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Our Kickstarter has ended, but you'll still be able to join us to help save the Vault & tell Frank's story. Check back soon for more details!
Our Kickstarter has ended, but you'll still be able to join us to help save the Vault & tell Frank's story. Check back soon for more details!
8,688 backers pledged $1,126,036 to help bring this project to life.

CENTRAL SCRUTINIZER: Next Steps for Saving the Vault

Posted by Alex Winter (Creator)

Hey Freaks,

We’re off to the races!

Under the watchful eye of Joe "Vaultmeister" Travers, my team and I have been deep in the trenches since the campaign ended, organizing the breakdown of materials, allocating the funds and prepping the companies that are handling the archival work, so we could begin the process.

And since there's no time to waste, I'm really happy to tell you:

Preservation work has already started on our first batch of material: 200 reels of film footage and audio recordings, and about 100 reels of videotape!

Now, keep in mind: There is a lot of stuff to get through, so this is going to be happening for many months. But as we start to dig in, and find out more about what's in there, I'll keep you posted, and try to share more about the process.

Today, I just wanted to give you a few more details about exactly what's happening.

What happens now?

TRANSPORTATION. The first step for a lot of this material is simply getting it to the the right place. Some of the material has already been transported – very carefully! – to archival facilities where the work will be done with state-of-the-art equipment. And some of the material is too delicate to be moved, so the archiving work will happen in the Vault itself.

HIRING EXPERT TEAMS. After that, the specific steps are a little different for each type of media. As we get farther into the work, I'll try to give you a look at how we're dealing with a lot of the different formats… but for now, I want to make sure you know that we're not taking any chances with this stuff: Working with Joe and a lot of expert advisors, we've done a ton of careful vetting and selected some of the best preservation experts and teams in the world to get this done, and get it done right.

CONVERTING TO MODERN FORMATS. And remember, the work isn't just to preserve the Vault: We also need to convert what we find into a form that we can use for the documentary – and save for the future – because a ton of this material was captured on media that hasn't been used (or even available) for a long time.

DIGITIZING & ARCHIVING. So, we also need to digitize the media, and archive it in a fully uncompressed format, which is often an analog-to-analog process. That means that some of the media doesn't just go onto tape drives, hard drives and into the cloud, but onto fresh analog media. Plus, everything is being backed up to high-end LTO digital tape, which has a shelf life of 30 to 50 years! You can probably guess, but all of this requires an enormous amount of tape and hard drive space.

AUDIO BAKING. As part of the process, some of the audio reels are also being baked, which means exactly what it sounds like – we go through a literal baking process that removes moisture absorption from the tape without disturbing the precious audio. Fucking cool, right?

What are we saving?

So, one of the weird things about this whole process is that we don't even know for sure what's on a lot of these reels. Many of them are labeled, but as Joe told me, there's a really good chance that some things got mislabeled decades ago, or that we'll find more stuff on the tapes than we're expecting from the 2-3 word labels. And since we need to preserve and restore the film and tape before it's safe to watch or listen to it, we won't have a complete idea of what we've got until we're done saving it!

But I can already tell you how much we're saving, and how many different media formats we're working with. This part will make your head spin, because FZ was a rigorous archivist who started saving everything right at the beginning of his career, and was constantly moving older recordings onto new master tapes for safe-keeping. So, in a nutshell...


  • U-MATIC DIGITAL TAPES (1,000+): Each tape is 60-75 min. 
  • MULTI-TRACK MASTER TAPES (1,200): Each tape is an hour. 
  • 1/2" FOUR-TRACK TOUR MASTERS (750): Each tape is about 30 minutes. 
  • 2" MULTI TRACK TAPES: There are hundreds. Still getting an exact count.


  • 35mm, 16mm, SUPER 8 FILM: Hundreds of reels. 
  • D2, BETACAM (Digi & SP), ¾” TAPE: Hundreds of hours. 
  • VHS (STANDARD + SUPER): Hundreds of hours in NTSC and PAL.

And what is on all this stuff? Like I said, we won't have an exact list until we're done preserving it, but we've got a pretty damn good idea of some of what we'll find: Concert recordings, recording outtakes and masters, unseen interviews, movie outtakes… and then, a whole lot of boxes where we simply have no idea what is in them. 

