“We still haven’t uncovered all of the artifacts that exist in the vault,” she says. “One of the things that we’ve never shared before was endless volumes of interviews with Frank. Someone like Rolling Stone or NBC News would show up for a 30-second sound bite from Frank and they’d end up doing a two-hour interview. Frank was maybe the most articulate person in rock & roll, which is ironic because rock & roll was never really a definition for him; it was just where he fit in. But we made copies of everything, so there is a lot of stuff like that to go through. We’re not worried about filler.”
“The beauty of this documentary is that you’ll hear it from Frank’s own mouth.” —Ahmet Zappa
Winter recalls grinning the first time he set foot in the vault, while his production coordinator had “a quiet heart attack.” As he looked through reels of 16-mm film, two-inch master tapes and heaps of sheet music, the filmmaker could feel Frank’s “physical imprint” on everything.
“You almost feel like you’re connecting with him as you start the journey,” he says. “What excited me most were finding outtakes of certain films he was working on and the interviews. And there are concerts and fantastic music stuff to dive into. To create the impression of the man is daunting. Thankfully, he’s an incredibly entertaining person, so it’s certainly not going to be a boring journey.”
The difference between this Frank Zappa documentary and the films Winter has made in the past is his ambition to create a finished film within a couple of years, rather than over the course of a decade. “It’s going to be a very intensified process,” he says.
For the Zappas, the idea of the doc serves a few, mostly personal purposes. For Ahmet, it’s a chance to reconnect with the father he lost when he was 19. “For me, I’m anticipating this to be a very emotional journey,” he says. “People should have a greater understanding after watching this documentary about just how multifaceted he was. I grew up with my mother and my father, not caring about his job. I cared that he was my dad, so being able to see this footage and to hear him again is bittersweet.”
Gail hopes the film will clear up misconceptions about Frank and silence so-called Frank experts who have opinions about his life but were not there. “There’s all these people that wish to be associated with Frank, and they’re all men, and they all hate me,” she says. “Every single one despises me. Now I’m used to that, but I didn’t set out to be competition for them in their exploration of their, what shall I say, ‘fantasy relationship’ with Frank Zappa.”
“The beauty of this documentary is that you’ll hear it from Frank’s own mouth,” Ahmet says. “It will definitely shed light on who he was.”
As for just who Frank Zappa was, both Ahmet and Gail offer up equally idiosyncratic examples. Frank’s son never had much of an interest in consulting encyclopedias but Dad, he says, “was someone who memorized the encyclopedia,” a fact that has always fascinated Ahmet. “He was just a different kind of brain.”
Gail still recalls being mystified how Frank’s body would often fall into “natural yoga positions” before she’d ever even heard of yoga. “He was already there and then he was just a master,” she says.