Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Found Footage Festival comes to The Light Factory

Posted By on Tue, Jan 26, 2010 at 4:09 PM

Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, founders of the Found Footage Festival, are scavengers.  Though VCR’s are practically objects from the dinosaur age, the pair’s adventures to find worthy VHS tapes to ravage is strikingly similar to the way vultures seek meat from dead animals.

Picking from the good stuff, which for Prueher and Pickett, includes funny clips of old infomercials, how-to/training videos, desperate video dating personals, and more, the result is an entertaining mix of cuts brought together from countless video findings. Add to that their own commentary, and you’ll see they’ve made what seemed like out-dated trash into brand new treasures.

Nick Prueher recently spoke to CL about the Found Footage Festival. For an up close and personal look into the festival, check it out when it stops in Charlotte at The Light Factory this Saturday.

Creative Loafing: How did the concept for Found Footage Festival come to be?

Nick Prueher: Well it started a long time ago. Joe Pickett, the other curator, and I met in 6th grade and we quickly realized that we had a shared affection for the whole so bad it’s good kind of thing. So, then in 1991, I was in high school and I was working at a McDonald’s. I happened to find a training video for McDonald’s custodians in the break room one day. Just out of curiosity I popped it in to see what was on it, and I could not believe how dumb it was. It was one of the most insulting, dumb things I had ever seen. So, I decided that I had to show this to Joe. I put it in my backpack and showed it to him and we just fell in love with this video. We’d watch it and make fun of it and we put together this whole routine with it. That got us to thinking that if there were videos that dumb, right under our noses, there must be more out there waiting to be discovered. So, that was sort of the early origin for the idea of thinking of collecting discarded VHS tapes and re-purposing them. Then, five years ago we had a pretty huge collection of tapes that we would entertain friends with. We decided to take it out of our living room and put it in the back of a bar and see if people would show up, and they did, so we’re still doing it.

Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett introduce a video clip at a recent Found Footage Festival stop in New York.
  • Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett introduce a video clip at a recent Found Footage Festival stop in New York.

I noticed the Found Footage Festival has attracted several comedians too. In the press release, it says David Cross, David Wain and others have also contributed.

Yeah, we met David Cross a couple years ago at a Christmas party for The Onion and he collected videos too. He had some that he’d shown at his live shows and stuff. So, we went over to his apartment one day and traded some videos. He had a bunch of them. We now trade videos with him and he gave us one, that a good friend had given him years ago, for the most recent show. It’s from a local dating service in southern California and it was a video dating thing called “Video Mate,” where you had 60 seconds to pitch yourself to women who might be watching the tape. It was a two-hour reel of eligible bachelors making their best pitch. We took those two hours and just kind of cut together our favorite parts.

David Wain was somebody we knew through a friend of a friend and asked him to be part of the comedy that we do in the new show.

A man goes a little too extreme for attention in a 1987 dating service called "Video Mates."
  • A man goes a little too extreme for attention in a 1987 dating service called "Video Mates."

Can you tell me a little bit about your background at The David Letterman Show and The Colbert Report?

I was the head researcher on The Late Show with David Letterman for about four and a half years and part of my gig there was just to find old and embarrassing footage of the guests/celebrities who were on the show, - stuff like commercials or training videos they might have done before they were famous, - so we could kind of ambush them on the show. That was some pretty good training before the Found Footage Festival. It all sort of led to our passion, which was collecting and shooting videos of people. Then I went to The Colbert Report for the last three years and was doing production stuff. I recently quit to go on this tour.

Can you tell me about co-host Joe Pickett’s work with The Onion?

We are both former writers at The Onion. Joe is currently a contributing writer for The Onion as well.

On to the videos. Do you have to have any special permission to use them? Also, do the people in the videos know that you guys are using them for screenings at the Found Footage Festival?

Well, if we do need permission we don’t get it. We cover it under fair use of satire, because we take these videos that are much longer and we cut them into small, digestible segments and talk over them and make comments, so it’s considered a new work. It’s probably legally there. But, we do always try to do our homework and track down people who have been in the videos and that’s always a real highlight for us. These people are like movie stars, you know, a star of one of these videos for us is like meeting Tom Cruise, because we have watched these videos so many times. So, whenever possible we try to track down the people in the videos and one thing we’ve found is that they’re flattered by the attention. Nobody has been mad at all about the fact they’re featured.

Where do you find these tapes?

Whenever we are on tour we stop in local thrift stores in the cities we are in. So we go to Salvation Army’s, we go to Goodwill’s, we go to garage sales, and then we just keep our eyes pealed in other out of the way places for VHS tapes that might be lying around. It’s amazing, just by keeping your eyes open and going to the right places how many tapes you can find.

I suspect you go through a lot of tapes that you can’t use. The process sounds like it would be hit or miss.

Yeah, it’s a needle in a haystack to find one that makes the cut. We find a lot of bad videos, but it has to be bad in an entertaining way. We might watch 50 or 100 videos before we find something that’s usable for the show. But, luckily we like to torture ourselves and we have a pretty high tolerance watching bad videos, so we’re willing to suffer for people’s entertainment.

Check out The Found Footage Festival's "Top Ten VHS Finds of 2009" here. The Found Footage Festival at The Light Factory starts at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30. Tickets are $7-$10. For more information or tickets, click here.

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