Documentary filmmaker Alison Ellwood recently spoke with Solzy at the Movies about the upcoming Epix documentary series, Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time.
How did you first become attached to Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time?
Alison Ellwood: It’s a project that I actually wanted to do over 20 years ago when I lived in Los Angeles. I was a big Doors fan for many years and was researching that and discovered the Laurel Canyon scene and the connection to the other artists. Back then, the music rights were so dispersed—it was impossible to get the rights. This came back around to me 20 years later and I was thrilled.
What do you feel is so special about the music that originated in Laurel Canyon?
Alison Ellwood: I think it was like this musical petri dish back in the day. There were so many artists being drawn to this place that was in the city but yet above the city, above the smog, but near the clubs that they could all interact with one another, learn from one another. It just created this explosion of creativity that was very amazing for such a small little place during this little short amount of time.
Is there an album that you could listen to indefinitely on a loop?
Alison Ellwood: Pretty much anything by Joni I could do that with and CSN—so many of them. Doors—I could listen to The Doors forever. Back then, buying albums for that was such an amazing part of life that. It no longer happens, which is too bad.
I miss the days of just going to the store on the first day they’re released and now with Amazon or digitally, they’re right at your door.
Alison Ellwood: Yeah, exactly.
While the film will be airing soon on Epix, how disappointing was it to not have the red carpet premiere at SXSW with the festival being cancelled?
Alison Ellwood: It was obviously terribly disappointing. We were fearful it was coming to not have that moment and to share seeing something this special with an audience, which we won’t get to experience on this film, which is really a shame. Yeah, it was really a bummer. South by Southwest is such an amazing festival and we were really all looking forward to being there. It was a shame but life goes on, right.
Before the festival was cancelled, was there a point in which you started having doubts to attend?
Alison Ellwood: Gosh, not at that point. By the time they called it, that was right on the cusp. I think if they hadn’t called it a few days after that, I probably would have started to be concerned. But when they called it, I knew we were in trouble at that point.
How long into the production process did you hear about Echo in the Canyon?
Alison Ellwood: We were in development on this for probably a year and a half or so before we got the deal with Epix to proceed. I think I remember hearing that it was being made sometime during that. I actually never saw it until after we finished this intentionally. I didn’t want to be influenced or whatever .I had no idea. I’d heard different things about it but I definitely did not want to see it until after we were finished.
How long was the production process on the documentary series?
Alison Ellwood: It was about a year, which was very tight for a project of this length.
In addition to Laurel Canyon, you have a documentary about The Go-Gos airing on Showtime later this year after having a premiere at Sundance. How challenging was it working on both films as far as being in post-production at the same time?
Alison Ellwood: It was definitely challenging but I’m not editing anymore so I was able to go back and forth between them. The good thing is that one project would get to a place that was in pretty good shape and then I’d focus more on the other. It was sort of a back and forth thing but 2019 was not a lot of sleep for me that year.
Was there an interview that you wanted to get in person for the film but were unable to do so?
Alison Ellwood: We had wanted to interview Carole King and James Taylor. Obviously, we would have loved to have gotten an original interview with Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, also. Those guys are notoriously not that interested in doing interviews. We pushed as hard as we could but at a certain point, we realized we had to work with what we had or in the case of Carole King, not include her in the film, which is too bad because we would have loved to have included her.
What would you say is the most challenging part of working on this film?
Alison Ellwood: The most challenging part was not making it feel like an anthology where one artist goes to the next to the next, this happened, that happened. It was finding the connections of how the artists organically actually truly connected with one another. Whether it was musically or through stories, or different people whose lives would cross paths. That was the most important thing and it was the most challenging thing to find those connections, but we found them they were there organically, which is great.
As you look at what’s going on right now, how has the pandemic affected you as a documentary filmmaker?
Alison Ellwood: Well, everything’s on Zoom now so you don’t see people in person. What’s been interesting is watch all these kids and people around the world doing these multiple Zoom versions of songs. I’m finding a lot of the songs from this era—those CSN songs—a re being done a lot. It’s just amazing to see how this music still speaks to us today and especially at a time when we’re forced to be separated from one another that this music unites us and brings out the best in us.
As far as production goes, do you feel that it documentaries may be more feasible to be produced rather than a narrative feature given all the safety protocols that will likely be in place?
Alison Ellwood: Yeah, certainly in the short term, I think that that’s true especially projects that are archive-heavy. But still, I mean, going out and shooting, we pretty much have to shoot in all documentaries, too. Obviously, the challenges on a dramatic film are much greater because of actor intimacy and all of that. But sure, I mean, I think it’s a little easier for the doc filmmakers at the moment but nothing’s happening right now in terms of production other than doing Zoom interviews that are used as placeholders and then will eventually be replaced unless things stay like this and we’ll have to be get more creative about it.
Are you watching anything for comfort right now?
Alison Ellwood: Well, I loved Schitt’s Creek. I cried when it ended. That was my laugh time. I’m catching up on some things that I hadn’t had time to watch in 2019 so that’s been fun. I live on a horse rescue farm so I take care of animals—that keeps me sane.
I know you touched on The Doors earlier. Would you say that they’re your favorite band from that era?
Alison Ellwood: No, that was just my initial approach into the—they all are. I love them all for very different reasons. I became more familiar with Love’s music working on this than I had been.. I became more familiar with Buffalo Springfield. I’d certainly knew the music but just a much deeper appreciation for those bands than I had before doing this project.
Do you have anything else in the works or is it all on hold?
Alison Ellwood: Everything’s kind of on hold at the moment. I have some possible development stuff maybe lining up but nothing definitive yet.