I can’t tell you how good it feels to start getting this material preserved. Honestly, I feel so incredibly proud to be part of making this happen, and I hope all of you do too – because it wouldn't be happening without you.

Also, I know many of you are just as eager as I am to see and hear some of what we find. Like I promised during the campaign, even though we're using all of the Kickstarter funds to help preserve, digitize and catalog the Vault, that's still a huge part of the work that has to be done for the movie. Our team is also setting up workstations that will let us start viewing and logging all of the material as it gets saved, so that we can begin the work of telling FZ's story.

In future updates, I'll keep telling you how the preservation process is going, but I'll also do my best to keep you informed about what it means for the film, and how that effort is going too. Like I said near the end of the Kickstarter, we will still need some additional funding to cover some of our production and post-production costs -- but we always knew we'd need that if we didn't raise the full $3MM I outlined in our Kickstarter video. So, we've also started the process of talking to interested investors, so that we can start scheduling interviews and shoots while the preservation work is happening.

(And I have to tell you: being able to tell investors we're the top crowdfunded doc project ever is going to do a lot to help us get the rest of what we need.)

DIRTY MIND: The loss of another legend

Of course, as a community that came together out of love for a legendary musician, we can't end this update without a few words about Prince’s tragic passing this week.

It's a devastating loss of a prolific musical genius, because Prince was a true titan -- and despite the difference in their musical styles and influences, the two had a lot more in common than you might think.

Like Frank, Prince had his own Vault full of recordings, which supposedly has "enough un-released music to put out an album every year for the next 100 years."

Like Frank, Prince was incredibly committed to defending artists' rights.

And, like Frank, Prince's music put him at the center of the government's attempts to censor creative expression. In her book, Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society, Tipper Gore describes how it was Prince that motivated her to form a government committee to enforce restrictions on media content:

"In December 1984, I purchased Prince's best-selling album Purple Rain for my 11-year-old daughter... When we brought the album home, put it on our stereo, and listened to it together, we heard the words to..."Darling Nikki": "I knew a girl named Nikki / guess [you] could say she was a sex fiend / I met her in a hotel lobby / Masturbating with a magazine." The song went on and on, in a similar manner. I couldn't believe my ears! The vulgar lyrics embarrassed both of us. At first, I was stunned—then I got mad!"

So, if you're keeping track: Yes, it was Prince's music that led to the creation of the PMRC, which Frank fought back against in the Senate. Of course – no offense to Prince – Zappa felt he could have gone even farther. In The Real Frank Zappa Book, FZ noted that:

"The PMRC's list of people [...] who were 'offensive' in 1985 was pretty ridiculous… The Jacksons were on for 'Torture', Bruce Springsteen was on for 'I'm on Fire', and of course, Prince, for the fabulous 'Darling Nikki.' Where was [Prince] throughout all of this? He went apeshit and sued some spaghetti company for calling their product 'Prince', but remained curiously silent during the record-ratings stuff."

I don't know if FZ and Prince ever met, but I hope so. They believed in so many of the same things, and were both so unique, that I have to think they'd have liked each other.

We miss you, Prince.


Alex Winter

Matt Dowling, Pat Cartelli, and 123 more people like this update.


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    1. Matt Cline on

      Alex, there's also a poster of Prince in bikini underwear ca. 1983, hanging on a door in Zappa's basement. Classic.

    2. Missing avatar

      J.C. Gethicker on

      In addition to the Madrid show Ana was referring to, the Barcelona show from 1988 was released on Spanish TV. So that's a no-brainer. It's already all over YouTube,etc..

    3. Missing avatar

      Vincent & Victoria Cannata on

      STILL hoping to see you and yours next Sun. at The Residents show!

    4. Missing avatar

      Vincent & Victoria Cannata on

      HOWDY, stranger!

    5. Alex Winter 2-time creator on

      @ Anna: hi Anna, I know they are planning to release a lot of that material but I will ask Joe T about that specific show :-)

    6. M Paisley Fractal on

      Great update! So glad for this project! Cheers!

    7. Anna on

      Hi Alex, how about releasing 1988 Madrid show?
      The video is there in the Vault with some issues in sound and video synchronization, correct?

    8. Missing avatar

      John Schlieman on

      Is the Vaultmeister involved in the ton of new releases from Universal's deal made with Gail just before she died and which is handled now by Ahmet? Info at: (scroll down to the "Road Tapes" on the right side of the page).

