Hide Your Home Videos

Your most embarrassing home videos are probably long forgotten, and buried in a basement closet somewhere. Make sure they stay that way.

Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett are coming to town, and they want to show them to people you've never met. Whether you like it or not.

Prueher and Pickett run the Found Footage Festival, which is exactly what it sounds like. They take things like home movies, corporate training films and bad exercise tapes, pick the best (as in, highest on the unintentional comedy scale) and make a show of it.

This will be the festival's first trip to Houston. The duo will be scouring local thrift stores and garage sales--and asking for submissions--in what Prueher calls a continuing "quest" for "odd and ridiculous videos."

The strange obsession started in 1991 with an instructional video for McDonald's custodians that Prueher found while flipping burgers at his high school job in Wisconsin. He and Pickett now have enough VHS tapes and DVDs to fill the closets and corners in each of their apartments in Queens, N.Y., along with a studio-sized storage room.

Early on, the showings took place in dorm rooms and living rooms with a Mystery Science Theater-like running commentary. (Prueher later worked with MST, and then Letterman. Now he's with the Colbert Report. Pickett has written for the Onion.) Not much has changed.

"But instead of our living room it's in a theater up on a big screen and there's 200 like-minded people in there," Prueher says. "And you're giving them permission to laugh at this stuff that wasn't meant to be shown in public."

Hair Balls spoke with Prueher to find out what to expect. (Here's a trailer for the show.)

Has this affected your relationships with women?

I recently got out of a ten-year relationship, and I'm not gonna say that the VHS collection had everything to do with it. But maybe something to do with it.

Do you keep everything you find?

When we find a tape that we're not going to use we try to donate it back to a thrift store. So it's kind of the Circle of Life. We throw it back like a small fish. We throw it back for someone else to discover and let it grow with time, and maybe it'll come back.

What are the criteria?

It has to be legitimately found. We don't take anything off the Internet. We either have to find it ourselves, or somebody has to submit it. It has to be a physical VHS tape or DVD.

So you have a code of ethics?

Sort of. But ironically we have no scruples playing stuff that we have no business playing.

How do you get a hold of someone's home videos?

Those are the hardest things to find. People just take their entire stack of tapes and drop them off at Good Will, or put them in a garage sale bin for 50 cents apiece. That carelessness is really what brings these home videos to light. Actually, last year Joe was at an estate sale here in Queens, and he bought a VHS camcorder for three bucks. He took it home, plugged it in and pressed eject. Whoever had died had started taping, the guy's family or whatever, and they just didn't think to eject the tape.

Kind of makes Hair Balls want to go home and destroy a few tapes.

For our sake we hope that people don't do that. We hope that people continue to be careless about their home movies.

Is the rest just dumpster diving and luck?

Sometimes we don't just happen upon things--we actually have to look for them. Two weeks ago we were in a FedEx office, and the guy went back to pick up the package. We peeked in and could see that right behind the counter there was a stack of VHS training videos that probably hadn't been updated since the early 90s. So I kind of looked both ways, and we figured they wouldn't miss them, so Joe stuffed them in his backpack and we took them home with us. They don't always want to give away their corporate secrets, so sometimes we have to be creative with those.

Ever had to face someone whose video you've been showing?

The one video that became a hit from our first show we call "Jack Rebney, The World's Angriest RV Salesman." This was footage given to us by a crew member who was working on a promotional video for Winnebago RVs in 89. He and the other crew guys realized that the host, Jack Rebney, had a bit of a temper and kept losing it during this shoot. So they just left the cameras rolling during each take, and as a result sort of captured this guy's descent into madness--I mean just completely losing his shit.

Apparently Jack was pretty pissed off that we were showing this video. But we somehow managed to get him to appear with us in San Francisco last fall ... All of a sudden, he's smiling, and he comes down to a standing ovation, and he does a Q&A, and afterward people are lined up 10-deep to get his autograph and photos taken with him. We hugged at the end. What makes a good found video?

It has to try to do something and fail miserably. And this isn't really a criteria, but it's something we've found that a lot of our videos have in common--people that had a lot of ambition and very little talent. There's something about that combination that's just sort of magical.

What should people send in?

Celebrity exercise videos are good, local commercials. If the Astros or Rockets put out a music video in the 80s, then we would love that. Home movies that people have found, public access TV. What kind of stuff don't you want to see from people?

If it involves you, then generally we're not interested.

Have you ever found anything that's just too creepy to show?

The litmus test for us is whether it's funny. As you'll see in the show, we have no qualms about showing, for instance, full frontal male nudity. [But] sometimes if it borders on being too creepy or too weird then we'll take a pass on it.

Anything specific come to mind?

There's this one video that is kind of legendary among touring rock bands. We got like a fifth generation copy about 10 or 11 years ago of this fan video that somebody made for the guitarist Steve Vai. And it's this girl ... she's looking at the camera and talking to the camera as if it's Steve Vai, saying, 'Steve, I love you.' And then she proceeds to do various, um, I'll just say "stunts," to impress Steve Vai, and, um, it's, I mean the stuff she's doing is odd. [Laughs.] It's kind of funny in hindsight, or when you describe it, but when you're actually seeing it you're horrified in a way that's not amusing. [Hair Balls can confirm this.]

Watching all this crap must be bad for your mental health.

Almost certainly. We are willing to torture ourselves for other people's entertainment. We get some sort of perverse delight out of wading through these videos. I mean, 90 percent of them are the most boring dreck you'll ever see. We just kind of lock ourselves in an apartment, hold hands and try to get through this shit so that we can find that gold at the end of the rainbow.

The found footage festival will be premiering in Houston at the Alamo Drafthouse West Oaks on Saturday, May 9, at 10pm. Tickets are $10, and you can buy them at www.drafthouse.com. You can make submissions here, or just bring them to the show.

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