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« Steve at the Movies Special Screening! [REC] & [REC] 2 The Man Who Directed the End of the World »

Film Wed Jun 30 2010

Preview: Found Footage Festival @ The Empty Bottle

computerbeach.jpgFound Footage Festival was started in 2004 by Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, who in 1991 stumbled upon a McDonald's training video entitled Inside and Outside Custodial Duties at a McDonald's in their home state of Wisconsin, and never stopped collecting. Since that fateful day, they have compiled an impressive collection of absurd footage, which is uploaded onto their website. With a background in comedy (their resumes include stints at The Late Show with David Letterman, The Onion, and Entertainment Weekly), they've taken their show on the road numerous times over the past six years, and are currently on tour screening the 1985 film Computer Beach Party, described in their press release as "one of the most wonderfully awful movies ever found on VHS". FFF comes to The Empty Bottle on Sunday, July 18 with their hidden gem of a film.

In addition to FFF, it must be pointed out that Pickett and Prueher also directed the feature-length documentary Dirty Country, which centers on the life of Larry Pierce, a factory worker and family man from Indiana who happens to write the raunchiest country songs you've ever heard. Based on the trailer alone, I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that this may well be the best documentary ever made, and I can't believe I didn't know about it sooner. (Warning, this clip is NSFW.)

I had the opportunity to speak with Prueher by phone, and asked him all the burning questions that were running through my mind.

GB: I just watched the trailer for Dirty Country, and it looks like the greatest thing ever.

NP: Thanks. I'm going to spend the 4th of July at Larry Pierce's house in Indiana. That all started when we wrote a letter to the truck stop recording label and asked them to pass it on to Larry, I'd been listening to his music for 15 years. We got a letter back saying "this is the only fan letter I've ever received so I had to write you back." I thought the project would be just a week, it turned into us quitting our jobs and following him around for 5 years.

GB: I might have missed out on that one, it was released in 2008, any chance it will be coming through Chicago?

NP: The film played a few festivals and now it's available on DVD. Larry lives in Middletown, IN, 40 miles northwest of Indianapolis, and he doesn't see anything unusual about what he does. His attitude was "I'm married with kids and work 3rd shift at a factory and write these dirty songs on the side, I don't see what the story is."

GB: I'm curious if you've heard of, or have collaborated with a Chicago site called Everything is Terrible, which does a similar thing to FFF only they splice found footage together to create new pieces. (And are appearing at the Music Box on July 1st).

NP: There's a big pool of resources to draw from, there's guys like us and TV Carnage who've been doing it for a long time, so it's neat to see other people working with found footage. TV Carnage does a similar thing where they splice things together. We try not to manipulate the edits too much, our editorial voice comes through in how we present it in a live show. The live show is our main deal, our background is in comedy. During the show we explain how and where we found the footage that's being shown.

GB: Do people ever recognize themselves in the footage that you show?

NP: Sometimes people will. In Minnesota a guy came up and said "hey, do you recognize me? I was in the insurance safety video!" He was 20 years older than in the video, and I was star struck, my hand was trembling, it was like meeting a celebrity to us. We've deconstructed and watched all these videos so many times its humbling when we actually meet these people. Recently we were able to meet Jack Rebney, who was in one of the first pieces of footage we ever found -- raw footage from an industrial film about Winnebago RVs. The crew realized that Jack had a temper, he would just fly off in these angry tirades, and we put together Jack Rebney, World's Angriest RV Salesman. Unbeknownst to us, one of Jack's friends was at the show in Vegas, bought a DVD and took it to Jack, who was apparently pretty pissed off. We convinced him to appear at a show in San Francisco, he was prickly at first but when he saw how much we loved the video and how much people loved it he got this smile on his face -- he's actually in a documentary called Winnebago Man, the film ends with Jack at our show. Michael Moore is distributing it. (It screened in Chicago on June 16th, Steve Prokopy wrote about it recently.)

GB:
I noticed that FFF is exclusively VHS and other "found" material, YouTube is not included. I like this approach, and I'm curious to hear more about why you've chosen to do this.

NP: Using YouTube clips seems like cheating, we came from a community of people who traded tapes and found things that we took to people and said "you're never going to believe this," and then showed them some 15th generation dub. That's essentially what we're doing now, it's the thrill of discovery -- where and how you find something is often just as important as what's on the tape. Just typing "cats" into Google isn't as interesting. We go to estate sales, we look in dumpsters, having a story behind it creates a personal connection. There's some interesting stuff on YouTube, but what we use has to be found by somebody. We're primarily a live show because there's something about gathering 300 people in a room and projecting these videos onto a screen; when you're in a big group of people, you're sort of being given permission to laugh at something that wasn't meant to be funny. It's not the same as watching something on computer by yourself. It's a totally different experience to come into a theater or a bar and have stuff up on the big screen -- a training video that looks familiar to something you had to watch for your shitty, minimum wage job, and now its okay to laugh at it. Its cathartic for people in many ways.

GB: Do you think collecting VHS tapes has a time limit? Do you think there will come a time when there won't be any more tapes to collect?

NP: I don't think so anymore. Initially we'd been collecting videos, what we found is VHS tapes because people were getting rid of them, especially as DVD became the choice, but lately we've been finding DVDs, and as things go on demand and you can get stuff streaming through TV and online, that physical media is going to go away, but what we've realized is that the bad ideas never go away. The production values might get better but 20 years from now we might find hard drives -- already we're finding digital cameras in thrift stores with images in the memory and video. I don't think that we'll ever run out of material, I just think the media will change.

computer2.jpg

GB: Computer Beach Party is a full-length film, this is new for FFF.

NP: Normally we have a show that's an amalgam of non-movie stuff: exercise tapes; home movies; public access TV; training videos. We found this movie last year in Ohio, and you have to consider that in most thrift stores you're finding two dozen copies of Jerry Maguire and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and then you find Computer Beach Party. We knew it was going to be a bad 80's sex comedy, but it's bad in surprising ways that never could have been imagined. It's a one of a kind thing, at least a stupid sex comedy like Meatballs had a plot -- this was just a completely nonsensical plot they appeared to make up as they went along, apparently they couldn't use any of the sound recorded so they had to overdub, there are subplots that show up and go away, and some of the most unique acting you're likely to see. It's shot entirely in Galveston, TX, which is not the beach paradise you think of in beach movies. It's a perfect storm of awfulness, and we couldn't wait to show it to people. We've been collecting videos for almost 20 years, and never have we featured an entire movie, so you know it has to be pretty special. We figured while we were preparing the fall tour we'd go to some favorite cities and show this movie that we found on VHS.

GB: I can't wait to see it

NP: You won't be disappointed, it's everything its cracked up to be.

GB: Is there anything else you want people to know?

NP: Yes, two things: We get to Chicago twice a year, but we can only do so much video scavenging while we're in town, so if there's any video of public access that people have found, encourage them to bring it to The Empty Bottle, we would love have new stuff from the area. We'll take it home and watch it, and it might be included in the next show.

Oh and also, I noticed that we're there the same weekend as Pitchfork, and at first I thought that was going to be a problem, but then I saw that it's really at the end of the festival, and Computer Beach Party is the perfect way to cap off your Pitchfork weekend. Come relax at The Empty Bottle and watch one of the worst movies ever made. Plus, there's a heavy metal band called Panther that play two full songs in the movie. I checked the Pitchfork lineup and they're not playing, so this is your only chance to catch them.

Found Footage Festival will be screening Computer Beach Party at The Empty Bottle on Sunday, July 18th at 7pm. For more info visit The Empty Bottle or Found Footage Festival.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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