3 Questions

3 Questions With the Found Footage Festival Co-founder Nick Prueher

We’re gonna have a VCR party tonight

For more than 20 years, dedicated video enthusiasts Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett have taken their love of found footage and created a touring comedy show, during which they show the best clips while providing commentary. Of course, the term “found footage” can be nebulous, so let’s make this perfectly clear: Prueher and Pickett are a lot more interested in the forgotten gold nuggets from the heyday of VHS in the ‘80s and ‘90s. We’re talkin’ strange instructional videos, training movies, self-made local commercials, home videos left behind in thrift stores—y’know, the dregs. We spoke with Prueher ahead of the duo’s upcoming Meow Wolf appearance (8 pm Saturday, March 23. $25. 1352 Rufina Circle, (505) 395-6369) to find out how the Found Footage Festival has lasted, the reason forgotten tapes might be more important than you think and why sincerity goes a long way in the humor biz. This interview has been edited for clarity and concision. (Alex De Vore)

The pandemic meant a transition from touring to online shows and embracing more online footage. How has touring again affected curation and the fest?

On April 3, it will be 20 years of being on the road and touring with the fest as our full-time job, and we still love it. We kind of feel like the right environment to watch these forgotten VHS clips is a dark room with a bunch of weirdos. On the other hand, being on the road that much is pretty exhausting. In our 20s, it was really fun to go to a new thrift store and find tapes; or, once, we did a show in Richmond, Virgina, and someone asked, ‘do you wanna see where we make the Gwar costumes?’ so of course we were like, ‘yes, we’ll go to the Gwar workshop.’

But it gets fatiguing after 20 years, so when we had to pivot to doing a weekly online show called VCR Party, which is way more breezy and off-the-cuff than our live shows, it was refreshing. We also found this whole new group of like-minded people who enjoy the content. In the main show, we still don’t play anything that’s an internet video, but occasionally we’ll do a one-off show where it’s some sort of a VCR Party Live show.

Do you consider the collection, the festival, an archival pursuit?

It never was, but we’re starting to take the archival part more seriously now that creators of shows are like, ‘I have no way to access the show I made that took up three years of my life.’ Not only that, but streaming things [sometimes removes] content you want to see.

In the past year, we’ve...photographed every tape in our collection—13,000 tapes. These aren’t the [American Film Intsitute] Top 100 with, like, a nonprofit dedicated to their preservation; these tapes came with a beard trimmer and show you how to use it. We’re not getting a university grant to do it, but we have our assistant, and people who like what we do, take photos, make a JPEG, write down all the information [so] we have kind of a searchable database for these tapes. The next step is digitizing...so there’s some record of these tapes that time forgot.

In the VHS collecting community, it’s mostly horror movies, whereas we have exercise videos, training tapes, promo videos, strangers’ home movies, and we’ve realized across 20 years, we’re kind of it for these. But it’s kind of because the pathos comes through. In the best tapes, you see the humanity, and I think that’s valuable and worth hanging onto. It’s sort of the warts-and-all part of our videotape history. The Howard Zinn version. Without getting too serious, it’s a more truthful account of our culture than if we’re looking at the those AFI [Top 100] films.

Would 20-years-ago you be shocked by all this?

It’s funny, I never looked at this as a career. Joe and I have known each other since we were 10, and we’ve been collecting videos and showing them to friends since 1991. It went from basements to dorm rooms to apartments, but it always felt like this very specific thing us and our group of friends thought was funny. I never thought and am still amazed by the fact that there are other people who find this as funny as we do and appreciate it. I would be, I think, shocked, if 20-year-ago me were to say ‘you’re still doing this? We’re heading out on a UK tour?’ These videos we literally found in dumpsters, at jobs we had in high school. Now there’s a whole audience of folks online and around the world who come to the show and appreciate it and are part of the joke. One thing we’ve always been conscious of is not being insular. So many communities can be gatekeeper-y, and we’ve never been like that. It’s more: Be part of this really weird inside joke. I think that’s a testament to why it’s lasted so long. I think if it were a snarky disposable thing, it wouldn’t still be around.

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