like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle? Or does everyone have to audition for each of your shows?
Talent is the heart of FTR. Newcomers typically audition, but if we've been working with you for many years, we typically have a good read on what you do. It's impossible to not think of our alums as we are creating and casting our shows. Often, it is a matter of scheduling. Our nearly 200 alums have very successful and busy lives, which prevents them from being part of every show. They go away and do new things and spread their creative wings. We love empowering talent and giving them a forum for L.A. and the world to experience that talent.
Do you have your current LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE cast set? Anyone reprising their role from last year's production?
The cast is set. They are incredible. The show is deep in rehearsals. Fans will be happy to know there are some returning cast members. We are excited to have Carrie Manolakos, Doug Kreeger, Tomasina Abate, Rex Smith, Carson Higgins and Emily Lopez back. There are a number of familiar FTR alums joining the 2019 cast - Rogelio Douglas Jr., Ruby Lewis, John Battagliese. As always, we love introducing new members of the FTR family. Aubrie Sellers, Declan Bennett, Gabriela Carrillo, Jon Robert Hall, Chris Mann, Levi Smith, Nayah Damasen and Molly Rogers.
You've produced concerts, musical productions and Vegas extravaganzas worldwide. What were the most interesting challenges you had to figure out and master in any particular venue?
I should rename our company Vegas Extravaganzas Worldwide (LOL). New venues and new markets presents new challenges. We look at these challenges as opportunities to grow as a company. The most interesting challenge is introducing our unique concept to new audiences. Word of mouth beats any billboard money can buy (although I love having billboards). We've also had the commitment of our publicist Edward Allen who is tenacious at sharing the FTR story to the world. I've enjoyed getting to know new cities and becoming part of their various artistic and media landscapes.
Any particular venue you'd still love to produce a show in?
A few years ago, we had the opportunity to collaborate with Cirque du Soleil. I love the evolution of Cirque. They started in tents. I would love to build a bespoke tent and fully control every aspect of the experience. We love to put audiences in a fully realized world of a director/auteur's mind. Tent's are a tough model, but we will find a way to make it work.
Would producing a show on Broadway be in your future sights?
Broadway has always been a dream of mine, and if the past has taught me anything; when the stars align, those dreams come true. It's a lesson in patience. I would love to have a presence on Broadway. Finding the right venue, right show, right season and, of course, a lot of money is the key. We have been strategic with the FTR unique brand of storytelling, and I know the stars will align for us to bring one of our productions to New York audiences.
What's on For The Record's slate for 2020?
2020 is our 10-Year anniversary. We will be celebrating all year long. We intend to build on the success of the past ten years. Is that vague? Maybe so, but I guarantee we will continue to call Los Angeles home, celebrate music in movies and foster an ever growing community of artists.
What LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE song would you love the Wallis audiences to leave humming/signing/dancing?
This is a tough question because I am in love with so many moments and so many songs from the film. I think audiences will have personal favorites and will be humming those tunes as they leave the theater. Jesse's arrangement of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" is stunning and a perfect example of how For The Record marries music with iconic moments from film. In addition, Audra Mae's lyrics which we've combined with an original theme from the score of the film have been stuck in my head since August. The combination of words and the cinematic score are all something we need to hear and feel in this polarized time we live in. "Love IS actually all around us."
One final note. I was recently reading a profile piece on Wallis Annenberg. Her commitment to changing lives through philanthropy is inspiring. Her generosity has created a place for organizations like For The Record to thrive and for audiences to be inspired through the performing arts. The arts bring people from our sprawling city together to share a common experience. This holiday season, please consider supporting one of the many amazing arts organizations in Los Angeles.
Thanks you again, Shane! I look forward to experiencing your LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE again this holiday season!
Gil, thank you for taking the time to talk to me about LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE and For The Record. You've had a front row seat to my career in Los Angeles. Your support means a lot.
For ticket availability and show schedule through December 29, 2019; log onto www.thewallis.org