Q&A with the Found Footage Festival's Nick Prueher
On Friday, October 17 at the Starz FilmCenter, 900 Auraria Parkway, co-curators Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett will present volume two of the Found Footage Festival, which collects the best moments from training videos, home movies and cable-access oddities (see the full listing here). Westword caught up with Prueher to discuss the origins of the festival, its content and where it’s going, as well as what’s too bizarre even for them.
Westword (Cory Casciato): How did you guys get started on this project?
Nick Prueher: Well, the very beginning of it was when I was working at a McDonald's in high school. I actually stumbled across a training video in the breakroom there called Inside and Outside Custodial Duties. I popped it in and it was one of the most insulting, dumb things I’d ever seen. The people were actually really excited about cleaning the floors in it and it starred sort of dopey trainee and this overly perky crew trainer.
It was so ridiculous I actually took it from the break room and decided to show it to Joe, who’s the other Found Footage Festival curator, and we just fell in love with this video, and started inviting friends over and showing it to them and developed a running commentary along with the video. If there was nothing going on on a Friday night, we’d have people over to my parents’ living room and make fun of this video and kind of made a show out of it. Then we thought, "Man, if there’s videos this dumb right under our noses, imagine what else is out there?" So that started our quest to scour thrift stores and garage sales and other out-of-the-way places for VHS tapes that might be funny.
WW: Do you have a favorite place to find stuff?
NP: I think garage sales, because the odds of finding a home movie there are probably the best. Home movies are tough to come by, because people don’t just throw those away willy-nilly like they do celebrity exercise videos, which is by far the most common thing we find. Garage sales are always fun, because they’re always being sold by the person who’s there and you can interact with them -- and estate sales too.
For this show we’re bringing to Denver, we went to an estate sale in Queens and they had a VHS camcorder there for, I think, $5. We thought, "Hey we need to pick this up, because you can do a lot of things with a VHS camcorder." Brought it home, and Joe plugged it in and it turns out there’s a tape still in the camera. And we popped it out and just could not believe what we saw. Basically it involved an old man, dressing in drag and dressing to the Phantom of the Opera song, and the demolition of his neighbor’s house, all in the span of about five minutes. So we just play it unedited, as we found it, basically, so you can kind of experience what we experienced when you’re popping in this unknown tape and not knowing what you’re going to get. It’s a video we’ve dubbed Queen’s Home Movie, and we’ll be playing that in Denver next month.
WW: Have you ever found something so outrageous you just couldn’t use it? Too obscene, profane, whatever?
NP: As you’ll see, there aren’t really limits to what we do – we’re not above poor taste. The one thing is, if there’s anything prurient or anything like that, or unnerving, to the point where it goes too far, we won’t show it. And the only reason is because it’s not funny. If it crosses too far over into being… for instance, there’s this video that a guy in a band gave us that, I guess, had been floating around among touring bands. It’s a fan video that was sent in to Steve Vai, the guitarist, and it’s this woman who’s an insane Steve Vai fan doing various odd and unusual sexual stunts for Steve Vai, on video tape. If it was funny, we’d show it, but it’s actually... the girl clearly has got a few screws loose and it’s just not something we’re comfortable showing in this context. There are times, but not much. As a matter of fact, there are plenty of flapping penises that we’ll be showing in the show in Denver, so that’s something to look forward to.
WW: You started doing this professionally around the same time YouTube came out. Have you ever trolled YouTube for material, or is that a separate medium from what you’re doing?
NP: I guess we were wondering how it would affect the shows, if people would still come out to see goofy videos if they could get it on their computers. We found that, if anything, it’s helped, since it increases people’s awareness that this stuff is out there. We personally don’t use any videos from the Internet in our show, because to us it’s all about the story of personally finding the tapes, and that’s just as important as what’s on the video. I think there’s something old-school and charming about having physical VHS tapes, and I think if you get something in your inbox, you watch it and forget about it thirty seconds later, and you’re by yourself in front of a computer screen. When you come to one of our shows, it’s stuff you can’t see on the Internet; it’s stuff we have a personal connection to, stuff we’ve given far too much thought to. And then you’re watching it in a room with 300 people who are there to laugh. It’s a totally different experience than watching it at home by your self.
WW: Do people send you stuff?
NP: Yeah, we love that, because it makes sifting through the videos much easier. We encourage people to actually come to the shows, bring tapes they’ve found or talk to us about, "Hey, there’s this thrift store in Denver you have to check out while you are here." That’s part of the reason we like touring with the show, talking with people about stuff they’ve found. Actually, this show we’re bringing to Denver features lots of stuff people have sent in or brought to us at shows. A different show that we’ll probably bring to Denver next year features three different videos sent to us by a guy in Denver – public access shows, a couple of training videos.
WW: Do you release this stuff on DVD as well?
NP: Yes, the first three volumes are available on DVD. You can get them on our website at foundfootagefest.com.
WW: Any plans to turn it into a TV show?
NP: We had a development deal with CBS to turn it into a series of prime-time specials. We’d love to turn it into a TV show, but since we found the videos, we don’t really have the rights to show them. It would require a creative legal team, but it could be done. I think it could be like an America’s Funniest Home Videos without the high-pitched animal voices and corny jokes. I think there’s something subversive -- although that’s not why we do it -- about watching these videos you’re not supposed to be watching. If you’re legitimizing it with a TV show, you have to walk that line of still being a little bit naughty. That’s part of the appeal of what we’re doing. We’d love to make it into a web series or a TV show sometime.
WW: With all these hundreds, if not thousands of videos you’ve sifted through, have you come across any unusual or startling insights into the human condition that you’d like to share?
NP: Well, it’s not pretty. I don’t know: The show is a comedy show. But I think these sort of moments that were captured on video that people would probably rather forget about say just as much as much about us as a culture as do our greatest works of art. I feel like if you’re only including the AFI Top 100 and Citizen Kane in the time capsule, it’s not a very accurate representation of what this country is all about, who we are as a people.
It’s about people with a lot of ambition and very little talent, which is one of our favorite criteria for videos in the found footage festival. It’s about capturing all sorts of arcane, boring things on video for some reason -- people with bad ideas and cheesy cultural things. Also, I think people identify with those things too, because everyone’s had something embarrassing on videotape, or had to watch an awful training video at a soul-crushing first job. We think it’s important to archive them and resurrect these videos, these moments that people might not want to remember.
WW: Anything else you’d like to say?
NP: We encourage people to bring any finds they have to the show, or talk to us about videos they’ve seen. That’s why we do it as much as anything. We’re not getting rich off this. It’s more about being able to share our videos with people and meet other like-minded folks.