LAist Interview: "Yacht Rock" Creator J.D. Ryznar
J.D. Ryznar is so freaking amazing. Seriously. Just watch his cult Channel 101 Internet television show, "Yacht Rock." By popular demand, the definitive final and twelfth episode of Yacht Rock will be premiered tonight in Downtown LA at the new home of Channel 101, the Downtown Independent Theater. This ends a saga created from 2005 to 2006, followed by a "Footloose"-themed sequel starring Jason Lee as Kevin Bacon in 2008.
"Yacht Rock" is a music-themed cult smash episodic comedy about the imaginary backstories behind the making of Seventies smooth music hits such as the Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes," the Steely Dan-Eagles musical rivalry "Hotel California" and "FM," and Toto's "Rosanna." The plot revolves around fictionalized versions of ubiquitous Seventies background vocalist and smooth music champion Michael McDonald (portrayed by writer and creator J.D. Ryznar) and eventual rocker and traitor to smooth music, Kenny Loggins (portrayed by Hunter Stair).
Channel 101 is a crowd-sourced web tv network which uses a live audience to vote on which pilots get picked up and can continue as series from month to month. You can be one of the Channel 101 deciders at tonight's free screening at the Downtown Independent. The new Downtown LA venue looks freaking cool, too.
LAist: What do you want to say about the new Yacht Rock ? It's been a couple years since the "Footloose" Episode 11.
J.D. Ryznar: We had to do a final episode to put a button on the whole thing. We have lot of great fans out there that deserve a good, worthwhile ending to the show. It just made me feel antsy that it it's open ended. I just had to end it.
LAist: Ambrosia played at the screening of the Yacht Rock finale in NY.
Ryznar: That was fun. But this is going to be more fun, showing it at Channel 101's home base. It's going to be a typical Channel 101 screening with all the returning shows, the new shows, and then Yacht Rock. Kind of a bonus to get people into the new venue.
LAist: How did you know it was time to move from Cinespace to Downtown LA?
Ryznar: The Cinespace experience was kind of like, have dinner, watch the Channel 101 shows. This new place is more of a movie theater, with a bar open to midnight or 2. This will be the place for Channel 101, the hangout for the people who make the shows, and kind of party all night. Also we're doing it on a Saturday night instead of Sunday. People can come to screenings, vote on screenings, and stay and hang out and chat with the creators of shows. You'll see the same people work on the shows, collaborate on the shows. It's a really awesome family of artists to get to know.
LAist: Can you tell me anything about the new episode? You've done a good job keeping it off the Internet in advance of the premiere.
Ryznar: It takes place in 1985. Yacht Rock has sailed off into the sunset and everybody's struggling for relevance. There's a scene that takes place at the "We are the World" recording. It's in the middle or toward the beginning to move the story along. But it was an incredible shoot. All sorts of people came out dressed like the people they were supposed to be, in sometimes ambiguous home made outfits. We have 90% of actual participants.
John Konesky as Giorgio Moroder and Hunter Stair as Kenny Loggins on the set of the "Yacht Rock" finale. Photo: K. Goldstein.
LAist: Yacht Rock is relatively retro. [June 2005 to June 2006] Nowadays, many people are short form web television producers. How did VH1's Acceptable TV come about? Was it the plan to use Channel 101 to get a deal to be on a network?
Ryznar: Honestly, I believe Channel 101 was founded just so that creative people with time on their hands could get together and make things. Channel 101 never had a commercial plan or a plan to become anything bigger. It's been pretty self-sustaining for 7 or 8 years of its existence. People come in and make new things.
LAist: Does Channel 101 have any revenues?
Ryznar: No. Dan Harmon pays any expenses that come up. He pays for the website, which might be a couple grand a year. He supports it out of the goodness of his heart. The venues generally have us for free. We try not to charge admission. When we do the Awards show [the "Channys"], that's where the expenses come up.
LAist: How do you get invited to the Channys?
Ryznar: Anyone can come. If you've made a show that's been in Prime Time in the last year you have nomination rights. Then it opens to a wider pool for the voting, to all people who have made a Prime Time show ever. Sort of an academy deal. If you get into the club, then you can vote.
LAist: You are from Michigan. How did you come to LA and start working with Dan Harmon and the people at Channel 101?
