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‘Laurel Canyon’ Director Alison Ellwood on Bringing L.A. Golden Age Back to Life

Alison Ellwood

Laurel Canyon is a really actual place, however it comes off nearly as a Brigadoon-style dream within the commemoration of the L.A. rock scene of the late ’60s and early ’70s that’s director Alison Ellwood’s “Laurel Canyon.”

The first half the two-part docuseries on Epix, which premiered May 31, threw a highlight onto the Byrds, Doors, Buffalo Springfield, Mamas and the Papas, Love, Frank Zappa and others who drove the counterculture within the years main up to Woodstock, and the way they had been folksy neighbors in L.A.’s least city enclave. In half 2, which bows Sunday evening, Ellwood delves into the world of Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Linda Ronstadt, the Flying Burrito Brothers and, in fact, the nascent band that beforehand was the topic of her “History of the Eagles” doc.

Variety spoke with Ellwood between the dual premieres in regards to the making of the ravishingly well-received doc.

VARIETY: Was it a selection from the get-go not to have any of your topics on-camera, and to simply do audio interviews, except for the 2 photographers, Henry Diltz and Nurit Wilde?

ELLWOOD: It was a choice out of the gate to do audio-only. We by no means considered interviewing anybody on digicam, except Henry and Nurit, who’re form of our guides via this, our documentarians. They’re bodily displaying us their images or their slides, so that they have one thing to do on digicam, not simply speaking. But we wished it to be immersive and experiential. Especially when there are such a lot of artists concerned and you’d hold coming out to completely different speaking heads, it will have been taking you out of that second. We even have, sadly, quite a few the artists have handed away, and clearly we couldn’t interview them, and there would have been a disparity of who’s on-camera and who’s not.

Initially, folks might imagine, “I want to see what David Crosby or Michelle Phillips looks like now.” But it will be straightforward to drift out of the film if you happen to begin fascinated about how folks’s faces have modified. Obviously, if someone needs to discover out what Chris Hillman appears to be like like now, there’s the Internet for that.

Exactly. It’s fairly straightforward to discover out. Honestly, as folks become older, they’re extra self-conscious about how they appear. And that’s been one thing that we’ve had to cope with rock docs up to now. [Laughs.] And, you already know, the very last thing you want is to have to hold reshooting issues as a result of folks don’t like the best way they appear. But in any case, we had been by no means going to do on-camera interviews for this. Interviews have a tendency to be slightly bit extra private and guard-down and informal once you don’t have a digicam of their face. And just about everyone was excited to take part, which was nice.

It seems like the one folks you couldn’t get had been Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, who’re simply by no means going to be straightforward will get for something.

We tried with each of them. We additionally tried truthfully with Carole King and James Taylor as properly, as a result of they had been additionally a part of the scene — not fairly to the identical extent that the others had been. But all these people are those who, for no matter motive, don’t have a lot curiosity in doing these kinds of interviews. Thankfully for us, with Joni and Neil, there have been tons of archival interviews. And there have been fairly a couple of archival interviews with Carole King as properly, however she by no means talked about Laurel Canyon, so it felt like a little bit of an outlier. If we had gotten her, we’d have included her, for certain.

Was there anyone whose candor within the interviews most stunned you?

Pretty a lot every part gave nice stuff. David Crosby wasn’t in one of the best temper after I did the interview with him —I walked away from that interview considering it didn’t go that properly — however he ended up saying loads of good issues. Johnny Echols (from the group Love) was simply beautiful. Jackson (Browne) was slightly combative with me, which was enjoyable. He’d say, “There’s nothing special about it. It’s a myth.” I’d say, “Okay! That’s your opinion.”

You’d been wanting to do a movie about this for 20 years, because you turned fascinated with the Doors, so that you had been immersed in loads of the lore. Were there any tales that you simply hadn’t heard earlier than?

I didn’t learn about Peter Tork being a nudist. I didn’t learn about Steve Martin courting Linda Ronstadt. That was a joke. I didn’t know in regards to the Doors/Love connection [in which the latter band helped the Doors get a record deal, only to come to regret it]. I had no concept that Alice Cooper was tied to the canyon in any respect. That got here as a complete shock. That story he advised me about displaying up at Frank’s at 7 a.m. for his audition [Cooper misunderstands that Zappa wanted him to come by the house the following night, not the following morning]— I imply, that’s only a basic, it’s so humorous. And the truth that Zappa then mentioned “Oh, no, go ahead. Do your thing,” after which he signed them.

