"Jakob’s on a journey, speaking to artists about recording those songs to find out why they wrote them and, in the course of it, he finds out all these personal details behind the songs," Slater explains.
Slater has been in the business since the late 1970s, acting as a music critic for the Atlanta Journal Constitution and frequent contributor to Billboard, Rolling Stone and People. In 1984, he joined Frontline Management as creative director, where he worked with artists such as The Go-Gos and Stevie Nicks. He later went on to manage Don Henley, Lenny Kravitz, Beastie Boys and Jane’s Addiction. In 2001, Slater was named CEO of Capitol Records, only to be ousted in 2007 after EMI merged Capitol with Virgin Records.
As a record producer, Slater has worked with artists such as Warren Zevon, R.E.M., Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jerry Garcia and David Gilmour. He has also produced debut albums for Fiona Apple (Tidal) and Macy Gray (On How Life Is). His own star-studded history — along with Dylan’s music connections — paved the way for the film’s stellar lineup, including the late Tom Petty, whom Slater says had an inexhaustible knowledge of the period.
In 2015, a Laurel Canyon-themed concert at downtown L.A.’s Orpheum Theater acquired star power from Dylan, Beck, Fiona Apple and Cat Power, all of whom make an appearance in the film to discuss the impact the Laurel Canyon scene had on their music. "Artists of another generation are there interpreting the work of these people," says Slater. "What you get from watching it is like you're listening in on a personal conversation between Jakob and these artists. More or less the premise of the film is more about the 'echo' than it is about the 'canyon.'"
Slater’s film is primarily set in the mid-'60s, following the breakthrough of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The film's time period also reflects those who settled in rustic Laurel Canyon, a location based only five minutes from Hollywood clubs the Whisky, the Roxy and the Troubadour, which helmed stars Joni Mitchell and Elton John at the start of their careers.
"That period is really the singer-songwriter and the search for the individual," Slater explained. "In '65, '66, '67, it's a whole new world. It really becomes the electrification of folk music. The Byrds electrify folk music, which is something that might not have happened in New York because of the rigidity of the folk scene."
Over the next 15 years, musicians such as Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Carole King, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles touched down in the Canyon, where they shaped an earthy, folk sound commonly referred to as "soft rock." While it came to define the era, it also had detractors like Canyon resident Frank Zappa, who assiduously avoided his famous neighbors that he referred to as "navel gazers."
In her second year as director of the L.A. Film Festival, Jennifer Cochis expressed her excitement to be hosting the opening-night film and concert at the Ford, just a short distance from where Slater's film takes place. "Echo in the Canyon really afforded me the opportunity to create an experience for people," she said of the film. "Our city is so rich in terms of our culture and what we can see on any given day, that there’s something at the L.A. Film Festival that will appeal to broad swaths of Los Angeles."
Running through Sept. 28, the festival includes 40 features, 41 short films and 10 episodic works from 26 countries. Stars expected to attend include Toni Collette, whose Netflix series, Wanderlust, will premiere at the Wallis in Beverly Hills, and Jim Gaffigan (American Dreamer and You Can Choose Your Family). Jack Black’s animated series Post Apocalypto will also have its world premiere at the festival, as well as Rupert Everett presenting his writing-directorial debut, The Happy Prince, in which he plays Oscar Wilde. Classical violinist Joshua Bell will perform following a screening of the 1998 film, The Red Violin.
Other first-time filmmakers at the festival will include comedian Ike Barinholtz, whose The Oath co-stars Tiffany Haddish, and David Raymond, whose thriller, Nomis, screens on closing night. Slater is delighted to find himself in good company.
"Any time you make something from the heart, and I think this is definitely from the heart, you get invested in a way that takes you down a path that’s complicated."
This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.