Found Footage Festival Interview

In the wake of the hilarious Found Footage Festival guys descending on the UK for their 10th anniversary tour, we were fortunate enough to have a chat with founder Nick Prueher about how the comedy behemoth that is FFF has grown into an all consuming VHS monster!

Tickets are on sale now for the tour that starts this week (w/c 21st July 2014) and can be purchased here. In the meantime check out the below chat!

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Cultoid: Hi guys, first of all just to say congrats on the 10 year anniversary. We’re very much looking forward to the show at Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds. How did this whole thing start? What made you realise this could be a viable career?

Nick: Co-founder Joe Pickett and I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and there wasn’t a lot going on–you had to make your own fun. For us, that meant hanging out at thrift stores and charity shops all day looking for weird things to entertain ourselves. At first it was t-shirts, then used answering machine tapes, and finally, in the early 90s, VHS tapes started showing up. We found a Mr. T educational video, an Angela Lansbury exercise video, even a McDonald’s training video, and we’d have screenings in my parents’ basement for friends, offering a running commentary of jokes throughout. In 2004, we realised we had enough footage to make a 90-minute show out of it, so we rented a room in the back of a bar in New York and hoped people would show up. To our surprise, the show sold out and we realised this might be more than just an inside joke. Now we have over 6,000 videos in our collection and we tour year round showing them off to people. As for being a viable career, I’m still not sure it is. We just don’t know how to do anything else.

Cultoid: Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and your backgrounds? Did you always want to be part of a touring comedy project (as oddly specific as that would be to say)?

Nick: Joe and I have always done goofy comedy projects going back to a humor newspaper we published in middle school called The Daily Chimp. In college we made short films, a lot of them inspired by some of our VHS finds, and out of college we started doing it more professionally. We wrote for The Onion in the mid-90s, then I got an internship on the TV show, “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” which was the first time it dawned on me that you make a living as a professional smart-ass. I worked at the David Letterman show for five years as the Head Researcher, digging up old, embarrassing footage of celebrities. Meanwhile, Joe worked in the film industry in Minneapolis, collecting and trading footage along the way. In other words, it was all leading up to the Found Footage Festival. It’s a very weird, very fulfilling job.

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Cultoid: How do you go about putting a show together? I imagine you have some Weird Science style IT setup to bring all the clips together. Is that romanticising or is that how it works?….please tell me that’s how it works!

Nick: You’re exactly right! We’ve got bras on our heads and keep trying to create Kelly LeBrock, but we end up with a found VHS show instead. Actually, we spend most of the year on the road, digging around for VHS tapes during the day and doing the show at night. At the end of the tour, we lock ourselves in a room and watch as much footage as we can, hoping we have enough material for another show. Then comes the hard work of digitizing all the tapes with VCRs connected to laptops and editing the footage into digestible chunks for people to enjoy. If Kelly LeBrock showed up to one of our shows in England it would really come full circle.

Cultoid: What can people expect coming to your show? 

Nick: I think the big selling point is that it’s odd and hilarious footage that you can’t see anywhere else, including on our website. We save our best stuff for the live show because we feel like that’s the best way to see it: projected on a big screen in a dark room full of weirdos. It’s a recreation of the good old days of sitting around in a living room watching funny stuff together, a communal experience that’s increasingly rare in the days of niche content available on your phone.

Cultoid: You must have built up a huge loyal following by now – people reaching out their desperate hands for more and more VHS gold. Do you feel the pressure to continually better yourself? And are you worried the metaphorical river will ever run dry?

Nick: Of course, videotape is a non-renewal resource at this point and we do worry that we’ll eventually run out of material. However, the early days of VHS were essentially the gold rush, with tons of amateurs trying to cash in, so there is a lot still out there waiting to be discovered. It also helps that people now send us their found footage from all over the world. But yes, the pressure is always on to top ourselves with weirder and more hilarious footage, and just when we think we’ve seen it all, we find a tape called “How to Have Cybersex on the Internet” and our faith is renewed.

Cultoid: Do you have a favourite clip or group of clips from the raft of videos you’ve trawled through over the years?

Nick: It changes from time to time but I’m really enamored with this home movie we found in North Carolina called “The Club.” In it, this guy is out in the woods by his house and he finds a big stick. The guy is documenting this discovery and becomes convinced that this stick is some sort of prehistoric weapon that belongs in a museum. He calls it “the club” and shows it off to his buddies in the bar and anyone else who will take a look. The best parts are this man’s turns of phrase. He keeps saying the club is “plumb simply awesome” and by the end of it, you start to believe him. We have four hours of this footage and have cut it down to just two minutes. It does not disappoint.

Cultoid: Have you ever met any of the people whose videos you’ve featured? And if so has this ever presented a problem? Threats? Tears?

Nick: In the new show, we screen some early home shopping footage we found in a warehouse back in 1996. It was from a regional channel called “America’s Value Network” and it featured two of the most obnoxious hosts ever captured on videotape, John and Johnny. These guys are so hyperactive that they keep fumbling over the words, saying things that don’t make sense, dropping things–it’s very entertaining. For the 10-year anniversary of the show, we decided to track down these guys and reunite them for the first time since 1987. I don’t want to spoil what happens because we’ll be plating the reunion for people at the show, but suffice to say John and Johnny haven’t changed much.

Cultoid: What is your hope for the FFF in the future? Is this something you hope to keep going with for as long as possible or are there other projects you’d like to take on?

Nick: Joe and I continue to do film projects and comedy writing gigs outside of the Found Footage Festival, but this is our main passion and our life’s work. We are working on a TV show based on the festival, which I think is a great way to showcase our videos to a wide audience without being on the road so much. We’d love to publish another coffee table book of our favorite VHS covers, too, but quite honestly, as long as we’re able to do show of our videos to people in some form or another, I’ll consider that a great success. My only other ambition is a Found Footage Festival theme park.
Thanks very much to Nick for taking the time to chat with us. Don’t forget you can catch the Found Footage Festival guys across the UK from this week. Hopefully we’ll see some of you there!
James is a movie obsessive with a particular love for scores and screenplays. He has written for numerous blogs, sites and cinemas and has been involved in several screenwriting projects. He can usually be found in front of a large plasma screen devouring Westerns, 80s pulp, Jimmy Stewart movies or anything by the Coens.

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