Tapes ‘N Tapes

Published April 24, 2014

ABOVE: ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER IN A PROMOTIONAL TOURISM VIDEO FOR RIO DE JANEIRO, COURTESY OF FFF.

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher have stolen, lied, and engaged in assorted acts of deception, all in the name of VHS. As co-curators of the Found Footage Festival, now in its 10th year and making its BAM debut tomorrow, the pair is willing to sacrifice for the obscure, the obsolete, and the unintentionally hilarious.

Comedians and filmmakers on the side, Pickett and Preuher first caught the VHS bug in 1991 after viewing a stolen McDonald’s training video. The video, titled “Inside and Outside Custodial Duties,” was intended for newly hired janitors. “It was so ridiculous and cheesy that I thought ‘Joe has to see this, everyone has to see this.’ So I stole it,” says Preuher. The video soon became a cult hit in their Wisconsin hometown, as Pickett and Preuher’s friends gathered in their parents’ basements for viewing. “Everyone’s so excited to clean bathrooms [in the video],” says Pickett. “It’s actually insulting to watch.”

Training videos are the curators’ El Dorado. “They’re hardest to find because they don’t end up at thrift stores. You basically have to steal them,” says Prueher. In the name of the kind of joy that only truly bad VHS can render, Pickett even took a job at Suncoast Video. “They supposedly had a Wayne’s World-style training video with Wayne and Garth reenactors teaching you about customer service, and I had to have it,” he says. The video did not exist, Pickett found out, but only after stealing the store’s training videos on his lunch break and taking them home to copy. He quit the next day.

This obsession with stolen and discarded VHS tapes led Pickett and Preuher to want to track down the videos’ accidental stars. Their first documentary, Dirty Country, followed a potty-mouthed country singer whose tape they found in a garbage dump. In 2004, when they ran out of money for filming, Pickett and Preuher decided to market their love for found footage. “We figured, let’s edit these videos down and rent out a place and see if we can make money off this.  We took the admission from that and to pay for the documentary, but then the Found Footage Festival took off even more than the movie,” says Pickett.

Pickett and Preuher continue to scour thrift stores for material, keeping an eye out for the treasure that most people trash. “We’re looking for like the video that came along with the inner tube that you bought or the promotional video for a new toilet from Japan. Videos that weren’t meant to be seen in public,” says Pickett. This private quality makes the videos all the more fun to watch on a giant screen, surrounded by other people who paid to see them.

In an age of YouTube and silly cat videos viewed secretly on cellphones, the Found Footage Festival provides a communal experience that may otherwise have gone the way of your Bowflex instructional tape. “It’s very similar to what we were doing in dorm rooms and living rooms,” says Preuher. As for showing VHS (one of which, we were promised, includes full-frontal male nudity) at BAM, Pickett says, “It’s pretty great whenever you can desecrate a landmark building with videos you found in garbage cans.”

THE FOUND FOOTAGE FESTIVAL WILL BE AT BAM TOMORROW, APRIL 25, AND AT ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES ON SATURDAY, APRIL 26. FOR MORE, VISIT ITS WEBSITE.