Maybe you're wondering: what the fuck is going on here?
It's a good question.
Here's another good question:
Almost 23 years after his death, why hasn't anyone been able to create a definitive documentary about the life and work of Frank Zappa?
It's just crazy: Zappa is inarguably one of the most significant, beloved, misunderstood, provocative and controversial artists of the twentieth century.
So in a global sense, this had to be done.
But what makes me qualified to do it?
To tell you the truth... even though I always admired Zappa’s music, I didn’t grow up a die-hard fan. I was captivated most by the man; his wit, his politics, his wild imagination. The genius of the music crept up on me later in life.
That seems like a good start, since I think a movie about Zappa shouldn’t be made by an acolyte, but someone who can still discover and appreciate his depth along with the audience. If I already knew the exact story I wanted to tell, it wouldn't matter what turns up in the Vault, or how it changes what we already know about Frank. I want to be able to tell this story with an open mind, and hopefully, to find something new.
But wait, there’s more! I don’t love music docs or biopics. I like them well enough, and there have been a couple of great ones, but as a genre they generally tend to be promotional pieces about "legacies." I have never wanted to make a promotional legacy movie... or even a music doc, for that matter.
If I don't love music docs or biopics, and don't want to make a promotional legacy film, why am I committing the next several years of my life to making a music doc about Frank Zappa?
Well, for one thing, I've got a different approach in mind.
Even though I started my career as an actor, I've been directing and producing for decades, and have been making documentaries since 2010. And while this project is – in many ways – very different from my last two documentaries (Downloaded and Deep Web), in other ways, it feels like the third part of a trilogy.
I have always been drawn to telling the stories of great, challenging Americans. These are people who changed the world around them without being easily defined or constrained; people who break the rules with purpose, ideology and vision; people like Frank.
I want to tell Frank’s story without making a biopic; to make a music doc without making a music doc. And I think that’s just how Frank would have wanted it.
I also had a gut feeling that's how the Zappa Family would want it: if they were going to give someone full access to tell Frank's story, I didn't think they'd want some conventional music/biopic/puff piece. They'd want something better, deeper and cooler.
(That’s why I love the Zappas!)
So a year or so ago, I took it upon myself to make a short movie that only the Zappas would see, to show them how I wanted to tell Frank's story.
And – thank god – they really dug it! Gail Zappa – Frank’s wife and the formidable front end of the Zappa Family Trust – was especially supportive. She told me that she had refused a lot of people who approached her about his story in the past, asking for access to the family and Frank's personal archive and unreleased material.
But even though Gail gave me her blessing, she also knew her time was limited: tragically, Gail had already been diagnosed with terminal cancer. So, once she decided to let me make this film, I started filming interviews with her right away. I'm glad to say that we got some amazing footage before she passed away in October of 2015, because there's no way we could tell Frank's whole story without her.
When Gail agreed to let me make the movie, she also gave me permission from the Zappa Family Trust to have unprecedented access to the Zappa Vault; all the unreleased audio, video, artwork, papers and other private materials that had been stored for decades under the Zappa house in Hollywood.
Sounds great, I know... but it's not as simple as you might think. It's true that "the Vault" is a vast treasure trove of all things Frank. There are tens of thousands of hours of unreleased audio and video down there, along with countless boxes full of Frank's papers, artwork, photos, correspondence, and more. And while I've got permission to use all of it, there's a lot of work that needs to be done first: viewing, cataloging, preserving and archiving all of the content, so that we know what's in there.
And that, my friends, is where our Kickstarter begins.
Watching, organizing and preserving all of the random stuff in the Vault is not a simple task. It's time-consuming and expensive. It's more work than any one person, or family, can do alone.
(Just ask Joe "Vaultmeister" Travers, who has been down there helping the family with the Vault for years, and still hasn't been able to get to a ton of the material!)
And that's why, with the permission of the Zappa Family Trust, I'm calling on Frank Zappa fans everywhere to step up and get involved.
Together, we finally have a chance to open the Vault and save whatever's in there.
It's a huge privilege and a huge opportunity.
I hope you'll decide to join me.