The new star search
Found Footage Festival seeks out the good, the bad and the campy
In hindsight, the birth of the camcorder was really both a blessing and a curse. Along with being allowed to chronicle life’s memorable highs also came the inevitable capturing of its regrettable lows. Like the time you thought dancing to that Michael Bolton song at the talent show was a really good idea. Or when you were pretty damned sure parachute pants were the best-looking and most practical that pants were ever going to get.
(Un)fortunately, Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett have made a living out of making sure these moments are never forgotten.
With videos of everything from surreal home movies and nauseatingly outdated fast-food training videos, to horrific moments from public-access channels and one very angry RV salesman, the Found Footage Festival returns to Chico, restocked with more comedic absurdity.
“I really think it’s raised people’s awareness of found video and how entertaining it can be,” Prueher said by phone from the Found Footage home base in New York.
In a time when we can all find almost anything and everything on the Internet, what sets the Found Footage Festival apart from just sitting around watching YouTube videos with some friends?
Well, most importantly, Prueher and Pickett have devoted their lives to this cause, and as a result, their methods are decidedly old-school in terms of work ethic. All of the material used in the festival comes from actual videotapes they have found—nothing they use was originally found on the Internet.
That means hours spent rummaging through thrift stores, video stores and garage sales to find those perfect additions to the catalog. One particularly disturbing video involves a woman seeking younger-looking skin with something that resembles some sort of torture device called the Rejuvenique Face Mask.
Their search even recently led them to Paris, where they performed the first European Found Footage Festival.
“We don’t speak any French at all,” Prueher said. “We learned the word for garage sale, but that’s about it.”
Although the festival has only officially existed since 2004, Prueher and Pickett have been collecting videos together for more than 15 years, going back to their time growing up together in Madison, Wis., and later as college roommates.
The fascination with collecting these found videos started when Prueher, while working at a McDonald’s, discovered a training video explaining inside and outside custodial duties. Full of awful acting and an absolutely ridiculous attempt at weaving in a plot, the video quickly became a favorite for Prueher, Pickett and their friends.
“If there was nothing going on in our hometown, which was often, we’d put this video on and make fun of it and try to track some of the people down,” Prueher said.
Individually, their résumés are impressive. Pickett once worked as a video researcher and technician on The Late Show with David Letterman. Prueher spends his time as a personal assistant for Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report when he’s not working on or touring the festival. Both have contributed to parody newspaper The Onion.
Thanks to their snappy and perfectly nerdy senses of humor, another unique element of the festival experience is hearing Prueher and Pickett joke at opportune times about each video as it plays. They will also show films of themselves parodying various clips from the show. It is touches like these that make the Found Footage Festival truly one of a kind.
“We love YouTube and videos of dogs skateboarding as much as the next guy, but the Found Footage Festival is a different animal,” Prueher said. “There’s something to be said for finding these videos, researching their back-stories and laughing at them in a theater with 300 people, rather than watching something at work on your computer screen.”
So double-check that old blank tape. Eject the cassette before you pawn off the camcorder. Otherwise, you just might unwittingly turn yourself into a found-footage star.