The Rapidian

"Regrettable Things Captured On Tape," an interview with Found Footage Co-Creator Nick Prueher

Found Footage Festival hosts Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett

Found Footage Festival hosts Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett /Nick Prueher, Found Footage Fest

Underwriting support from:

Found Footage Festival

Wednesday, Nov. 3 at 8 p.m.
Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts
41 Sheldon Blvd. SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Tickets: $10

/from Ventriloquism video (Nick Prueher, Found Footage Festvial)

It may sound strange, but I'm really looking forward to the medical penile injection video. Or learning how to make love better "through hypnosis." Or the exercise clip featuring "American Gladiators." This Wednesday night, Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, curators of the Found Footage Festival, return to Grand Rapids for their second, one-night-only appearance at the UICA, bringing a new line-up of never-before-seen craptastic videos rescued from attics, thrift stores and garage sales across the country.

For the show, hosts Pickett and Prueher — Wisconsin-natives whose credits include The Onion and the "Late Show with David Letterman" — showcase the crushingly misguided VHS treasures they've distilled from the wasteland of '80s industrial videos, failed marketing campaigns, and just bad ideas ("F.A.R.T. The Movie").  Founded in 2004, the Festival has toured the country and played HBO Comedy Festival, and will soon be a book, published by St. Martin's Press.

One of your mottos is "Champions of VHS since 2004." Has YouTube and the ubiquity of clips made your job harder? Or easier?

Nick Prueher (Co-curator): We've been doing the show since 2004 and doing it for friends since 1991, so we weren't sure how YouTube would affect us. But we've actually found that it's helped us quite a bit. We don't take any videos from the Internet — our rule is that we have to find it on a piece of physical media somewhere — but now people are more familiar with the types of material we traffic in. And since there are so many videos out there, most of them unwatchable, I think people appreciate that someone has sorted through everything and picked out just the good stuff.

Is there material from the 2000s in the show? Meaning, is there something essentially dated -- but not too dated -- about a perfect Found Footage clip?

NP: Oh sure, we've got some stuff from the 2000 but most of our videos come from the late '80s and early '90s, which was really the golden age of VHS. There was a VCR in every home and the format became so cheap to produce that any idiot with a camcorder and a few bucks could make their own video. Luckily for us, a lot of them did.

There's a comedy to "found" footage (or even, say, Found Magazine) that people seem to either find fascinating and hilarious or completely uninteresting. What would you say is at the heart of what makes found footage interesting to you?
NP: For us it really comes back to the appeal of doing show-and-tell in first grade. We've found something we really like and we can't wait to show it to people up on a big screen in a theater. We like to share the stories of how and where we found things and, when possible, track down the people in the videos and have them appear with us onstage. I think these regrettable things captured on videotape can say a lot more about us as a culture than some of the greatest films of the last 50 years. There's only one "Citizen Kane," but we've found five different videos on how to be a ventriloquist.

You found your first videos -- training video entitled, "Inside and Outside Custodial Duties" -- outside a McDonald's in Wisconsin in 1991. Where do you find the good stuff now?

NP: Our favorite place to procure new videos is the Salvation Army. They don't sort through the videos very well, so you end up finding all sorts of things that shouldn't be on the shelves: training videos, home movies, industrial films. Other times we'll hear about a video and have to use more creative means to track down the original footage. For example, we called a toilet company and pretended to be plumbing contractors earlier this month to get our hands on a demo video in the new show. When you see it you'll know why it's worth the effort.

How do you sit through unspeakable hours of video to find the gems?

NP: We spend about nine months a year on the road touring and whenever we get to a new city we spend the whole day scavenging for videos. Then every summer we open the boxes, lock ourselves in a room, and watch hundreds and hundreds of tapes. I wouldn't wish it upon anybody to have to sit through the boring garbage we suffer through, but we've developed a high tolerance over the years. And the suffering actually makes you appreciate the gems even more. That sounds sort of Catholic, doesn't it?

Do you two ever disagree on the relative merits of a video?

NP: We have disagreements like that all the time. Last week, Joe and I fought about how much of a medical penile injection video to show in our new program. Joe wanted to include the needle puncturing the wiener; I wanted to just show a wider shot of the man sitting on the doctor's table pantsless. We settled on a shot of the needle right before it goes in, which was totally the right call.

How do distinguish between videos that are so bad they're brilliant and videos that are just boring?

NP: It's an awfully fine line. What we've found is that sometimes videos are so boring that they become interesting. There's a montage we cut together for this new show of painfully boring videos of seminars. After watching a few of them and finding nothing at all redeeming, we suddenly realized that they all had really funny reaction shots of the crowds, so we cut together just our favorite clips of the audience reactions.

You have a book forthcoming from St. Martin Press. How does Found Footage work on the page?

NP: We often find videos with really promising-looking boxes but when we watch them they just don't live up to the cover art. So last year, we decided to pull together a bunch of our favorites and offer our commentary on them in something we called the VHS Cover Slideshow. It worked so well that we're making a book of the 200 greatest covers from our 20 years of collecting, along with a few smart-ass comments peppered throughout. Look for it to become a permanent staple in your bathroom next fall.

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Love the clips inside this article. Nice work. Good interview questions. Thanks! 

Thanks Roberta, from one Radipian to another!

Oh man, this interview has made me so angry that I can't go tomorrow night! SO ANGRY! Thanks for talking to them. Thanks a lot...

And here I thought you were going to FLAME me internet style! I so want to get flamed!

are we talking litter quitter here, or what?

you have no idea. #1 and #2.

So a bunch of guys found some crappy videos in people's basements? Who cares... People pay to see this? Lame.


Just kidding Austin, trying to grant your wish of a little flame, You know you are brilliant. 


Things like this make me so bummed that I left GR for the not-so-greener pastures of Chicago.