Nearly three decades ago,
the advent of the relatively cheap, user-friendly camcorder meant anyone with a few bucks and a harebrained idea could make a movie. And many of us did. But as the days of analog technology waned, those videos were relegated to boxes in basements and eventually the dusty shelves of thrift stores, never to be seen again—until now.
This week, the Creative Alliance at the Patterson hosts the Found Footage Festival, a traveling smorgasbord of hilarious, poorly conceived public access television shows, home movies, training videos, and uncategorizable weirdness, culled from our embarrassing VHS past. Cats riding motorcycles? Check. Cringe-worthy celebrity how-tos? Check. (See, for example, the video by
’s Linda Blair, titled “How to Get Revenge.”) Drunk guys mooning Hare Krishnas? Yes indeed.
Found Footage is the work of Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, lifelong friends who have been scrounging for such unintentionally funny artifacts since high school. “The whole thing started when Nick was working at a McDonald’s and he had to watch the training videos,” Pickett says by phone. “He found one called ‘Inside and Outside Custodial Duties’ and it was about this overly perky trainee. It was his first day on the job and he was excited to clean the toilets. . . . We just fell in love with this video. We wanted more.”
The festival celebrates the release of Volume 5 of the Found Footage collection, and includes some 18 clips and montages from more than 75 videos, totaling about 90 minutes. In between takes, Prueher and Pickett—both comedy veterans, of
and, in Prueher’s case,
The Late Show with David Letterman
—provide commentary. Opening the show, in celebration of its 25th anniversary, will be cult classic “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” a documentary by John Heyn and Jeff Krulik, who will also make a live appearance. The 16-minute film was shot in the parking lot of a 1986 Judas Priest concert at the now-defunct Capital Centre in Landover and features the filmmakers talking with raucous, passionate, deeply drunk, and otherwise chemically altered Priest fans. (Roger Ebert later called them “stoned worshippers at the shrine of their own bewilderment.” Also featured: Camaros, men in crop tops, and a whole lot of zebra stripes.) Unlike some of the other videos in the show, “Parking Lot” was meant for a broad audience. Yet it, too, is in a sense found footage.
Heyn and Krulik initially had trouble getting “Parking Lot” screened, because of the length and format of the documentary. “This is the era before the internet, light years before YouTube,” Krulik says by phone. “You really had to seek it out, or have it show up in your mailbox, or get it handed off by a friend.” In fact, they’d long given up on promoting the movie when, somewhere in the mid-1990s, it began to pop up again in their lives. It was reportedly a favorite on the Nirvana tour bus. Then Sofia Coppola called to say she’d rented it from an underground Los Angeles video store, and wanted to include it in a show on Comedy Central.
From there, the movie gradually gained cult status, spawning imitators, sequels, and parodies alike. Heyn and Krulik went on to make “Neil Diamond Parking Lot” and “Harry Potter Parking Lot,” as well as
Heavy Metal Picnic
, a full-length feature about a 1985 field party. On his own, Krulik has made a number of films—
, “I Created Lancelot Link”—that, like “Parking Lot,” aim to preserve small bits of culture that might otherwise disappear in the dustbin of history. “That’s what I’m drawn to,” he says. “These small stories that are indeed, like many other small stories, possibly forgotten.”
Pickett and Prueher seem to have a similar goal, though perhaps a more satirical bent. After the McDonald’s training video entered their lives, they threw themselves into the task of finding more like it. Pickett worked at a video duplication house following college, where he’d make an extra copy of every great—i.e., terrible—video that passed through his hands. They found other gems at garage sales, thrift stores, and estate sales. “We went to great lengths to get these stupid videos,” Pickett says. At one point he got a job at a Suncoast Video store, solely because he’d heard they had hilarious training videos. “So I worked a four-hour shift and found the stack of training tapes in the break room and tossed ’em in a duffel bag and went home,” he says. Pickett never returned to the job (though he did return the videos), but one of the tapes will be featured in the upcoming show. “And ironically enough,” he says, “it’s an anti-shoplifting video.”
Pickett says the pair initially thought they’d quickly run out of material. But their VHS collecting hobby has morphed into a full-time gig, and every year the tour grows longer. From time to time, the show even includes DVD clips. “The thing that we realized,” Pickett says, “is that the formats may change, but bad ideas are here to stay.”