It’s 2020 now – and streaming is the king of the hill. Long gone are the Blockbuster videos, and even major retailers are getting out of the physical media game.
So what to do with all those chunky analog tapes cluttering your garage? Well, if you’re off-loading your past masters at thrift stores or garage sales… it’s possible your trash may be Nick Pruher’s treasure. But he can’t keep it to himself.
“It’s our life’s work,” the creator of the Found Footage Festival shares. “I think [our collection] has grown to 1,600 tapes now, and those are just the good ones – so it’s pretty staggering.”
Along with fellow funny man (and writer for The Onion) Joe Pickett, Prueher will be a hosting a one-night only VCR Party at the Alamo Drafthouse LaCenterra in Katy full of oddball footage, special guests and a lot of riffing. “My buddy Joe and I have known each other since we were ten,” Prueher shares. “We grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and there wasn’t a lot going on. So we spent a lot of time in thrift stores, looking for ways to entertain ourselves. So one of the early things we found were other people answering machine tapes, back when we had answering machines. We’d take them home and play the highlights for people.”
“Then in the early '90s, 1991 or ’92 we started finding VHS tapes that people had discarded. We found a McDonald's Training Video, we found a Mr. T Educational Video for kids, these were just littering thrift stores in that time. And of course, we found a lot of exercise videos. So we’d start having screening parties for ourselves and our friends and no one else on Friday nights – no one had driver’s licenses yet. So what else is there to do? And that just got us thinking: there are videos like this right under our noses, what else is out there? The collection grew and grew and finally, in 2004, we decided to take this hobby we had for friends and put it in a theater, see if people would come out for it. Fantastically for us, they did and still are. In April, it will be 16 years. Its something we did as a hobby and then has slowly become a full time thing.”
Since going mainstream, Prueher and Pickett have appeared on the likes of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel Live – and that added exposure seems to have broadened the team’s prospects immensely. “The joy of doing this for so long and now, people will send us their finds!”
Teasing out of some the primo selections for Friday’s screening, Prueher gives a sneak peek at some of his favorites. “There’s a video we found in Cleveland called The Magical Rainbow Sponge, and it's featuring
a woman named Dee who is VERY excited by craft sponging – so much so she makes all these excited yelps and screams every time puts her sponge to paper. It’s so infectious, we’ve found that and she made some sequel tapes we’ll be showing for the first time.”
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Speaking of exclusives: Prueher shares the dish on a video perhaps never-before-seen… at least online. “A guy in Vancouver, turns out he was working at a hypnotist show that ran for a couple weeks in Vancouver. And they had the same audience load in music every single night. And the crew got so sick, they decided to turn their cameras, their internal cameras they use for the show ON the audience during the load-in. One of the songs was 'Hotel California.' And it’s amazing how many people know every lyric to that song, so you watch people in the audience who have no idea they’re being videotaped sort of eating cotton candy, and also singing along and playing air guitar to 'Hotel California.' It’s remarkable, and you can’t play it online or the Eagles would sue us. So it’s only at this show.”
As the video archives grow in cult status, so do the stars themselves, it appears. “The show is a live guided tour through our video collection, so we come out, explain how we got the videos and offer our running commentaries through full of jokes and observations,” the curator explains. “And for this show in particular, we’ve tracked down a lot of the people from the videos. So we’ll be showing our interviews with people we’ve tracked down, and giving updates because every one of these videos begs the question: what were they thinking? We went the extra step to find out. We actually hired a private investigator to help us track down a lot of these folks, and we took it way too far.”
From the screens of public access to live and in the flesh, there’s no doubt VCR Party is an event to catch. Next step: Comic Con? (On that, Prueher seems hopeful: “That’s a dream. We had an open house at our office in Brooklyn this past year, and had people fly in from all over the country for it. That was a mini-convention, at least.”)
VCR Party is scheduled at 2707 Commercial Center, Katy on Friday, January 10 at 7:30 p.m. For information, call 281-492-6900 or visit foundfootagefest.com. $15.