Found Footage Festival

Found Footage Festival

The Found Footage Festival is a fun and very strange enterprise run by Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, who collect old videos and films and show them in various comedy clubs and movie houses. This weekend, they'll do just that for two nights at Anthology Film Archives. Just before, The A.V. Club talked to Prueher (while Pickett snickered sometimes in the background) about some of their secret stashes and best finds.

The A.V. Club: You've said you started the Found Footage enterprise after finding a particular corporate training video. How did you come across it?

Nick Prueher: I was working at a McDonald's in Stoughton, Wisc., and my friend was training to become a manager there. He had all these official McDonald's training videos in the break room. I was in there with him one day and we decided to pop in this one for custodians. We just kind of sat there, watching it on the little combo TV/VCR they had in the break room, and just couldn’t believe our eyes. It was so remarkably dumb in just the right way. I decided that the world needed to see this video. I took it home in my backpack that night and almost immediately showed it to Joe, and we just became obsessed with this tape. We were still in high school and we didn’t have cars, so that was our entertainment. It was like, if there was nothing going on in Stoughton on a Friday night—and there usually wasn’t—we’d just have people over to my parents’ living room and watch this McDonald's training video and make fun of it.

A dating-service video ca. 1987

AVC: How do you actually find your footage? Are there particular places that have been especially fertile?

NP: Goodwill is usually the worst thrift store to find videos. I think they have a screener who goes through them, so they mostly only have commercially released VHS tapes. You’re going to find a lot of Jerry Maguire copies on VHS, maybe the occasional exercise video—but generally Goodwills are kind of a dead end. On the other hand, we found Salvation Armies are great. They don’t screen or sift through their videos at all. They just take them straight from people and put them right on the shelf. We’ve found a lot of our best home movies and training videos and bizarre kung-fu videos at Salvation Armies.

AVC: Is there a particular small weird thrift-store that's a favorite?

NP: There’s a good place in Astoria called the Second Best Thrift Shop. They get stuff from I guess when people die—they go to estate sales and just take boxes and boxes of possessions. So they’ve just got unopened boxes of people’s tapes there just lying out. I think our favorite goldmine is this place called the Bishop’s Attic in Anchorage, Alaska. When we were there somebody at the show told us to check it out. We spent probably three hours there just sorting through this giant library of really obscure home movies. We found a Blockbuster training video, and a regional exercise video, like “Shape Up Women of Alaska”…

AVC: What is particular to Alaskan exercise that isn’t shared elsewhere?

NP: They’re just doing it outside against a backdrop of giant spruce trees. I think that’s the only thing. I have no idea. It’s women in '80s leotards, but they’re outside doing aerobics. We ended up having to check like three extra boxes of VHS tapes flying back from Anchorage and having to pay the extra fee, but it was well worth it. We try to go back every year just to see what new gems are at that thrift store.

Rue McClanahan loves cats

AVC: Have there ever been repercussions for screening these kinds of things? Have you ever gotten phone calls?

NP: There was one guy in Seattle last year who came up to me after we’d screened a video where Hulk Hogan is playing guitar against a patriotic backdrop and singing “I’m A Real American.” It's this ridiculous jingoistic music video that Hulk Hogan did. Some guy afterward was like, “Hey, I liked your show. You know, I’m friends with Terry.” I was like, who’s Terry? He’s like, “Terry Hogan.” “Oh, Hulk Hogan. We love Hulk.” He goes, "I might just have to tell Terry that you’re showing his video…” I was like, first of all, quit calling him Terry. It’s Hulk Hogan, not Terry. And then it became apparent that this guy had done audio on like a WWF video years ago, and was trying to name-drop that he knew Hulk Hogan.

AVC: Have you ever tried to track somebody down from a video or film after the fact?

NP: Two come to mind. One was the Jack Rebney "World’s Angriest RV Salesman" video. It’s the outtakes from this industrial film about Winnebago RVs. The host of it kept getting mad and taking it out on the crew. So the crew left the cameras rolling to capture this guy’s tirades and how ridiculous he was being. We met somebody who was on the crew of this shoot in 1989, and he gave us footage. We cut it together into like four minutes of just his most ridiculous swearing tirades. Understandably it became sort of the breakout hit of the show. This was the one guy who, of all the people ever in the show, we wanted to meet. Just to find out what’s the back story—why was the shoot so miserable? Why are you so angry? Are you like this all the time or was this just a particularly bad time in your life? We were never able to track him down, couldn’t find any information about him. Then, a couple of years ago, we were doing the show in Las Vegas and a friend of this guy’s, Jack, was at our show, bought a DVD, and took it back to California and showed it to the man himself. Apparently, he was pretty pissed off. He had no idea that this footage was out there at all.

A strange new-waver

The other one was, there’s a new video in the show that’s an instructional video for a male pleasure device called the Venus II. We played that at Comix a few months ago, and a guy came up afterwards and said, “I went to school with the guy who invented the Venus II.” So we went back and forth and finally got a hold of the guy. As soon as he said he would talk to us, we booked our first ticket to Illinois to meet him. He lives in the middle of nowhere, in an RV inside of a warehouse, with his wife. He’s an inventor, and he had stacks and stacks of these machines on pallets in this warehouse, the Venus II. He took one out and showed us how it worked. We interviewed him all about it. We shot the interview, and we’re going to play our meeting with the inventor of the Venus II at the show this weekend. The best part of the story is, at the end we asked, “How much does a Venus II go for?” He says, “Well, anywhere from $900 to $1,300 dollars, but just take one.” So we checked the Venus II with us back from O’Hare to New York and can only imagine what the TSA thought with this suction device hooked up to a car battery inside of a briefcase.

AVC: So, how is it?

NP: I didn’t try it. Joe tried it. I didn’t witness it, but I trust him. He said it’s not worth $1,300, but there’s definitely something to it. 

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