- Are members of the Zappa family involved? Do they approve of this project?
- So, the entire Zappa family support and endorse this project?
- Why aren't the Zappas saving the entire Vault on their own?
- Why aren't the Zappas paying for this doc themselves?
- Where does the house fit into all this? Who gets the money?
Are members of the Zappa family involved?
Do they approve of this project?
That depends on what you mean by involved!
This is my project — not a project by the ZFT. But we could't do it justice without the support of the Zappas. Frank's widow Gail, who was in charge of the Zappa estate until her passing in October 2015, specifically granted me and my producing partner Glen Zipper complete access to Frank's life and archives, along with her blessing and personal support.
It feels weird to share a quote about myself, but this is the statement Gail issued to the press: "[The Zappa family] couldn’t be happier to be working with Alex, an extraordinary filmmaker in his own right. With an advanced degree in perfect timing and a shared respect for conceptual continuity, we feel it is our duty.”
(There's more from Gail and Ahmet Zappa on the topic of our documentary in this article from Rolling Stone last year.)
And, as you can tell by looking at our rewards, the family continues to give us a lot of unprecedented access... like, for example, the chance to give away their house as a crowdfunding reward.
I'm also grateful, and proud, to say that I was able to interview Gail extensively before she passed away -- the only interviews I've done so far -- and I'm hoping to include new interviews with every member of the Zappa clan in the final doc.
But to be clear, I have complete editorial freedom to use what I find in Frank's vault, and what I learn in my interviews. The Zappas understand my vision for the doc, and have granted me their trust, but their direct participation will be limited to interviews and support, so that we can tell a complete, honest, and unbiased story.
So, the entire Zappa family support and endorse this project?
This is an important distinction: all of our permission – to use the Vault, and to make this movie – was granted by the Zappa Family Trust, not the individual Zappas. Before she passed, Gail and I spent a lot of time discussing the film I wanted to make, and the importance of helping preserve the Vault, and she was the one who gave me permission. Based on that decision, the Zappa Family Trust continues to allow me access, and this will be the first time the content of the Vault has ever been available to a filmmaker.
To be clear, I’m not claiming that the individual Zappas have endorsed this project in any way. That’s a decision for each of them to make, and I don’t want to speak for any of them. I’ve let each of them know about the project, and this Kickstarter. I’m hoping they’ll all decide to let me interview them for the movie, and share their memories of Frank. If they want to be involved, I’ll be thrilled and honored to have them.
But it’s important to understand that there’s a difference between an endorsement and permission. This is always a difficult line to walk, as an independent doc director, because I often find myself telling stories without the specific blessing of the people involved. There’s no way around it. I wouldn’t want to put the Zappas in a difficult position, so I’m not even asking them to endorse it.
(If they want to, that's awesome... but it's totally up to them.)
Above all, my goal is to make an unbiased, independent documentary that paints a more comprehensive and nuanced picture of Frank’s life. That said, I hope that each of the Zappas will decide to support what I’m doing, and feel good about the finished movie!
Why aren't the Zappas paying for this doc themselves?
Even if the ZFT was able/willing to pay for the doc, it would be the wrong move. If the family of the subject pays, you don't get an objective doc. You get a commissioned/sponsored puff piece. The ZFT is supporting us in telling Frank's true and complete story, but they don't get final say over the content. They can't, and shouldn't, have to pay so that I can make an indie film. I addressed this in an update.
Where does the house fit into all this? Who gets the money?
Before we launched our campaign, the Zappa family was already planning to sell the house. So, they have been planning for months to move the contents of the Vault into a new space, along with other things from the house — the recording equipment from the UMRK, for example. And that’s still the plan.
When the Zappas told me the house was going to be put on the market, we all felt that it would really be a great gesture to offer the fans a first crack at owning it, before it was publicly available. And when they told me the Vault and all Frank's possessions were being finally after decades moved from their natural habitat, I thought, oh shit, we need to launch this project NOW — the last point at which it'll all be just as Frank left it.
The distribution of the money for the $9 million reward is really simple; my project needs money to preserve and archive the entire vault, money to make the doc, and money to get all of you your rewards. That’s the portion of the $9 million we'll keep. The rest is the value of the house which of course goes to the Zappa family to purchase the house at market value. They've been super generous with their support of this project, but they're certainly not just giving us their whole house!