Published on September 9th, 2012 | by Jessica Mickey0
Your Junk on the Big Screen: The Found Footage Festival invades Theatre 99
Nick and Joe want your old VHS tapes. Not the worn-down, previously viewed copy of The Mask (c’mon, that movie blew), but the kind you may find on the dusty bottom shelf of your parent’s long-abandoned home entertainment center and think, “What the hell is this?”
Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett are the modern preservationists behind the Found Footage Festival, an oddball trek through the videotaped dregs of giddy corporate trainers, spandex-clad exercise routines, and hilariously unfortunate family fuck-ups. Drawing their collection from thrift stores, yard sales, and the occasional dumpster dive, Prueher and Pickett have hand picked their favorite finds of the year and created a compilation to share with the cult-loving masses.
This week, the Found Footage Festival is back in Charleston with a brand new edition (Volume 6), and Prueher and Pickett themselves will be on hand to offer their own special commentary. Metronome was able to touch base with Prueher during the duo’s wacky tour schedule, and he filled us in on what to expect during their visit to Theatre 99.
Metronome: For someone unfamiliar with the Found Footage Festival, how would you describe it?
Nick Prueher: It’s a guided tour through our collection of VHS tapes, including exercise videos, training videos, pet care videos, home movies, and other stuff you can’t see anywhere else.
Metronome: Now that we’re smack dab in what some call the “digital age,” has it become harder or easier to find VHS tapes when thrifting or combing through yard sales? It seems now that most people have this attitude when it comes to out-of-date media, like, “Eh, does Salvation Army even take tapes anymore? Let’s just toss it.”
Nick Prueher: It’s that kind of attitude that scares us to death. We’ve spoken to employees at Salvation Army stores and Goodwills, and many of them have told us that they don’t even accept VHS tapes anymore because nobody buys them. They’re just ending up in landfills, and that’s a real shame because there’s a great value in hanging onto our videotaped history. That said, we still do find a ton of VHS at thrift stores and garage sales. It seems like the last holdouts with VCRs — perhaps daycares and nursing homes — have finally upgraded to DVD players, so we continue to uncover incredible videos that we never knew existed. This year we are on our most ambitious tour to date, hitting all 50 states, so that we can find as much VHS as we can before it’s lost for the ages.
Metronome: Are there specific criteria you use in choosing which videos make the cut? Is there anything that disqualifies a video right away?
Nick Prueher: For us, the first criterion is that the footage has to be found on a piece of physical media, usually VHS but occasionally on DVD. We don’t take any videos off the internet; that feels like cheating. Plus, then there’s no interesting story of how you found a tape. The other litmus test is whether the video is unintentionally funny. Whatever it was trying to do — get you in shape, train you how to yo-yo, whatever — it has to fail at in an entertaining way. A video that is trying to be funny and succeeding is of no interest to us.
Metronome: What’s the most disturbing/oddest footage you’ve come across so far? Did it make the cut? Why or why not?
Nick Prueher: The only piece of footage we haven’t shown because it was too disturbing is a video we found that a fan sent to the guitar player Steve Vai*. It’s this woman looking directly into the camera, talking to Steve Vai and telling him she’s going to prove how devoted she is to him. She then proceeds to perform various “stunts” to impress him, including blowing out candles with an orifice other than her mouth. It’s very strange, but the woman is clearly unstable, so it comes across as more disturbing than funny. That said, we certainly don’t shy away from full-frontal nudity or other fringe elements. For example, we have a training video about masturbation for developmentally disabled adults in the new show.
Metronome: Have you ever come face-to-face with someone who was not happy to see their video as part of the Found Footage Festival, or do you find that most people have a sense of humor about it?
Nick Prueher: We always try to track down the people in our found videos, and they’re almost always flattered by the attention. Suddenly, this footage that they’ve long forgotten about has turned them into cult stars of sorts. The closest call we had was with Jack Rebney, the star of a 1988 industrial video about Winnebago RVs. We found this raw footage in the late ’90s and cut together our favorite outtakes of Jack losing his cool and going on angry tirades during the shoot. A few years ago, a filmmaker hired a detective to find Jack, and when he heard we’d been showing this footage all over the country, he was pretty pissed off. But we convinced him to appear with us at a show in San Francisco, and when he saw how much joy his video brought people, he totally changed his tune. He got a standing ovation and was signing autographs afterward. Definitely a career highlight for us.
Metronome: Since producing your documentary Dirty Country, which you helped fund with the Found Footage Festival tour, has the annual compilation and touring become both of your primary focuses? Do you consider it an obsession of sorts?
Nick Prueher: Believe it or not, the Found Footage Festival is a full-time job for us now. It’s not a job that pays a living wage, but it’s the most fun job we’ve ever had so we continue to do it. I think obsession is the right word for it. We’ve been doing this in one form or another since 1991 and would be doing it whether people showed up or not. But it’s a lot more fun to share our videos with audiences.
Metronome: What’s on the horizon for the two of you for the fall and/or next year?
Nick Prueher: We’re going to all 50 states on this tour and we’ve only hit about 12 so far, so we’ll be on the road pretty much nonstop until February, doing shows and digging around for new videos. We are also working on a TV show that follows us as we search for new tapes, meet the people behind them, and invite them onstage with us at live shows. It’s sort of like American Pickers, except the antiques we find aren’t worth any real money. They’re just priceless to us.
Metronome: Which found video do you consider to be your “holy grail,” or are you still searching for it?
Nick Prueher: One of our all-time greatest finds is called the “Magical Rainbow Sponge,” and it opens our new show. It’s sort of an unremarkable-looking crafting how-to video about a sponge painting technique, but the woman who hosts it is amazing. Her name is Dee Gruenig, and she is so excited about sponging that she emits these little yelps of joy whenever she makes a design on a page. At times, it sounds like she’s been possessed. We love this woman and are so glad we watched this tape all the way through. But knowing there are other videos out there like this is what keeps us searching for the next holy grail.
Metronome: I believe this is Found Footage Festival’s second time in Charleston. Assuming you’ll be on the hunt for some new tapes, do you have any good thrifting tips to share with the readers?
Nick Prueher: Oh yeah, we’ll spend most of the day in Charleston hunting for new videos. Salvation Army stores are our favorite chain thrift stores because they don’t worry about sorting out the videos like Goodwill does, so, you’ll find all sorts of things that has no business on retail shelves at a Salvation Army. We’ve found home movies there, a Blockbuster Video training video, even a series of courtroom tapes labeled “Evidence.” And always dig deep because sometimes the real gems are hiding in the dusty row behind the first row of tapes. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. —Jessica Mickey
*Steve Vai was unavailable for comment.
The Found Footage Festival takes place at Theatre 99 (280 Meeting St.) at 10 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 14. Tickets are available for $12 (in advance). Visit foundfootagefest.com and theatre99.com for more.
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