You also have to remember the flick was shot on video first, then converted to film. I doub there's much better quality available.
From the 23 April 1975 lecture:
(audio transcript, words between ** are words I couldn't make out)
This is the story of producing 200 Motels. I'd been working on the music for this film for about 5 years, I've been writing it while we were travelling around, and I used to take bundles of music paper in my suitcase and when we get into a hotel after a concert I would go back and I would write music 'cause there was nothing to do. and those were the days. Well I collected about 2 or 300 pages of orchestra manuscript from that 5 year period. And I was looking for some sort of an event that would give me a chance to hear the music played and to visualise the story line that I thought was going along with the music, and so after some intense negotiations we convinced United Artists to put up the money to do the first feature length video tape motion picture. Total budget of the film was $679,000, nobody had ever made a feature length video production before. The process was unusual in that we were doing it in England and their video system is different than what we have in the United States. They use a 625 line system, I don't know whether that means anything to you. But it's a higher resolition system and the way in which the colour is printed onto the tape differs from the way that the colour is printed on the tape here. And this difference makes it possible to extract the three primary colours one at a time. And by coupling that with the old technicolor triple negative process to make a print from a video tape that has better colour than what you would get making a transfer off an American video tape. Get the picture? OK So after having them agree that they were going to invest this amount of money to put something on the screen that nobody had thought of trying before the next problem was keeping them out of the way while we worked on it. Because every time somebody has money invested in a film there's always the temptation that they want to come down there and watch you spend it. and we were very fortunate in having some people at United Artists who were smart enough to stay home while we were working on the movie so we didn't have too much interference. The only problems we had working on the film were these factors. There was an exact shooting schedule above which we could not *proceed* more than one minute. Because the costs of shooting with about 150 people on the stage is exorbitant, so the film we shot in exactly 7 8-hour days. that's to the minute including two tea-breaks per day. Because when you work in England, it is not funny. They do take tea-breaks. The world stops, and a lady with a green *smock* comes around with a wagon and there's... we were on stage A, which was the same stage where they shot the special effects for 2001, and we had 120 people in the orchestra, and about 30 other actors, and dancers, and assorted what-nots, and the minute tea-break came, all 150 people had to get tea, and you had 15 minutes to do it. So that meant that although the tea-break would commence at time, it was very difficult to get everybody back in their place at the end of 15 minutes. So that our little tea-breaks tended to drag over, and the accumulative effect of tea-breaks throughout the week probably cost us 4 to 5 hours of production time. So watch out for that if you ever work in England.
And the other thing is, because I was crazy, and continue to be crazy about certain things in production, I insisted that the orchestra actually be performing on screen instead of pretending to play on a pre-recorded track. This gave me the chance to get absolute synchronisation on film. I hate to see a film where the sync is funny. Where the mouth doesn't move exactly right, or where somebody's supposed to be playing an instrument and their fingers aren't doing what they're supposed to do. That bothers me, and so we had the orchestra actually playing. Now this is something that hasn't been done in a film since about 1930, in a musical, and I sure did find out why the hard way, so if you have a chance to do a musical, pre-record the tracks. See... what else can I tell you about film productions... OK then after we shut the thing, it was 110 hours, that's 11 ten-hour days, of video-tape edit, after which it was transferred to film, and then a total of 3 months in post-production, that includes dubbing in sound effects, shortening the total thing from 2 hours and 20 minutes to its eventual running time of about 108 and the final post-dubbing process where you combine all the music tracks the dialog tracks and the sound effect tracks, put it all together. Then your only problem if you're the person who's responsible for putting the film together, is going through all the *judgery* of trying to deal with the people at the film company who are going to promote it and how they're going to advertise it. We did have a lot of trouble in this regard with 200 Motels. You see right next-door to us, at the sound stage where we were working on 200 motels, they were filming Fiddler On The Roof. Now Fiddler On The Roof cost about 22 million dollars, so they wanted to get their money back in a hurry, and when our little cheap movie came out the same time as that, we were having a lot of difficulty getting them to pay attention to it, so they tried to rely on certain procedures that had been standard in the industry for about 30 years, they would send out *mimeo..graph* notices to newspapers saying that "Rock Star Frank Zappa will be arriving at the airport at such and such a time, we're sure you're going to want to go down there and meet him" and all
this kind of stuff, really old-time Hollywood swill you know, and we had a lot of trouble convincing them to make the right kind of commercials and put up the right kind of print advertising for the thing.
But the biggest problem that you're ever going to encounter if you work on a film is getting paid for it later. The danger there is that major film companies who are frequently willing to put up investment money for new film projects are never willing to give you an accurate accounting of what the film did when it's gone into distribution. They have so many ways of charging things against that film's account that it's absolutely amazing, you'll wind up spending the latter part of your life with accountants and lawyers trying to decipher what really happened when the thing went into the theatre. As far as 200 Motels
goes, we still have not received an accounting and the thing was done in 1971 I believe, still not received an accounting of whether it went into a profit situation or... anything, they just lose contact with you after the first 3 months that the film is in running, and anything you want to find out after that has all got to go through legal channels.
Q And secondly, when you made 200 Motels, when you cut that, did you transfer it to film and then cut it down on film?
FZ The first editing was done on the video tape stage, a lot of the opticals that you see in there were done in post-production. And then after it was the complete video tape, one real video tape was done, they transferred that to 35mm, and we got a black-and-wite work print, and then cut the work print down, and later put the sound effects against the work print.
Q May I ask you another question?
FZ What's that?
Q Could you explain 200 Motels to me?
FZ Can I what?
Q Explain 200 Motels, yeah...
FZ What part of it?
Q I saw it and I was pretty high, I expected to get a lot out of it, I was pretty much...
FZ Well that's the problem...
Q I was lost so at Yellow Submarine I ducked out
FZ Well you know, that was a Beatles movie
Q Oh, yeah... No really
FZ Well really that's about what it comes down to, but as far as coming in being high and trying to get a lot out of 200 Motels, go and see it without being high, and try and figure out what's going on, and I think that you'll have a better
experience with it.
Q You can not go in try and explain that then...
FZ Well Ask me something specific, a detail about it...
Q something specific... Well what was the point of putting out 200 Motels?
FZ Well you see I had the story and a concept of doing a surreal documentary on a group, a surrealistic documentary is something that takes actual events, paraphrases those events, and codifies those events to shrink them down to a size and a shape that people are going to be able to comprehend. However, I failed miserably in your case, but the basic idea was to give a glimpse of what goes on inside of a band on the road in an abstract concept kind of term, so the events that are referred to in that film literally did happen, there's a lot of stuff in there that's so true that it would be too disgusting to even talk about