The Good, The Bad and the Bizarre: Q&A with Nick Prueher of Found Footage Festival
Ever wonder what happened to all the cringeworthy home movies, instructional films and celebrity exercise videos that sprung from the '80s and '90s? Well, there's a good chance they might have passed through the hands of Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett at one point. Co-curators of the hilariously bizarre video mashup that is Found Footage Festival, Prueher and Pickett are heading to the Red Vic Movie House October 2-3 to show off their latest treasures, and considering it's also their fifth anniversary, it's sure to be one hell of a ride. We caught up with Nick Prueher to get a glimpse of what it's like to be a found film aficionado:
What was the ah-ha moment that inspired you to start collecting videos?
I think we trace our video-finding hobby back to 1992, when I found a training video for custodians in the break room of the McDonald's where I was working. I just couldn't believe that something this ridiculous had been committed to videotape, so I swiped it from the break room and showed it to Joe that night. It became an obsession, this tape, and it got us to thinking that there might be more goofy videos out there just sitting at thrift stores, garage sales and other out-of-the-way places, waiting to be discovered.
Most bizarre find:
Joe was at an estate sale in Queens last year about bought a VHS camcorder for $10, then took it home and plugged in the battery. Lo and behold, a tape had been left inside, and what was on it defies description. It's a home movie that starts with a girl dancing to the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, then it cuts to an old man dancing to the same song, shirtless and wearing a skirt. Then it cuts again to the same guy documenting a construction crew demolishing a neighbor's house and getting into a screaming argument with the foreman. It feels like an early John Waters movie or something, and it's real.
Right now, my favorite is this 90 minute video dating reel from 1987 that David Cross gave us. It's from this company in California called Video Mates, which let dudes record a minute-long pitch to woo potential mates and then sent the tape to single girls. We cut together our favorite moments from this unbelievable document of lame bachelors and bad sweaters.
What do you find way too much of?
We've got about a half dozen copies of the Rich Little's VCR Charades Game. I guess a lot of people bought it and realized they could only play it once. And it sucked. This tape turns up so much at thrift stores that we felt obligated to include it in the new show.
What do you do with the videos that don't make the cut?
The tapes that don't make the cut get dropped back off at Goodwill or the Salvation Army for other people to find. It's the cycle of life.
How much time do you spend sorting through old videos?
We spend most of the year touring around the country, looking at thrift stores and garage sales and in garbage cans for discarded VHS tapes. Then we lock ourselves in a room for about three months and try to get through as many videos as we can. It's excruciating, but when we find one that makes the cut, it makes it all worthwhile. And to be honest, we're a bit masochistic and have come to enjoy the pain of watching this footage.
Do you have a criteria for what goes in each showcase?
Exercise videos are a staple of the show simply because we find so many of them. The fitness montage in our next show is probably the best collection we've ever assembled. Maybe one day we'll do an all-exercise video show. In general, though, our only criteria is that the video has to be legitimately we found, it can't come from the internet, and it has to be unintentionally funny.
Have you ever secretly (or not so secretly) worked out to any of the exercise videos you come across?
In all the exercise videos I've watched over the last five years - and that's literally hundreds - I've never even lifted a finger while watching one.
What's your technique when you go rummaging for new videos?
Joe and I basically just start from opposite ends of the videos and examine each one, looking for promising signs. Is the title good? Does the cover look intriguing? Does it feature a washed-up celebrity? About 90 percent of what we take home is absolute garbage, but I think our batting average has gotten better over the years.
Which city has the best found video gems?
The Bay Area has got some great public access TV, but I'd have to say that Anchorage, AK is the number one city in the world for finding VHS. There's this thrift store there called The Bishop's Attic that has hundreds of used videos lying around, everything from home movies to training videos to kids videos to regional exercise videos. We spent hours there and ended up checking a few extra boxes of videos back with us on the plane. We can't wait to go back.
Fave places to score videos in SF:
The used video section at Amoeba has a surprisingly decent selection of bad independent films and other good stuff. I picked up a Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling video last time at the Haight Street location.
Found screenings are best paired with _______.
Beer. I'm not even a drinker, but our shows always go best at venues that serve booze. Luckily, the Red Vic is fully stocked.
What would be your ultimate find?
A religious training video with puppets, '80s celebrities and a rap at the end? I don't know. I guess the hardest videos to find are home movies, since people don't always leave those lying around at Salvation Armies, so uncovering an amazing home movie would be like Christmas morning for us.