Ryznar: Friends of mine told me about it. They lived in NY and they had written a pilot and they wanted it shot. I rewrote it with them and we put together a crew and we shot it and submitted it, just like anyone else who gets into Channel 101. It's open to anybody. Anybody can submit a 5-minute pilot to Channel 101.
LAist: Was that "The New McGuyver?"
Ryznar: The first one was "Kicking Asteroid." It got screened on our first attempt, which was awesome. At the time, I think they were getting about 30 submissions a month, so it was really awesome to get screened right away. A lot of people submit, submit, submit, and learn and learn and learn, and it takes them the 4th or 5th try to get screened. Then they get into a rhythym and before you know it, it's getting into the Channel 101 Prime Time and then they're selling the show to Cartoon Network.
LAist: How did you know it was time to move to LA?
Ryznar: I was a year out of college. I always intended, after living in New York City and back in Michigan for a little bit, that I would go to LA to try to write movies.
LAist: You're writing for "Blue Mountain State" and you wrote something called Krater. What is that?
Ryznar: Krater was my first big thing. That is a movie I wrote for Warner Brothers for Jason Lee. It is about a real hard rock band in the 70s that hires a new lead singer so they can get signed. The singer turns out to be a pussy who loves to write mushy ballads and they become really popular because of that. The original guys in the band become miserable and they are rich. It's a fabulous script! We are just waiting for the stars to align.
LAist: Is it a comedy?
LAist: Tell us about "Blue Mountain State."
Ryznar: "Blue Mountain State" is a show on Spike TV. It's a raunchy football show. I got hired as a staff writer last year. The guys who created the show, Eric Falconer and Chris Romano, are also from Channel 101. They did "Shitbusters" and "Terence vs. Reuben." Then they sold a show to Spike and hired a couple of Channel 101 dudes to write on it. That is one of the benefits of participating in Channel 101. You might get a job one day.
Hunter Stair as Kenny Loggins and J.D. Ryznar as Michael McDonald. Photo: K. Goldstein.
LAist: Have you met Michael McDonald?
Ryznar: I have not met him, nor do I want to. I think he's freaking great, but I kind of have a rule against meeting my idols. Michael McDonald has seen it and mentioned it in interviews. He generally has a pretty flattering take on it, which is nice. I think he said it's weird, it's like you have a stalker who happens to know a little too much about you, and how unusually insightful it was coming from people who know nothing about what really happened.
LAist: How did you discover Michael McDonald?
Ryznar: It was a slow burn in high school. I remember friends talking about Michael McDonald, pointing out to me how often he shows up in background vocals of songs of the 70s, and how unique his voice is. Then I got into Steely Dan in college and realized, oh man, this is full of Michael McDonald, and how this guy's reach spread out. Then, just before I made Yacht Rock, he did the Austin City Limits Show. I watched that obsessively. I watched his mannerisms and thought, this guy is great. This guy is wonderful. And I love the song "Sweet Freedom. Love it. It is a solo song, the theme song to "Running Scared," starring Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines.
LAist: Is that your favorite kind of music in general?
Ryznar: No. It's nice. Now that I've made Yacht Rock, I feel self-conscious listening to it too much.
LAist: What do you like listening to?
Ryznar: Whatever. Good music. I just got really into Guided by Voices. I've been catching up on their catalog.
LAist: Besides your own, what other Channel 101 shows do you recommend?
Ryznar: "Laser Fart." That's Dan Harmon's original great Channel 101 show. Drew Hancock who plays Oates did a show called "Cautionary Tales of Swords." That show's hilarious. There's been so many great Channel 101 shows over the years, I can't even begin to list them all. It's a great website to so go through and just dig through the history. A lot of great stuff on the web is totally undiscovered.
LAist: You guys do not pimp it out at all, especially compared to many other web series.
Ryznar: Channel 101's been around since since before Youtube. It used to be the only way to get your stuff seen on the Internet as far as Internet shorts go. And now even with Youtube and "Funny or Die," I think Channel 101 is still the best way to hone your skills, because of the selection process. And the fact that you get to show it in front of a live audience in LA. For free. I mean it's incredible. It's a great way to discover talent and to grow your own talent.
Photos by K. Goldstein.