    9. Missing avatar

      Vincent & Victoria Cannata on

      Will we be seeing the people who got to take 'the tour' of the house?

    10. Missing avatar

      John Schlieman on

      Dear Alex, You've got everybody in a tingling tizzy of anticipation. You're working with the world's greatest treasure...the vaults. You and Joe have hatched an admirable plan but it'll be a long time before any of frank's oeuvre comes out of your project. How about giving us a tantalizing taster treat? Something that needs no refurbishment and which Joe could quickly and easily put together. I'm thinking frank's sample library. It would provide a foundation for other audio releases down the line. Think about it. Love, Johnny Darling.

    11. Missing avatar

      Brian Freeland on

      This may have may already been suggested but, when complete, can and will you publish the entire indexed catalog to us. I am sure you would put it in a book sometime but it would be a nice "Kicker" to email out a copy to everyone involved. Another personal touch. Also, and I must ask, what about Franks Python boot. I am not rich but $8k does not see like enough for that piece. I would have payed more. Seriously I would have if I would have known earlier. Please think about it Zappa Family Trust.

    12. Missing avatar

      Gary Elliott on

      Encouraging news - but Alex, if you have any influence with the ZFT - please get this this stuff out to the masses, and don't let it just be archived and go back on a shelf unheard and unseen.

    13. Missing avatar

      James on

      Many thanks Alex! It is wonderful to hear about progress and all the gory details. Please keep these posts coming - love it!

    14. Stacey Sullivan on

      Hopefully You'll get to unleash Prince's Vault Alex!!

    15. MrLampShade on

      Keep up the great work guys!!!! Let us not also forget that both Prince and FZ were both in mass multi-year legal battles with Warner Brothers over artistic control and royalties.......BTW, Hi Jamie....Love Lampshade.

    16. Missing avatar

      Jamie Guggino on

      You're the best Alex!!

    17. Missing avatar

      Clinton Morgan on

      My heart's a flutter. This is very exciting. I'm so thrilled to be part of this.

    18. M on

      The review alone could take a lifetime. Good luck and thank you.

    19. Missing avatar

      Mike Pettinati on

      Great update! I'm so happy this is happening!

    20. Missing avatar

      Vincent & Victoria Cannata on

      I know Prince had a vault too, but.....ZAPPA COMES FIRST!!

    21. philip adie on

      Greetingz from Seville. Great update Alex! So glad to be a wee part of this... bake those motherfuckers boys!!!!!! yahowza. y viva la guitarra!!

    22. lyrik

      "[...] a shelf life of 30 to 50 years! "? So what about our great-grandchildren?

    23. Spence on

      @Mick Ekers- I read your text in my head with your voice from the Zappacasts! Lol

    24. Missing avatar

      Dale UK on

      Thanks for the update,Alex and've got alot of hard work in front of you and its great to see your progress up to now!Prince was a one off,as was Frank,and both will be remembered as major 20th century composers along with Gershwin,Hendrix and Lennon and McCartney.all the best!

    25. Missing avatar

      Leonard Steinbach on

      This is all tremendously exciting and your work relates to so much of the archival restoration being done by many institutions. I was hoping you could share the list of firms you have chosen for various tasks; once the selection has been doneI am not sure if there is any need for confidentiality. I would also like to hear more about how you are planning to index all this and at what part of the process this will take place. Do you plan to adhere to any media metadata (index, identification, media technical info) standards that would make searching compatible with other cultural data widely (and becoming more widely) available? And lastly, it would seem that you have a natural and enormous resource of people out here, communities of interested "pro/am" experts who might assist in targeted ways in a crowdsourced (as opposed to crowd funded, ie. online task/work contribution)? institutions such as the New York Public Library (crowdsourcing) and the Library of Congress (metadata) have been involved in these and I would love to hear how your project is informed by work done by institutions in the broader cultural arena. Perhaps this is premature. Congratulations again on your remarkable achievement to date.

