Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett are just two Madison area natives that had a hobby for collecting funny, old videos. Now they run the Found Footage Festival, a celebration of ridiculous videos from all corners of the earth. The guys headed back to Milwaukee on Friday, Nov. 29th for a “greatest hits show” called Best of the Midwest at Turner Hall Ballroom. We sat down with Prueher and Pickett to talk about these videos and their Midwest love.
How did this all start?
NP: I found a McDonald’s training video at the location I was working at in my home town. I watched it in the break room one day and it was so over the top ridiculous and thought this can’t stay in the break room. It should be seen by friends and the world, so I stole it. We started having screening parties for the training video and it kind of developed a running commentary of jokes to go along with it. It became a cult thing among my friends and we thought there’s gotta be more videos out there like this. And that’s what started the quest. Eventually this hobby worked its way out of parent’s living room to dorm rooms and then theaters/
JP: That started the obsession with collecting, so after that, that was that. After college I got hired at a video duplication house in Minneapolis. And every time the company would bring in an off video, I’d make an extra copy. And in doing that I just got this enormous collection of weird industrial videos; stuff you couldn’t find anywhere else. Like training videos that you just can’t find at a thrift store. I got a job at a Suncoast Video in a suburb on Minneapolis and I heard they had awful training videos. I worked a four hour shift, and during I grabbed like six tapes on top of the TV and all the training videos. I brought them home and then quit the next day. Horrible job. And the good news was there were a lot of awful videos in that stash. We actually show a few of them at our show in Milwaukee!
How did it transition from funding for your documentary “Dirty Country” to a full time gig?
NP: It was more out of desperation. We had to raise money for this documentary. We applied for government grants, but we weren’t getting any. The only thing we had of any value was our VHS collection, and you can’t really use that as collateral. So we decided to use it and see if anybody would show up and just charge $5. We didn’t really expect anything, but it was 2004 and it was the right time when people were ready to laugh at the VHS era. And we just happened to be a little ahead of the curb on that.
JP: All of a sudden, it started taking off more than our documentary did. So we started focusing on that, and now it’s a full time job.
What makes for a good video?
NP: There are a couple criteria. It has to be physically sound, but when you look at the footage, the main thing we’re looking for is that it’s unintentionally funny. So whatever it’s trying to do, it has to fail at it in an entertaining way. In a more general sense, they involve people either behind the camera or in front who have a ton of ambition even if they don’t have the talent to back it up. There’s something about that wide-eyed innocence and just giving it a shot.
JP: For me, it’s always a nice bonus if there’s a good story behind it; like how you came to find it or get it.
Is there a particular region or place where you find the best tapes?
NP: The Midwest, maybe. Part of it is nostalgic because that’s where we grew up and found a lot of our earliest videos/
JP: Yeah, that’s where it all started for us. There’s so much magic with industrial videos, and most are shot in the Midwest. West Allis has the greatest thrift stores probably in the country. They’re just not picked over at all!
Have you encountered a video you couldn’t show?
NP: We have debates about it. There’s full frontal male nudity in every show, so clearly we don’t have any qualms about showing that. The issues we come up with are if some things are more disturbing than funny.
JP: With male full frontal nudity… It’s not erotic. It’s usually just medical videos. But female genitalia just doesn’t get the same laughs. It’s just one of those things.
NP: We were in a thrift store in West Allis and found a video called “Sing Along with Frank Woehrle,” and it’s this older guy with a mustache and a cowboy hat singing old standards with the lyrics on screen so that you could sing along. It just has this charmingly low budget production.
JP: Hands down, the Federated Mutual Insurance safety videos. This is what we kick our show off with. It’s a series of insurance videos for this company to scare their clients into being safe. It’s just people getting hurt over and over again.
Can we get a preview for the Best of the Midwest show?
NP: We’re looking forward to sharing videos that were found exclusively in the Midwest. You know Wisconsin primarily, but Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois; telling stories of some of the earliest find.
JP: We just have a lot of love for the Midwest, so we’re excited.