CENTRAL SCRUTINIZER: Next Steps for Saving the Vault
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.
VIDEO & FILM
- 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.