There have been three different important documentaries that contact on this scene within the final yr and a half — clearly “Echo in the Canyon,” after which the docs about Crosby and Ronstadt. Did you make any modifying selections because of these popping out first, as a result of one thing already received lined there?

I deliberately didn’t watch any of these movies earlier than we completed this. Some people on our staff did, they usually had been conscious of crossover footage, so a number of the footage that was utilized in a number of the different tasks we stayed away from so we wouldn’t repeat. But when it comes to fashion or something like that, I used to be deliberately unaware of what that they had finished prior to ending. And from the start, we knew what we wished to do, so it wasn’t like we modified our course halfway or something.

How did you’re feeling about ”Echo within the Canyon” coming first, understanding that so many individuals would evaluate the 2?

Honestly, I didn’t actually assume that a lot about it. I used to be relieved to know that we didn’t have loads of footage crossover to fear about. And I used to be relieved to know that they had been solely overlaying a selected time interval, as a result of I knew our mission was rather more in depth. I imply, that was their movie by design, and our movie was completely different by design.

That different movie solely lined a 1965-68 timeframe, which left lots of people questioning why there was nothing on the careers of Jackson Browne or Joni Mitchell or all these different names which can be most related to the canyon. Your half 1 ends in ’69, and you are taking it via the mid-‘70s partly 2. Was it fairly clear when to minimize it off and say the scene had ended?

Yeah. We felt just like the scene there actually kicked in in ’65 as soon as the Byrds had been established, and by the point the Eagles make it huge, by ‘75, the scene in Laurel Canyon had changed a lot. Most of the people had left. Prices had become much more expensive, so the new wave of artists, like the punk scene that was on their heels coming up, those folks couldn’t afford to be there, in order that was form of when the scene in Laurel Canyon form of fizzled out. And I feel the massive factor that Linda explains is that they weren’t enjoying within the golf equipment anymore. There was much more cash taking place, they usually had been doing stadiums and arenas, they usually weren’t enjoying for one another anymore.

How vital was it to strive to set up Laurel Canyon visually and geographically, for individuals who don’t actually know L.A., since there aren’t loads of visible landmarks within the canyon?

We type of at all times felt like we wished to make Laurel Canyon type of a personality in and of itself, that it had this mystique and was drawing all these folks collectively. You know, it actually was this ambiance of doorways unlocked and other people floating out and in and bumping into one another and shifting up and down the road from each other. And they had been so shut to the golf equipment, so they might go do the golf equipment after which the golf equipment would shut at 2 and the celebration would proceed up within the hills till the wee hours of the morning. What’s been enjoyable within the canyon now, within the horrible age of Covid, is that they’ve introduced again [some of that feel]. Everyone opens their doorways on a sure evening and performs all this music, so the music is form of wafting via the canyon once more.

One factor you identify is how distinctive L.A. is as a metropolis the place you could be on this bustling industrial strip and in lower than three minutes be in one thing that feels just like the mountains, listening to the owls.

Yeah, it’s, completely. I might argue, although, which you can’t get anyplace in Los Angeles in three minutes anymore. It might take you greater than three minutes simply to move the Canyon Store [from Sunset Blvd.].

As you flip the nook from half 1 to half 2, there’s Altamont and the Manson murders. But you don’t dwell so much on issues instantly all turning darkish, as a result of it wasn’t like that, with a lot nice, uplifting stuff to come after that from Joni, Jackson and CSNY. There’s a type of darkening, however it nonetheless doesn’t actually get darkish at that time.

I feel the tonal distinction that we felt that we wished to discover was that it wasn’t that the darkness itself turned extra — as a result of all via half 1, the undertones of the civil rights scene had been taking place. The Vietnam warfare is raging, and these guys had been all draft-eligible. So there was at all times darkness beneath all of that stuff. But I feel that they turned conscious as folks; they type of grew up and have become extra conscious of the darkness. Manson and Altamont occurred, and people issues had been particularly tied to the music and to this hippie type of motion, the place instantly hippies are thought of (probably) harmful. That shifted, and I feel the music shifted. I imply, “Ohio” may be very completely different from “For What It’s Worth.” Even although “For What It’s Worth” has turn into the anthem for Vietnam, it wasn’t written about that originally. And I feel lots of people don’t know that. They don’t understand it’s about youngsters attempting to get right into a membership! [Laughs.] But it turned about Vietnam for everyone. And I feel that the artists matured and have become extra conscious of their function on this planet, and their activism started to emerge.

