Found Footage Festival Brings Funny Video Montages to Tropic
By Shirrel Rhoades
Cooke Communications Film Critic
Back in 1991 two bored teenagers in Wisconsin stumbled onto a strange career by dumpster diving. “There wasn’t that much going on,” nods Nick Prueher, co-host of The Found Footage Festival, a live one-night-only event coming to the Tropic Cinema on December 12th.
That summer Nick was working at McDonald’s when he found an old training video in the trash. “They said I wasn’t smiling enough at the customers,” he recalls, “so they moved me back to the grill. That meant I had to do odd jobs … which is how I came across a training video titled ‘Inside and Outside Custodial Duties.’ It was so funny I brought it home and shared it with my buddy Joe.”
They found it funny, with its low production values and simplistic instructions.
That gave way to a “weird hobby,” collecting assorted found video footage.
Buddies since the 6th grade, Nick and Joe Pickett started showing their collection to friends and friends of friends, adding their own smart-aleck comments. Everyone found it funny. That led to taking their show on the road, going from theater to theater with their too-weird-to-be-true video clips and entertaining banter.
“We’d grown up riffing on bad television,” Nick muses. “Who knew we could make living as professional smart asses?”
Now they give 150 performances a year in all 50 states. Key West, and then Miami, wind up this year’s tour. This is the 10th year of the show.
“Every year we keep finding plenty of weird, esoteric videos for next year’s show.” They find footage at thrift stores, garage sales, warehouses, in the trash -- you name it.
For example, they bought an old camcorder for $5 at an estate sale. Turns out, a VHS tape was still inside. “That was quite a bonanza. It showed a man in a dress dancing to ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’ Probably the same guy whose estate was being sold off.”
They sometimes track down the people in the video.
In Gainesville, Florida, they scored big when they came across a 1996 video about how to care for your ferret. A collection of exercise tapes yielded “The Sexy Treadmill Workout.” A video featuring a woman whose overzealous enthusiasm for craft sponging “bordered on the psychotic.”
Each of these found videos might boil down to a 3-minute clip in the show or become part of a montage.
Nick and Joe’s riffs on these old video snippets are downright hilarious. These screenings may remind you a bit of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” that cult TV series that offered snide remarks about bad sci-fi and horror movies. Not surprising, when Nick admits he interned on that show in 1998-99 in Minneapolis. “We know all those guys,” he says.
Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett have also written for The Onion and Entertainment Weekly and directed the award-winning documentary, “Dirty Country.” Nick was the Head Researcher for “The David Letterman Show.”
What do Nick and Joe’s parents think of their unusual career, producing “The Found Footage Festival” and making in-person appearances around the country (even Sweden recently)?
“They are oddly very supportive,” shrugs Nick. “They caught our show recently in Madison, Wisconsin. That’s where they live. Their only comment was ‘Next time less nudity.’ It was a fair comment.”
Nick Prueher pauses to consider his parents’ view of his offbeat profession. “They are strangely proud,” he says, sounding almost surprised.
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