    26. Ruby Red Tootsies on

      Richard Atkinson and Jim Dyer have great ideas! Filming footage of the preservation process (which you're probably already doing) and making a mini-series documentary. :)

      It never even crossed my mind to suggest reaching out to Prince to help spread the word to his fans to kick in to fund this documentary (and I was listening to several of his CD's during the Kickstarter!). He could've bought the Zappa Mansion. LOL! Thanks for these updates. I do NOT envy all the tedious work you have ahead of you just to preserve The Vault. #HaveFun

    27. Missing avatar

      Greg Frazho on

      I am absolutely intrigued by the sheer volume of material (not the noise level) that you have to go through. It will be very tedious but, in the end, I think, very rewarding to you and your viewers/listeners, Alex. As a fan of 4-track reel-to-reel, I think that would be the epitome of audio experiences, listening to Zappa's air checks from the road. I'm envious of being in the vaults and cataloguing all of it, but I'm also cognizant that it will be a herculean effort. I like these updates you send out periodically and I wish you and your crew nothing but the best as you undertake this great endeavor.

    28. Paul Bleakley on

      Ive been a fan of Franks for many years and saw him play live too. I own almost all of his albums, have read many books about him and tried to read every morsel of information from magazine and newspaper articles that I could get my hands on.
      My appetite for all things FZ has never waned and you Alex and everyone involved with this Kickstarter project has whetted my appetite more than ever.
      Thank you Alex and team for all the hard work youre putting into this...really appreciated mate.
      Ps. The webcast was great...i think you should do another one if you can squeeze it in!

    29. Missing avatar

      Mick Ekers on

      Fantastic news! This is what we paid our money for :-)

    30. Missing avatar

      Jim Dyer on

      I wasn't a Prince fan in the 80s, and today I watched a documentary on him from a little while back. I had no idea how prolific he was, and that he recorded his first albums, at high school age, playing all the instruments himself. However, listening to the music, I realized why I wasn't a fan. Didn't go for pop and dance music.
      Still, R.I.P. Prince.
      Full steam ahead on the preservation of the vault, Alex, Joe and crew. I'd like to think that the top professionals from around the world hired to work to preserve the various archives, that they also know HOW important Frank was (is) and will give their very best care to the task. Can't wait for future updates and, eventually, the documentary. As somebody in this kickstarter forum wrote, This film would need 3 to 4 hours to truly tell Frank's story. I second that. An engaging subject can never be too long, or whittled down to an acceptable length for a movie audience's attention span - and amount of time one can possibly bear going without looking at his/her cell phone...

    31. Missing avatar

      Sully Canape on

      Great update, thanks! How do the quantities of tape translate in to hours of unique audio material- I'm guessing it's 1:1 for the tour masters (minus unused portions of the tape) so perhaps around 200 concerts?
      For the u-matic digital tapes and multi-track masters I assume it's harder to say, because of multiple versions (including backups at different stages of each project) and mixes, but do you have any feel for how many unique hours there might be, perhaps judged from knowledge of a sample of album projects?

    32. Missing avatar

      Richard Atkinson on

      Sounds like a task bigger than Billy the Mountain himself!! I'd love to see some video footage of the work of preservation in progress, and maybe hear some interviews with the experts involved. What chance Alex? #musicisthebest

    33. CJ Marsicano on

      I'm sure this a question that Joe Travers will be more able to answer than you, Alex, but being an aficionado of, and occasional practitioner of audio recording, am I safe to assume that the multi-track masters will be transferred to a multi-track DAW system like ProTools or Logic for future mixing?

    34. Okibi on

      Great post, Mr. Winter. FZ and Prince certainly seemed to have a lot in common. Thanks for the update.

    35. Corné van Hooijdonk on

      Who put the little stickers over the text?Flakes flakes! They seem to be old, but still.....

    36. Missing avatar

      Nicholas Vladimitr Idelson on

      Thanks for the great update. Its going to be really interesting just learning about the varied preservation and conversion processes let alone sharing the excitement as you unearth gems from your vault mining. Will you be posting some video clips of the experts talking about their work ?

      Also I guess a few of us havie been topping up on add on rewards to help further, how is that going ?

    37. Denis Le Bret on

      Nice comparison Prince and Frank. They were both genious, greatly ahead of their time and loved music beyond anything.

    38. Chris Sharrock on

      Cant you bake the tapes in with the muffins ?

    39. Missing avatar

      Mike Trebilcock on

      I hope you are better bakers than I am!

    40. Matt Dowling on

      This is gonna be Epic!! :)