From director Alison Ellwood (History of the Eagles), the two-part documentary Laurel Canyon is an intimate portrait of the artists who lived in and around the canyon in the heart of Los Angeles during the 1960s and created music with each other. Through rare and newly uncovered footage and audio recordings, the film shines a light on the passion and creativity of such notables as The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, The Byrds, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, The Doors, The Mamas and the Papas, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, and Crosby, Stills & Nash, among many others.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, executive producer Frank Marshall (the Back to the Future franchise, the Jurassic World franchise, the Indiana Jones franchise) talked about his personal interest in telling the story of Laurel Canyon, what made the atmosphere of Laurel Canyon so special, what he hopes audiences take from seeing this doc, and his upcoming documentary on the Bee Gees, which he also directed. Marshall also talked about how Jurassic World: Dominion is the start of a new era for the franchise, why James Mangold was the right choice to direct Indiana Jones 5, his hopes to continue on with the Jason Bourne franchise, and figuring out how to safely get production started again.
COLLIDER: How did you come to be involved with this documentary? What was the interest in it, for you?
FRANK MARSHALL: Well, I actually grew up here, and so the ‘60s were right in the sweet spot for me. I was a guitar player, and we all dreamed of being one of those groups that came out of Laurel Canyon, so I’ve always been interested in the time period and the music. And then, I was having a discussion with Michael Wright, when he was over at Amblin, and we were talking about music, and it turns out that he actually has a band that he is the frontman in, called Laurel Canyon. I said, “I have this idea. Why don’t we do a doc on the music of Laurel Canyon?” One of the things that’s so difficult with these music docs is getting the rights to the music. So, before we did anything, we went about acquiring the catalogs that we thought were necessary with everybody that was there, to see if we could get them, and it turned out that it was one stop shopping with Warner Music. And then, Michael moved over to Epix, so once everybody knew that we could get the music, we started putting this together, a couple of years ago. I had always loved what (director) Alison [Ellwood] did with The Eagles, and I’ve worked with (executive producer) Alex Gibney. All of the right pieces fell into place, at the right time.
I love that your director has also had that history with other music documentaries and that there’s clearly that passion there.
MARSHALL: Yeah. She understands the artists and the music. There’s also a real serendipity to it all, which actually happened to me, in our very first interview with Henry Diltz. We were up there, in Laurel Canyon, and he started telling his story, and I thought he was just a photographer, but it turns out that he came out here because he was the banjo player in this group called the Modern Folk Quartet. So, guess what group I idolized in the ‘60s? The Modern Folk Quartet. I completely freaked out. It was very cool. It was all connected and meant to be.
What did you think it was about the vibe and the atmosphere of Laurel Canyon, specifically, that not only made it so appealing, but really made it so magical to people?
MARSHALL: Well, I think it was the canyon, itself. It provided a shelter for people, but also the opportunity for a lot of people to gather easily. And then, it was the proximity to places, like The Troubadour. You could just go down the street and test your songs and your bands and your routines. I think it was just that country atmosphere that was up there. Everybody was a hippie. Everybody lived with each other. So, it was really conducive to that whole creative world that went on, at that time.
When you drive through Laurel Canyon now, you can still really get a sense for what it must have felt like then.
MARSHALL: And there was the store, so you could have coffee and bagels. It was a gathering place. You didn’t have to go far to get food. But when you think about who was up there, from Joni Mitchell to Linda Ronstadt to Crosby, Still & Nash, people were trying to develop and create music with other people. There were no boundaries. Everybody just worked with everybody else, and traded. Two people would get together and realize that they could harmonize, or they’d get together and play. That was the community. You could really feel it. It’s really separate moment in time.
You really get the feeling that it was a community of creativity and friendship, when it came to the music.
MARSHALL: Everybody was friends, and nobody was jealous. Nobody had record deals. Everybody was just starting out and trying to find a way to play their music and to get their music heard. That’s what was so wonderful about it.
What do you enjoy about getting to see all of this footage that is either rare footage or never before seen footage? What was it like to be able to see how that could enhance the telling of this story?
MARSHALL: One of the things that I have discovered, and now I’ve done a couple of these, is that when you see The Beatles doc and you see that there’s footage that you’ve never seen before, you go, “Okay, I think we can do this.” You think you’ve seen them before, but you really haven’t. What happens is that, because of the internet, we put out this broadcast of, “If you have a shoe box full of 8mm film under your bed, that you shot back in the ‘60s, let us know.” And people came out of the woodwork with footage and audio stuff. There’s actually even a couple of shots that I did, when I was at school at UCLA, in the movie. I thought the Sunset Strip was really fascinating, and I found some black and white footage that I had shot back then. So, people really got excited about providing stuff that had never been seen before.
You produce a lot of movies, and you produce a lot of pretty big movies. Does doing something like this feel like a big departure from that, or does it feel like a big project to tackle, in a different way?
