The Found Footage Festival's Nick Prueher on Ahnold and disturbing ventriloquist dummies
There's nothing like found footage to showcase a wide cross-section of humanity's most maladapted, inept and bizarre, and as far as that goes, nothing beats the original. Since 1991, Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett have been collecting old VHS tapes, and in 2004, they started editing down the weirdest and most hilarious moments of their collection to show to delighted audiences the nation over -- that gig has since become a full-time job, and the Found Footage Festival brings its sideshow to Denver for back-to-back shows tonight and tomorrow. In advance, we caught up with co-founder Prueher to chat about research, public access TV and renting a friend.
Westword: You were a researcher for David Letterman for a while. What was that like?
Nick Prueher:I was the head researcher there for four years at the Late Show, and later a producer. Basically my job was to make the guest interviews entertaining -- you'd be surprised how boring celebrities are. I'd read about what they'd been up to to try to find interesting talking points, and then talk to them on the phone right before the show and try to get a feel for what might be interesting to talk about. And I would try to find interesting things to do during the segment, like find old commercials or embarrassing films they'd been in -- so it was good training ground for what I'm doing now.
One I found in a bargain bin was called "Carnival in Rio," a tourism video for Rio de Janiero, Brazil, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger before he was even a movie star, when he was just a body-builder. Basically, the tourism authority or whatever, they hire a few escorts and told him to go nuts -- and he does. He gropes everybody. The first time he ran for governor, we picked out some clips and ran it. People still voted for him, though. But that video was later one of the most popular one from our first touring show.
WW: What are the research methods? How do you find something like that?
NP: Basically, when we get to a new city, we get there early and start scoping out local thrift stores; we look in the paper for garage and estate sales. We do that in the mornings and then do the show at night, and we always end up taking a couple of boxes home in our luggage when we go on tour. And then we take about three months every year to just watch everything. It's a needle in a haystack kind of thing -- I'd say about 90 percent of the stuff we watch is not even bad in an entertaining way, it's just bad in a... bad way. But when you do find that gem, that makes it worth it. So then we edit it all down to the stuff worth watching, and we try to find themes and different trends and kind of work it all together into montages if we can, and then we have a show.
WW: Is that a full-time job?
NP: Believe it or not, it's sort of become that. I was working at the Colbert Report up until last year, and I had to quit because we were on tour nine months out of the year. This is pretty much our full-time gig.
WW: Part of the show this time around is you're screening a movie called Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Can you tell me a little about what that is?
NP: It's kind of become this legendary bootleg. We didn't find it, but it was part of our video collection early on; we started collecting videos in 1991, and not long after we started doing it, a friend gave us a fifth- or sixth-generation dub of this movie Heavy Metal Parking Lot.
Basically, it's a couple of guys from a public access station in Maryland took a microphone and a camera to a Judas Priest concert in 1986, and you can imagine the type of people who are hanging out in this parking lot - it's just like a perfect time capsule of that time and place. We've since gotten to know the guys who shot it -- who work for public access TV -- and they've given a lot footage to us from public access. This is actually the 25th anniversary of Heavy Metal Parking Lot this month, so we thought it would be cool to open the show with it - the two guys who shot it introduce it via recording, and it's a first-generation tape, so it's just pristine. And then we play the video. It's kind of cool for the 25th anniversary to be playing it, and really the right way to watch this is with 200 people who are slightly drunk.