Found Footage Festival will feature David Letterman’s VHS archives

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For most people, that box of dusty VHS tapes sitting in a dark corner of a storage room is little more than the answer to the unanswerable question: what to do with all your obsolete technology?

For Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, however, that dusty box of vintage exercise tapes might just contain a few nuggets of comedy gold.

Pickett and Prueher are the men behind the Found Footage Film Festival, which is being presented as part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival on Saturday night at the Globe theatre.

The duo spoke with Doug Dirks Monday on The Homestretch, talking about their unique brand of film performance, which blends clips from various VHS tapes with running comic commentary by Pickett and Prueher.

‘A guided tour through our VHS collection’

While the festival started in 1991, it turns out Prueher and Pickett have been looking for the funny in the dregs of pop culture for a lot longer.

“We’ve known each other since we were 10,” said Prueher.

So what’s a Found Footage Film Festival?

“It’s a guided tour through our VHS collection,” said Prueher. “We collect VHS tapes like exercise videos, and home movies and training videos — things that weren’t meant to be shown in public — and then we show them in public. That’s the show.”

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher started collecting old VHS tapes in 1991 when they stumbled across a video entitled, “Inside and Outside Custodial Duties,” at a McDonald’s in Wisconsin. Today, they have a collection they estimate at somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 titles. (Foundfootagefest.com)

The videos are interspersed with a running commentary by both men, who serve as hosts.

“We get up there and we talk about where we found the videos,” said Pickett. “Sometimes, we track down the weirdos in the videos. If there’s a great exercise video, we gotta know the person who made it — we have a lot of questions. There’s about 15 videos that are three minutes long, and we crack jokes in between them.”

Prueher said the material comes from all the places one might expect to find old VHS tapes.

“They’re all at thrift stores, garage sales, estate sales,” he said. “Sometimes, people will bring them to shows — and this has happened in Calgary before, where someone will have a great 1987 Calgary Flames music video, and they’ll give it to us before the show. We love that. That’s one of our favourite things.”

Letterman producers came calling

Two of the biggest attractions of this year’s festival come from people who sought the duo out, including the producers of David Letterman’s show (where Pickett once worked), who donated a bunch of VHS tapes that included a collection of the worst local commercials submitted by affiliates from around North America.

“The one I keep coming back to is a rapping burger commercial where a guy who’s clearly the manager of the burger shop is performing a rap,” said Prueher. “That’s a slum dunk for us, when somebody who clearly has no business rapping is doing a rap”

The other priceless content dump came completely out of the blue, one night in the American midwest.

“We were doing a show in Fargo North Dakota, about a year and a half ago, and this guy came up to us and said he worked in local news for 20 years as an editor,” said Pickett.

“He hated the job, but loved the bloopers and he handed us a hard drive with 20 years worth of untouched news bloopers.”

The strongman duo prank

The duo have also taken to pranking news shows while touring with the festival.

That meant, at one point, sending out a press release promoting themselves as a strongman duo, who travelled around the country helping people get stronger.

Unbelievably, the press release generated a lot of responses. Pickett and Prueher appeared on three morning shows, as strongmen. 

“It worked out great, except one news station didn’t find it funny,” said Pickett. “And sued us.”

[It took a year, but the suit has been settled. Pickett and Prueher launched a GoFundMe campaign and raised money to pay the legal bills.]

Remember VHS? Back in the 1980’s and 90’s, families used the old tapes to record home videos and businesses used them to record how-to videos, exercise routines, art lessons — even public television shows. But in this age of digital everything, where did all those videos go? The best and worst of them wound-up with Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett. They are the creators and hosts of the Found Footage Festival. The eighth edition of this hilarious film/comedy show is coming to Calgary on Saturday, April 21, 2018, as part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival. 8:25

Rapidly disappearing VHS tapes

One potential problem is that VHS tapes are getting older and tend to disintegrate — which might potentially leave the duo with no vintage video content — and therefore no Found Footage Festival.

However, that grim scenario seems less likely to play out anytime soon, after a recent discovery they made when transferring their existing collection of 7,000 to 10,000 tapes from a storage locker to an office.

“We realized that we’ve only gone through about a third of our collection,” Prueher said. “So if we never find another tape, we have enough to last us about another 10 years.”


With files from The Homestretch



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