Why the Found Footage Festival Is Uniquely American
Nick Prueher partially blames Jane Fonda for his VHS obsession.
The Oscar winner scored big with a series of workout videos in the 1980s. That helped convince other entrepreneurs they, too, could crush it via VHS tapes. Suffice to say results varied … wildly. And Prueher and old chum Joe Pickett have been reaping the benefits of that VHS deluge ever since.
The lifelong chums host The Found Footage Festival, an extravaganza of downright awful VHS clips packaged in a unique live performance. Exercise videos. Training tapes. Homegrown commercials that would make the stars’ own families wince.
It’s all part of the Found Footage Festival, an event dating back to 2004.
Prueher admits it’s getting harder to find VHS tapes at the usual haunts – like Goodwill shops. Stores often don’t accept the outdated format these days. Good thing the festival’s fan base stepped up in a big way.
“More people know about our show now and will send us tapes. They’ll bring them to shows and drop them off to us,” Prueher says. The duo’s VHS coffers also got a huge donation from a late-night icon.
When David Letterman stepped away from “The Late Show” in 2015 he left behind a trove of VHS tapes with no place to go. Prueher had worked on the program, so some of the staffers asked if he wanted to take the collection home. If not, they were targeted for the dumpster.
“I’ve been waiting all my life for that call,” he says. Voila, thousands of VHS clips joined the festival’s already impressive collection.
What You’ll See in the 2018 Festival
Prueher promises an all-new lineup of crude and bizarre clips this time around, including:
- A series of “Satanic panic” videos, including an instant classic dubbed, “The Law Enforcement Guide to Satanic Cults”
- A mostly forgotten “Welcome Home Desert Storm” parade featuring … Roseanne Barr.
- Highlights from the Letterman treasure trove.
- A video on how to care for your pregnant ferret
- A Mickey Rooney acting video
- A Pickett and Prueher prank that led to a federal lawsuit
- And, of course, an exercise video montage that proved almost too tortuous to assemble
The Found Footage Festival doesn’t take itself seriously. How could it? The program still leaves Prueher with a better understanding of why the videos exist in the first place.
“There’s something uniquely American about the show,” he says. People with precious little talent still have dreams as big as Texas.
“That combination occurs a lot in our videos,” he says. Yet the Wisconsin native has taken the Found Footage Festival to venues across the globe, including Canada and Scotland.
“We played Australia for the first time this year,” says Prueher, who also co-hosts a weekly Internet show dubbed “VHS Party Live.” “I’m almost comforted that stupid videos are the universal language.”
Why did VHS explode in the first place, granting Prueher and Pickett a calvacade of terrible clips to peruse?
“It was a unique moment in time … it’s a format available in your home that was cheap and ubiquitious,” he says. “Any mom and pop production company with a weird idea [could go for it].”
That meant people who, as he delicately puts it, “had no business being in front of the camera or behind it” could do just that.
Prueher says the festival resists finding clips from YouTube or other online sources.
“We don’t have any ownership when we find it that way. You’ve got to get your hands dirty,” he says. Plus, part of the festivities is sharing how certain videos were found in the first place.
One Man’s Trash…
Like the time Prueher’s friend painted a client’s home and discovered an odd cubbyhole filled with trash. Lo and behold the chum discovered a video dubbed, “A Beginner’s Guide to Skinny Dipping.” The friend made sure it made it into Prueher’s hands.
Another time, Prueher went to an estate sale in Queens, New York and found a camcorder with a recording of an argument between the camera man recording a home’s demolition and the foreman who preferred he didn’t.
The video cuts to the same man dancing to the “Phantom of the Opera” soundtrack.
“Did we stumble into David Lynch’s estate sale?” he asks.
Just don’t expect to find much of the festival’s clips online. The duo post a teaser or two tied to the current tour. The rest has to be seen live.
“It’s increasingly rare that you can’t immediately pull up and stream a video,” he says. “The only place you can see them is our show.”
The Found Footage Festival plays at 8 p.m. April 19 at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Visual Arts Complex ($13/$12 for students) as well as 9:30 p.m. April 20 at the Sie FilmCenter in Denver ($15/$12 for members). Tickets to the Found Footage Festival are available at foundfootagefest.com.
For more Found Footage Festival tour dates visit the FFF’s official web site.