MARSHALL: It is a big project to tackle because there are so many loose ends and you don’t know where you’re headed. That’s what I love about documentaries. They take their own path, as you’re working on them. But for me, this is really a personal story. As I said, I grew up here, my dad was a composer and jazz guitarist, and so was I. I was in the music scene, when I was a kid, growing up, and I still love and play guitar. A lot of these people are my friends, and to be able to tell their story in the right way and the complete way made it much more satisfying. No offense to my dinosaur movies, but I loved making this one.
Is Jurassic World: Dominion being planned as the conclusion of that franchise?
MARSHALL: No, no, no, no. No, it’s the start of a new era.
So, that’s a world that you see living for awhile then?
MARSHALL: Yeah, absolutely. The dinosaurs are now on the mainland amongst us, and they will be for quite some time, I hope. We shut down, after three weeks, and I hope we get started again soon.
Where are you at with the writing process on Indiana Jones 5?
MARSHALL: It just started.
What was it that made James Mangold the right choice to take over that film, as the director?
MARSHALL: His love of the franchise. He’s a wonderful filmmaker. I think he also has a relationship with Harrison [Ford]. It was all of the right pieces coming together, at the right time.
Was that a bittersweet situation, with Steven Spielberg stepping down as the director, but then having a great director like Mangold step in?
MARSHALL: Yeah. We were very, very lucky to have James to turn to. I think it’s a positive move, in every aspect. And Steven is staying on as a producer, so we’ve got the best of everything.
As someone who’s always had a number of projects, in various stages of development and production, what have the conversations been like about how to get back into production and how to do it safely?
MARSHALL: Well, the number one thing, obviously, is the safety of everybody – the cast, the crew, and all of us. So, we’re looking at the guidelines that are coming slowly, from the health experts and the studios and the different parts of the business, and we’re just trying to incorporate everything, so we can move forward and be safe. It’s going to obviously slow things down, so we’re trying to adjust. You won’t see a lot of big crowd scenes, for example, for awhile. There won’t be any more craft service, so maybe that’ll be good for people, in keeping more fit. It’s a moving target right now. There are a lot of people working on the solutions, to be able to work and be safe.
What’s the next thing that you’re hoping to get into production, once you’re able to? Is it to go back to Jurassic World?
MARSHALL: Yes, that’s number one. That’s the thing on the front burner is Jurassic World 3. We don’t have a date yet for that to start, but we have sets built in London and everything’s ready to go. So, the minute we have the guidelines from the British government, on how to do this, we’ll be back in business.
As a producer of the Back to the Future franchise, do you ever wish that Robert Zemeckis would be interested in doing another film, or do you feel like that trilogy is a classic that shouldn’t be messed with, and that not every successful film franchise needs to continue?
MARSHALL: That’s exactly how I feel. I think those movies are pretty amazing and they exist on their own. I don’t think there’s any way to improve them, so we should leave them alone.
Is there anything on your list of films that you would be interested in seeing either a sequel for, or seeing what a different filmmaker would do with it, for a reboot?
MARSHALL: I do like the Bourne series, and I do think that’s an opportunity for different filmmakers to come in now. So, I’m hoping that we can find a new story for Bourne and a new filmmaker. We are looking.
With Laurel Canyon, you’re going to be introducing some people to this music, for the first time. What do you hope audiences take from seeing this documentary?
MARSHALL: I hope that they take away how wonderful creating music is. You see this little pocket of time, where all of this incredible music was created by these really brilliant people, but it’s also a follow your dream story, as well. Nobody came out here, ever expecting to have a hit record. Nobody even knew what a hit record was. They just wanted to play and create music together, and out of it came this extraordinary period of time and just so many different sounds. I doubt there’s anybody who hasn’t heard one of the songs that’s in the movie and will go, “Wow, that was from the ‘60s.” It was just such a creative time. I hope people appreciate the serendipity of it, but also how these people were such talented and gifted musicians and songwriters . . . When you hear them talk, you can see how passionate and enthusiastic they are about music and about the time. There were ups and downs, just like in life, but the result of that period was just something extraordinary.
And don’t you also have another music documentary, about the Bee Gees?
MARSHALL: Yeah, I directed a documentary about the Bee Gees, and that will be out in the spring. People don’t know the story. It’s another incredible story. That came about, from my meeting with the head of Capitol Records, Steve Barnett, several years ago. My dad was a producer at Capitol Records. I grew up in the [San Fernando] Valley, and I used to go to Capitol Records, all the time, and sit in the control room with my dad, or in Studio A. So, it’s a labor of love and something that I’ve always wanted to do. Capitol had just purchased the catalog for the Bee Gees and we thought, “This is a great story to tell, that nobody’s told.” That’s how it all started, about four years ago.
Laurel Canyon airs in two parts on Epix. Part One airs on Sunda, May 31, and Part Two airs on Sunday, June 7.