Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher are the curators of the Found Footage Festival (stopping in Ottawa on November 12 at the Mayfair), which features a series of outdated and absurd VHS tape clips that can be considered the grandparents of modern-day fail videos. Joe and Nick started collecting “found” videotapes after stumbling upon a McDonald’s training video called Inside and Outside Custodial Duties, which was included as a clip in their recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. In 2004, they quit their jobs and completed a documentary called Dirty Country. The festival is unique unto itself, featuring videos found in dumpsters and thrift stores all over North America and some commentary throughout the screenings by the hosts. Ottawa Magazine’s Matías Muñoz speaks with curator Nick Prueher about what attendees may be in for, the evolution of their performances, and whether bad videos are here to stay.
Tell us about what people can expect when they come to see you at the Mayfair. How should they prepare?
Well, this is the most unsettling show we’ve ever done and people should brace themselves. This footage we’ve found over the past year contains some pretty strange, cringe-worthy stuff. We’ve got everything from the Magical Rainbow Sponge [a how-to video about crafting with sponges] to a whole new batch of exercise videos. Most of all, it is footage that you can’t see anywhere else, so everyone is going to be in for a treat.
You guys are going to tour pretty extensively through next spring. How did you take this concept and adapt it to live audience?
It’s basically just a version of what we were doing in our living rooms to entertain our friends and ourselves. We grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and we’d have people over and screen videos we found in thrift stores and garage sales. We would make jokes along with them and sometimes do short films based on the videos we found to show to pals.
Has the performance evolved at all since you first started in your living room?
Eight years or so ago I went and saw a comedy show in New York and they had a video screen behind them on stage, and I thought “Oh, we could probably do that.” We had enough footage in our collection at that time so we went for it. At first, we weren’t sure anyone would show up because it really seemed like an inside joke amongst our friends. But to our surprise, lots of people showed up and we started getting offers to come to other cities.
You’ve shown us how funny some of your older videos from the ‘80s and ‘90s are, but have you found any from the 2000s that are worthy of inclusion?
Definitely. There’s a video we found on DVD from 2005 that we got from the world’s largest thrift store. [The video] is for Elvis impersonators, put out by an Elvis impersonator. There’s a tutorial about how to glue on your sideburns, tips like not to swear on stage, and then it will pan to the audience once in a while and they are literally all Elvis impersonators. I think we tend to gravitate towards VHS because that was the “Golden Age” of home video, but we’ve found that bad ideas are here to stay.
Do you think finding VHS tapes is your life’s calling? Or will you eventually have to succumb to the digital era and pull from Youtube?
I think for us it’s always going to be about physical media. I feel like it’s cheating if you get something from Youtube. We’re stubbornly old school and we love the process of finding the videos and panning for gold at these thrift stores. And that’s what’s fun for us… if you take that away it loses its appeal. We share stories about how we find things and put it into context. Eventually it will have to evolve, but right now we have about 5,000 videos we still haven’t gone through. So we should have enough to last us for quite a while.
The Found Footage Festival comes to Ottawa on Monday, November 12, at 9 p.m. Tickets $13. Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank St., www.foundfootagefest.com.