FOUND FOOTAGE FESTIVAL co-creator Nick Prueher may be celebrating 10 years of success, but don't expect him to get too sentimental looking back at the last decade.
He gets his fill of nostalgia from weirdo ‘80s exercise videos and home shopping network host banter.
“Even though we deal in nostalgic videos, we’re not at all nostalgic about what we’re doing,” he says.
What began as a “goofy hobby we used to do in our parents’ living rooms” has taken Prueher (Letterman, Colbert) and collaborator Joe Pickett (The Onion) around the world, showing off the best of the worst VHS tapes they’ve scavenged.
From tutorials to bloopers to the world’s most outlandishly bad music videos, Prueher and Pickett have developed a keen eye for finding the peeks into the past that will have audiences in stitches and wonderment.
Each year, Prueher and Pickett tour a new show, hitting thrift shops around the country while they’re on the road. When they get home, they comb through material and use the strongest to create the next year’s show.
Despite YouTube’s emergence, and having inspired other artful takes on found footage presentation, the crowds keep turning out for Found Footage Festival.
“We didn’t know how we’d be affected when YouTube came out,” Prueher says. “Before, we had to explain to people: ‘this is why you want to see exercise videos that are pretty bad.’ Now there’s a shorthand. People have gotten those videos in their inbox before, but the draw to coming to our show is that it’s something you can’t see online. That’s the proper context.”
Plus, seeing this stuff live is just plain fun. “Whether people realize it or not, they yearn for that social experience of watching it in a theater,” says Prueher. “Everything’s funnier, everything’s more exciting, more memorable. You can get a funny video in your inbox, but it’s fleeting. It’s deleted, but never revisited.”
Instead of getting sucked into the YouTube click trap, meandering through countless videos with questionable content, Found Footage Festival does all the work for the crowd.
“People appreciate the role of a curator, someone whose taste you can trust and sort through the garbage for you,” says Prueher.
In the anniversary spirit, Prueher and Pickett dug through old favorites and found even more footage to share.
Learning more about “John and Johnny,” a Found Footage favorite from their first touring show, became its own adventure.
“It’s two home shopping hosts from 1987,” Prueher explains. “And I guess their M.O. was to be as hyperactive and obnoxious as possible so nobody could change the channel. They’re acting like complete dopes, and it’s really entertaining.”
Prueher and Pickett went back to the original tapes, and, from there, did a little research and found people who used to work at the home shopping network itself. Through their new connections, they were able to unearth more “John and Johnny” footage.
“It’s like opening the arc of the covenant,” gushes Prueher. “All these years later, finding there’s more ‘John and Johnny!’”
But that wasn’t the end of it. Prueher and Pickett took it upon themselves to track down the real John and Johnny and bring them together again. They flew the duo into Tampa and documented the reunion, which will be shown alongside old footage during the anniversary tour.
“For us, it meant a lot,” Prueher says. He admits it was a little awkward and weird. “I think we wanted it to happen way more than they did!”
The tour features new discoveries, as well. Prueher is most excited about a bizarre find from 1997, How to Have Cybersex on the Internet.
“Right out of the gate, it’s a little redundant,” Prueher points out. “It’s so weird. It’s trying to be instructional, but trying to be sexy. Because it doesn’t know what it wants to be, it ends up being neither very well. You’ve got a scantily clad lady talking about modem problems,” he laughs.
With endless content they wade through, Prueher and Pickett are quite like voluntary Joels out of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, subjected to an endless stream of B-movies and pulling out the hidden treasures and comedic gems (makes sense—one of Prueher’s first jobs out of college was an internship with MST3K).
By now, they’re arguably the international leaders in VHS thrifting.
“Having done it for 10 years, we find a lot of the same videos now,” says Prueher. “To find what we haven’t found before is getting harder, to find something that’s truly unique.”
As Blockbuster Videos have closed, DVD has overshadowed VHS, and online streaming has taken over DVD, it may seem that the VHS troves are dwindling. But Prueher reports that there are still decent pickings, as the remaining tape clutchers are finally letting their collections go.
“When we first started collecting, people were still hanging onto their footage,” he explains. “Now the last hold outs—like nursing homes and day cares—are finally getting rid of them, too. All the VHS tapes that are out there to be discovered are out there now.”
“We end up with a couple hundred tapes when we go on a weeklong tour,” he says. “Cross your fingers that there’s enough good stuff for next year’s show. We’re still finding stuff, but it is a nonrenewable resource at some point.”
Tape content can reveal a lot about a region’s population, as well. New York and L.A. thrift shops are full of public access TV and locally produced shows—“a lot of people who want attention there,” cracks Prueher.
They find corporate videos, sexual harassment and safety videos in the Midwest; Prueher notes that there are many corporate headquarters based in Minneapolis, and those types of videos tend to originate from there.
Here in the South, it’s religious videos and hand-labeled home movies.
Children’s and exercise videos know no bounds; they’re the most common find in any area.
Hitting England, Scotland, Sweden and Norway recently allowed Prueher and Pickett to delve into new material.
“Cricket videos, cricket bloopers,” Prueher elaborates. “They have their embarrassing celebrity videos.”
Since they can’t be in every place at once, Prueher and Pickett encourage fans to bring their own finds to the show. Attendees arrive with whole boxes of tapes, and leave the viewing and sorting to the pros.
“I’m worried that they’re just going to end up in landfills,” says Prueher.
Let’s get all hands on deck to ensure we’re not losing any more John and Johnnys to the dump. How can a newbie Savannah hunter know when they’ve got something good?
“A C-list celebrity on the cover is always promising,” Prueher divulges. “Anything with Christian puppets, anything that involves some sort of rapping by people who shouldn’t be rapping...those are all promising signs.”