Found Footage Fest Returns to Madison
Showcasing obscure video clips from the bizarre and badly-acted, the fest celebrates "bad in more ways than you can imagine"
Photo courtesy of the Found Footage Festival
Everyone’s had to see at least one video in their lifetime that made them cringe it was so awful—videos that are so bad that you can’t help but laugh. The Found Footage Festival (FFF) is responsible for revealing moments like these from old VHS tapes that were important enough to be taped, but not important enough to be kept or shown to the public. Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett (shown in photo, left to right) have put together their film festival of unknown oddities; a medley of strange and hilarious videos with added entertainment to make the FFF a unique and fun experience. We recently spoke with Prueher about the festival and their upcoming show at the Orpheum.
How did you and Joe Pickett meet?
We were in sixth grade in Stoughton Middle School and I had a mutual friend and we very quickly realized we had a very similar sense of humor. At that time it was kind of like you listen to whatever was on the radio, you watch whatever dumb sitcom was on and for whatever reason, we had a very advanced sense of ironic appreciation for things.
So we watched this show called Small Wonder which was a sitcom about a little girl robot and we just thought it was the dumbest thing. And a lot of our classmates were watching it regularly [but] we’d watch it and make fun of how bad it was, so we sort of bonded over that. We’re still making fun of how bad things are, but in a professional setting.
So, we heard that you started collecting [film clips and videos] after you stumbled upon a McDonald’s janitorial training video. How did you actually come across it?
I was working at the McDonald’s out on Highway 51 in Stoughton, and I was a freshman in high school. A friend of mine was training to become a manager there and they had thirty different VHS tapes that you had to watch. It was like a gauntlet and you just had to get through all of them to check them off this little list. I just had to watch Customer Service and Grill Safety; that was it for me, but he had to watch all thirty of them.
I came in one day while he was watching one called Inside and Outside Custodial Duties and it’s all about McDonald’s custodians, and how you were supposed to clean things. They didn’t just tell you how to do it; they tried to make it have a cute plot. So the first day on the job there was this overly perky guy telling you how to clean the bathrooms and he was just really excited about the whole thing. I don’t know if it just looked that way to me, but it seemed like there was some sexual tension between the trainee and the trainer … So there’s this whole other meaning going on and I told him “don’t tell anybody, but I’m gonna steal this tape and show it to people. The world needs to see this video.” So I put it in my backpack that night, figuring no one would miss it. I immediately showed it to Joe and we just fell in love with this tape. So we just had friends and neighbors over Friday night to watch this McDonald’s video for entertainment. And then it got us thinking, you know there must be more material out there like this. So then we started looking at jobs and thrift stores and garage sales and out of the way places to find footage and then have people over to screen.
Is that how the Found Footage Festival came to be?
More or less. Over the years we collected more footage and had friends over to show off our latest find. Joe got a job at a company duplicating videos for people. So somebody would need a hundred copies for their business and he’d have the copies made and if it was funny, he’d make an extra copy for us.
So the collection grew and grew, and then six years ago when we were living in New York we needed to make some money. We’d still have people over to our apartment and show off our latest finds and once we had enough of a collection I thought, “What if we took [this] out of our living room and put it in the back of a bar and projected our clips, like a theater?”
We didn’t think anyone would show up, but for some reason we got a lot of press and there was a line out the door to watch. It went really well and somehow we, almost like magic, struck a chord in people, you know? Just struck at the right time where people were ready to laugh, started getting nostalgia, stuff like that. So we started getting offers to come and make the show elsewhere and now we’re still going, this is our sixth year touring.
What else goes into the planning of the Festival?
Well it’s a lot of watching videos. We spend the better part of the year traveling around the country touring with the show, and in each city we get there early and we scour the local Salvation Armies, Goodwills and yard sales. Then we invite people to come to the show. We collect hundreds and hundreds of videos throughout the year. During the summer we basically sit down, lock ourselves in a room and watch as many as we can without fast-forwarding, and try to find stuff that’s unintentionally funny and stuff that we want to show people.
We tend to look for patterns, like a lot of times we’ll cut things into a montage of something like exercise videos we found. Or one time we did a dozen different sexual harassment awareness videos—you know the ones they make you watch at jobs—and we cut them all to the reenactments of what you’re not supposed to do. So you know we try to find themes and cut them into big festival chunks for people, and then we write jokes and do comedy based on the material. The show is basically a guided tour of our video collection.
How do you decide which ones to screen for the show?
We have our main show which is just an amalgam of different things that we found, really the only thing they have in common is that we found them and they’re not movies. They’re generally special interest videos, training videos, home movies; stuff that wasn’t meant to be shown in public. This summer, people asked us to come back since we’re working on our show for the fall. We didn’t have anything new, but we had found this VHS for a movie called Computer Beach Party. When we’re at thrift stores looking for footage, generally we’re finding like a dozen copies of Jerry Maguire on VHS, just movies that were priced for sale that nobody wanted anymore, like Clueless and Austin Powers, lots of comedies.
Now when you see a movie that’s among those called Computer Beach Party, it catches your eye. Pretty exciting, so we watched it thinking it’d be one of those dumb surfing sex-comedies and but it was far more surprising than that. It was bad, but it was bad in more ways than you can possibly imagine. The plot seemed like they made it up as they went along and a good portion of the movie they had to dub all of the dialogue because the audio was so bad when they recorded it. There’s a plot point that apparently they never shot and so they have just this cue card that explains what happened, I mean, that’s just like giving up, you know?
Then the acting was some of the more unusual choices we’ve seen casters make. It’s built on a plot that’s capitalized on the ’80s computer craze, beaches and parties, which who doesn’t love all three of those things? We’ve never featured an entire movie before, but this one was so remarkable. In our twenty years of collecting, this is the one movie we thought was worth showing people in its entirety and we thought it would be the perfect summer screening. We’d planned to bring it to some of our favorite cities including our hometown. It’s a perfect summer movie, but it needs help. We’ll talk about it, analyze it and try to figure out the whole plot collectively. At the show we’ll have trivia games, surprises, we’ll make commentary live over the movie, kind of like an interactive screening.
We look forward to seeing it!
You won’t be disappointed.
So what else are you showing at the Madison festival?
That’s it, we’re just showing Computer Beach Party, but we’ll be back in December or November with our new Found Footage Festival, so we’re still working on that this summer.
Anything else you want to share with the magazine?
We always encourage anybody if they found a video, somewhere in or around Madison or tape something off the public access station that’s note worthy. That’s how we keep things going, so if anyone found anything in the Madison area, we’d love to have them bring it to the show.
Highlight: Computer Beach Party
Computer Beach Party is an obscure 1980’s sex-comedy featuring two computer “geniuses” trying to save their beloved public beach from money-hungry locals that want to make it tourist attraction. The film includes a relatively unknown cast, the hair-metal band Panther, some horribly dubbed dialogue and a very limited understanding of computers.
On Friday, July 16th at 9 p.m. Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett of the Found Footage Festival welcome you to the Orpheum Theatre on State Street for their showing of Computer Beach Party. In addition to the film, Prueher and Pickett will be offering live commentary, trivia games and other fun activities. Tickets are available in advance at foundfootagefest.com or at the Orpheum Theatre for $10.
Claire Miller and Annie Shao are both writers for the local middle and high school newspaper The Simpson Street Free Press.