Found Footage Festival: finders, keepers, laughers, weepers

The Found Footage Festival will have you in stitches—unless you’re the type who passes out at the sight of a penile-implant demonstration

Nick Prueher (left) and Joe Pickett prep audiences for unearthed treasures on videotape (see clips, below).

Nick Prueher (left) and Joe Pickett prep audiences for unearthed treasures on videotape (see clips, below).

Guild Theatre

2828 35th St.
Sacramento, CA 95817

(916) 732-4673

The third volume of the Found Footage Festival was a hit at local film series Movies on a Big Screen back in May: The crowd roared as the festival’s creators, Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, emceed a collection of rare and odd VHS clips. And the duo’s live patter elevated these mind-boggling gems past your average stoned YouTube surf fodder. Certain images, such as Angela Lansbury “working out” in a bubble bath, or graphic (and implausible) simulated workplace accidents will be forever burned into my brain.

Prueher and Pickett will bring volume four of their Found Footage Festival to the Guild Theater in Oak Park this Sunday. Here’s Prueher’s sneak preview:

What was the genesis of this festival?

Over the years, my friend Joe and I had amassed a pretty impressive collection of odd VHS tapes that we found at thrift stores and garage sales. When friends would come over to hang out, we’d pop in our latest finds and sort of make fun of them as we went along.

Then, five years ago, a friend suggested that we take our little dog-and-pony show out of the living room and into a theater. So we rented out this space in the back of a bar in New York and, to our surprise, people beyond just our immediate circle of friends showed up and had a pretty good time. Then we started getting offers to bring the show elsewhere, so we decided to entertain those offers. The show has evolved somewhat since 2004—it’s gotten a little more polished and involved—but it’s still just two guys showing off their video collection.

Do you have a favorite clip?

It changes from day to day, but right now I’m really enamored with this reel of outtakes from a local furniture commercial in Corpus Christi, Texas. It stars this guy who calls himself Bargain Bernie, who was probably a really good waterbed salesman, but perhaps not the best on-camera talent. But that’s what makes him all the more charming and lovable.

How racy does the footage get?

We don’t intentionally try to find racy material, but for whatever reason, there ends up being a fair share of swearing and nudity in the show. Of course, if you’re looking to our show for prurient entertainment, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Trust me, this is nudity you don’t want to see, but one thing we’ve learned in doing the show is that wieners will always get laughs.

Share the weirdest source for a clip?

In our last show, we played a home movie that was found inside of a VHS camcorder at an estate sale. When we got the camera home and plugged in the battery, we found this tape still inside, and the footage rivaled a David Lynch movie in terms of weirdness. I guess the lesson is, if you’re planning on selling your VHS camcorder, eject the tape first.

Or better yet, don’t. We need more material.

Has anyone in the audience ever had additional facts about a clip?

Oh yeah, that happens all the time.

Part of the fun for us is obsessing over this footage, learning the back story and sharing it with people, so we’re always hungry for new information about our footage.

A couple of months ago, we were showing an instructional video for a male pleasure device at a show in New York and someone came up afterward and told us they knew the son of the guy who invented this thing. So we booked the first flight to Illinois to track the guy down, and we’ll be showing a video of our trip in the new show we’re bringing to Sacramento.

Has the festival ever just totally flopped with an audience? Do people ever walk out? Do you get hecklers?

I guess the most extreme audience reaction we had was at a cramped rock club in Chicago. About midway through the program, we played a snippet from a very graphic instructional video for a penile implant. Right then, we saw a guy pass out in the middle of the crowd. It was hot and the guy had been drinking heavily, but I think the full frontal male nudity might have put him over the edge.

How much time do you spend watching videos?

While we’re on tour, we like to hit the local thrift stores in search of new tapes. At the end of the tour, we take a few months to lock ourselves in an apartment and get through all the footage. It’s really a needle in a haystack to find something that makes the cut—about 99 percent of what we find is garbage—but when we do come across something that’s bad in just the right way, we just can’t wait to show it to people.

Have you ever met anyone in any of the clips?

I think the holy grail of people we wanted to meet was Jack Rebney, a guy we dubbed “The World’s Angriest RV Salesman.” A crew member on a promotional video for Winnebagos gave us some footage from this disastrous shoot in 1988 where the host, Rebney, kept getting angrier and angrier. We cut together our favorite parts and the video became a big hit at our shows.

Then, at one of our shows in Las Vegas a few years ago, a friend of Rebney’s bought one of our DVDs and, unbeknownst to us, took it back to California and showed it to the man himself. Believe or not, he was pretty angry about it, but we somehow convinced him to appear with us at a show in San Francisco last year. And I’m proud to say that I actually hugged Rebney at the end of the show.

There’s a really good documentary about the whole thing called Winnebago Man, which is currently making the festival rounds.

I assume people give you videos all the time now, and they’re probably pretty bad. What are the most common unusable ones you get?

We love it when people send us found videos or bring them to shows because it makes our job easier. It’s like Christmas morning.

I guess the one thing that doesn’t really help us is when people send us links to videos from YouTube. We are decidedly old-school about video procurement, so we don’t take anything from the Internet. Seems like cheating, so it’s all dusty VHS tapes and the occasional DVD for us.