Did you ever fear about whether or not you’d have the opportunity to hold folks when a lot of it’s nonetheless photographs or archival footage?

No, I at all times had religion. I imply, to begin with, these stills are stunningly stunning, and I feel stills seize a lot info and inform tales, and in some instances they’re higher than shifting footage. We additionally shot loads of super-8 to make it appear to be it was outdated footage. Sam Painter, our director of pictures, had loads of enjoyable enjoying with some visuals to do B-roll, and generally folks might not even know what’s archive and what we shot, and that was form of enjoyable. And we get loads of helicopter pictures, and we deliberately wished to make these look fashionable and new; we weren’t attempting to pretend that. Ryan Suffern, one of many producers who was up within the helicopter, needs folks to know these weren’t drone pictures!

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Alison Ellwood, middle, director of “History of The Eagles Part 1,” poses with Eagles band members, from left, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit on the premiere of the movie on the 2013 Sundance Film Festival Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

As far as classic clips go, once you’ve received Neil Young speaking to Dick Clark, it doesn’t get a lot better than that. And Henry Diltz — a few of us didn’t understand that he had this people music background as a member of the Modern Folk Quartet, earlier than turning into a full-time photographer. Seeing him in these clips nearly feels such as you’re watching a spoof, like Spinal Tap because the Folksmen.

I do know, it’s so humorous, he’s so intense. And then even after they go electrical and he’s like, “We don’t need to sing about the oxcart driver anymore,” you narrow to him and he’s nonetheless so intense. He’s so cute, he’s such a personality. He’s such a beautiful man. I am keen on Henry.

And we nonetheless see Diltz out taking pictures at reveals in L.A. on a regular basis.

I don’t know whether or not you seen on his arm, however the day we did the interview, he has a Troubadour wristband. He had been on the Troubadour the evening earlier than. He’s nonetheless dwelling the life.

Rock doc aficionados will consider you as a music documentarian now, between “Laurel Canyon,” your upcoming Go-Go’s movie and “History of the Eagles” a couple of years in the past. But your profession has been broader than that. How a lot would you like to keep on the music doc monitor or not get too typecast for that?

For me, so long as I’m studying one thing, I’m excited a couple of mission. And music tasks are so enjoyable as a result of, one, there’s the music, which is so nice in and of itself, after which there are very fascinating, unstable characters surrounding it, normally, which makes for good storytelling. Certainly, I really like doing music docs, however I’m in growth on two different issues, neither of which have something to do with music. I don’t need to get labeled that manner, as a result of it’s truly a really small portion of my work. But I do find it irresistible.

You aren’t a woman of the canyon today. You left L.A. and New York and you reside on a horse farm in Massachusetts. Are horses of equal curiosity to film making?

Well, I name myself now a filmmaker-farmer. I received bored with dwelling in cities and I’ve been working remotely for just about 10 years. Obviously after I exit on shoots I journey — hopefully that will probably be in a position to occur once more at some point — however most of what I do could be finished from residence. I’ve an Avid system right here so I can hold monitor of what’s going on with the edits on tasks. … The horses got here into my life about six years in the past. It was not one thing I might ever have imagined getting concerned with. I began rescuing with a few associates of mine, after which the place the place we had been conserving them was bought, and my seashore home was promoting, so I ended up shopping for a farm. And we make movies with youngsters. They bond with the animals and we train them about filmmaking. It’s referred to as Film Farm.

Your Go-Go’s documentary, which premiered at Sundance in January, is coming on Showtime August 1. Were you working on that and “Laurel Canyon” on the identical time, or has one or the opposite been finished for some time?

It was just about simultaneous, however the taking pictures was damaged up completely. We truly shot a lot of the Go-Go’s earlier than we shot any of this, so the Go-Go’s was closely into put up by the point we began going into main manufacturing [on “Laurel Canyon”]. I used to be undoubtedly juggling a few edits on each of these movies, however I’ve finished that earlier than. and it was high quality. Between the 2 of them, it was cool to be simply dwelling within the L.A. scene for 20 years, mainly, from ‘65 to ’85.

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