We Talked to the Founders of the Found Footage Festival

For eight years, a couple guys from Wisconsin with a passion for scouring through dumpsters, second-hand shops, and warehouses have been curating the best, worst, and strangest clips they could find—they’ve made six DVD compilations and a book of VHS...

The 1980s and 1990s were the glory days of the home movie—cameras and VCRs were affordable and easy to use, but no one had any dang idea how to film something anyone else would want to watch: poorly thought-out video dating profiles; cheesy, no-budget advertisements; and embarrassing corporate training videos abounded, and since this was before the dawn of YouTube, all of those glorious disasters were left to rot in the cavernous bins of thrift stores and garage sales. 

The Found Footage Festival is devoted to bringing those accidental gems to life. For eight years, a couple guys from Wisconsin with a passion for scouring through dumpsters, second-hand shops, and warehouses have been curating the best, worst, and strangest clips they could find—they’ve made six DVD compilations and a book of VHS covers, and tour all over the world with their videos. I caught up with founders Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher before they headed off to Europe to see how they were doing.

VICE: Hey, Nick and Joe. How’d all of this come about, anyway?
Joe Pickett: We started doing this documentary based on a cassette tape that we found at a truck stop in southern Wisconsin by a guy named Larry Pierce. He had, at the time, recorded about eight albums of filthy country songs. We fell in love with this guy and decided to write him a letter and see if we could shoot a music video for him or maybe do a little documentary on him. Within three days, we got a call back from him saying, “Hey, I got your letter, my life’s not that interesting, I work third shift at this factory, I write these dirty country songs on my lunch break, I’m married with children, I record them in my garage.” We’re like, “Holy shit, that’s an awesome fucking story,” so we both quit our jobs and worked on this full-time and quickly realized that they don’t hand out grants for movies about dirty country singers.

Nick Prueher: We applied for grants, but they always go to something about African orphans with HIV.

Joe: Our rejection letters were basically, “Fuck no, no money for you.” So then we had to get creative with how we raised our money, so we started doing the Found Footage Festival.

What has it been like taking the FFF on the road for the past eight years?
Nick: We’re basically traveling around doing a show-and-tell every night for a new group of people. But the rigors of flying, renting a car, driving nine hours to get to the other city, setting up, doing the show…

Joe: Yeah, my shitting schedule gets all off. My butt is just confused.

Nick: I can attest to that.

Joe: We’re doing a 50-state tour this time; I think we’re at 42 or 43. I’d say maybe there are 39 good states.

Nick: Yeah, there are about 20 you could take or leave.

Do you find that your shows are more popular among certain types of people?
Nick: The show plays to a far broader demographic than we ever thought it would. We did a show in South Dakota with a mostly older crowd, like my parents’ age. We had maybe one walkout, but the people who stayed really enjoyed it, and it felt like they were tapping into something they maybe didn’t know about.

Have you run into any towns that really didn’t like you?
Joe: Right before we did Salt Lake City for the first time, we found out that they had decency laws—and every one of our shows features full-frontal male nudity, that’s kind of our unwritten rule for the show, so we were wondering if we could get arrested, but it was actually a good show. In Laramie, Wyoming, we had two people walk out angrily after I said the F word, and they wrote an angry email with the subject line “Disgusting.”

How far do you go to get your videos?
Joe: With training videos, they’re really hard to find. You have to steal them. I heard a rumor that Suncoast Videos had awful training videos. So I got a job there and put them in my duffel bag and went home at the end of the night and dubbed them. The next day I came back and was like, “Here are your videos back, and sorry, I can’t work here anymore.”

Nick: That was in the 90s. Last year we were picking up a package at the UPS office here in Queens, and there were some VHS training videos and so I was the lookout while Joe went behind the counter. So we’re 37 and still stealing training tapes.

You get all of your stuff from VHS tapes, but obviously no one is making new videos in that format—is there any danger of running out of available material?
Joe: In the last few years, we’ve started dabbling into DVDs, and we’re not proud of that. The way that we justify it is that the format may change over the years, but bad ideas are here to stay.

It seems like there are a lot of “so bad it’s good” outlets out there these days. What do you make of the competition?
Joe: Well, I love the genre. We’re good pals with [Found magazine editor] Davy Rothbart, and we know Tim and Eric too. I have no problems with any of them. I heard that Everything Is Terrible doesn’t like us. We haven’t met those guys yet.

Nick: It’s weird. Everybody has their own spin on it, and there’s this infighting.

Joe: [Derrick Beckles from TV Carnage] heard that we stole a video from him.

Nick: And we hadn’t, we just happened to find the same tape.

Joe: A lot of those sites, like TV Carnage and Everything Is Terrible, I don’t watch, because I don’t want to be influenced at all by anything else.

How do you explain the popularity of really awful videos? Are we running out of good things to watch? Are our tastes changing?
Nick: I don't know that they are. What's changed now is that there are more outlets for appreciators of that kind of material to get together. It's just easier to find things that fulfill your weird, specific interests. We're thankful there are so many outlets out there for weirdos. It's a big, strange world.

Nick and Joe and their videos will be on tour in Ireland and the UK this month. Go here for more information.