The Found Footage Festival is just what it says it is: a collection of film and video clips culled from random sources (thrift stores, flea markets, Dumpsters) and presented by curators Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, childhood friends from southern Wisconsin turned freelance humorists in New York City. In advance of the Found Footage Fest's one-night-only return to Seattle's Central Cinema, I chatted with cofounder/cocurator/cohost Nick Prueher about the inspirational power of McDonald's training videos, the deal-breaking creepiness of Steve Vai's biggest fan, and the benefits of communal viewing of crap.
So how did this all begin? What was the catalyst video?
During high school I worked at a McDonald's, and there was a video in the break room called "Inside and Outside Custodial Duties." It was a training video for McDonald's custodians. I popped it in and watched it in the break room, and I just couldn't believe how dumb and insulting this was. It tried to have a plot, with an annoying perky crew trainer and this really dopey trainee... So I took it home in my bag that night and showed it to Joe, and we just fell in love with this video. If there was nothing to do on a Friday night, we'd have people over in my family's living room and pop in this McDonald's training video and make fun of it. And then we got to thinking, "If there are videos this stupid right under our noses, imagine what's out there waiting to be discovered." So we decided to keep our eyes peeled, and we ended up finding a lot of discarded VHS footage at thrift stores and garage sales and workplaces that was just really funny. Four years ago somebody said, "Why don't you take it out of your living room and do it in a theater?" So we rented out a theater in Manhattan, handed out press releases, and to our surprise sold out the place. Then we started getting offers to take the show all over the country. For some reason it really struck a chord with people. Here we are four years later.
Over this time, the "viral video" market has continued to explode, making it easier than ever for anyone with a computer to find the craziest of videos. What does the Found Footage Festival experience offer that a night alone with YouTube never could?
It is a different ball of wax, really. First, we don't take any videos from the internet—all footage has to come from a found physical videotape, that we've either personally found or that has been given to us by friends or people we've met at shows, so this is stuff you can't see anywhere else. At the live shows, we always expound on where we've found the videos—to us, the story of where and how a video was discovered is almost as interesting as what's on the footage—and then we make smart-ass remarks over the videos while they're playing. A lot [of the Found Footage Fest] comes from industrial videos and exercise videos and training videos—things that weren't intended to be seen with a group or an audience, just watched alone in a break room. And when you take that type of video and project it on a big screen in a movie theater filled with 200 people who have given themselves permission to laugh, it's automatically funny. There's something uncomfortably familiar about all these videos, and it's cathartic for people to come and laugh at this ridiculous stuff together.
What criteria must a film meet for consideration in the Found Footage Fest?
Our criteria are basically that the video has to be a found physical piece of videotape and it has to be unintentionally funny. And we're really drawn to footage featuring people with a lot of ambition and very little talent.
Obviously you've seen your share of disturbing footage. Have you found anything so upsetting you knew you could never show it to anyone else?
You wouldn't know it from watching our shows, but we do actually exercise discretion once in a while. There's this video that's made the rounds among touring bands, a fan video sent to guitarist Steve Vai, that's become kind of legendary. It's this woman who says that to impress Steve, who makes all sorts of funny sounds with his guitar, she's going to make all sorts of funny sounds with her vagina. And she's sort of staring into the camera vacantly while she does this, and she's clearly got a few screws loose, and it's just more weird and creepy and disturbing than funny. To us, it has to be funny. The whole point of our show is comedy.
This is an all-new show for 2008. What new footage are you most excited to share with crap-loving Seattleites?
We have a video in the new show called "Who Needs a Movie?" It's a promotional video made by a husband-and-wife filmmaking duo from British Columbia, touting their services as filmmakers—"We can make a video for your marching band or to help sell your RV or home or jazz up your website!" They have all the tools—green-screen technology, animation—and it's a great lesson about the democratization of filmmaking. With today's technology, everyone can make a film, but that doesn't mean everyone should.