Found Footage Festival's Nick Prueher on how-to-masturbate videos and the death of VHS

There's a lot of weird shit captured for posterity on videotape. Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett have been collecting it for 21 years, and touring the world sharing it under the name Found Footage Festival for the past eight. During that time, they've become de facto VHS historians, amassing an incredible library of bad ideas caught on cheap tape and turning it all into a hell of an entertaining show. Even after more than two decades of collecting and six volumes of material -- all available on DVD, so you can enjoy classic like Winnebago Man again and again in the comfort of your home -- Prueher and Pickett are still eagerly collecting odd tapes and culling through them for unforgettable moments.

Before they bring "Found Footage Fest Vol. 6" to the Denver FilmCenter/Colfax tomorrow, August 11, we sat down with Prueher to get an idea of what the new show holds, whether they'll ever run out of new material and how many bad tapes they have to sit through to find one great moment.

See also: - Event: Found Footage Festival - List: Pandas teach us how to Dougie and four more weird dance videos - Q&A: Nick Prueher on Vol. 2 of Found Footage Fest

Westword: Is it getting harder to find good new stuff for the show?

Nick Prueher: That's a good question. In a way it is, because you start finding the same videos in different places. It's harder to find the unique one that we haven't seen. Also, we found out from thrift store owners -- we talk to them and find out what the latest scene is in the thrift store world -- and the people at Goodwill told us they're not even accepting VHS donations anymore, because nobody's buying them. That scared us to death. This is going to sound more high-falutin' than it is, but if nobody's finding these things, we're really worried they're just going to be lost forever. That whole part of our VHS history will be gone. It kind of lit a fire under us to do a really ambitious tour this year. We're doing all fifty states on tour this year, and that's why we did Europe and England too this year, because we're worried this stuff has a shelf life and it is getting harder to find it. But because of that, when we do find something that's just incredible and unique, it makes it all the more special.

If they stop being available in thrift stores, you'll have to dig even deeper -- garage sales, or start one of those Storage Wars-type TV shows to search out and discover new tapes.

Somebody in Europe actually suggested we -- you know how sometimes there's those big clothing drop boxes, or boxes for shoes, where you just donate them? -- set up one of those for VHS tapes and just go collect them somehow, almost like an art project or something.

Maybe you can set that up while you're on this fifty-state tour

That'd be great! We actually wanted to create a video store in New York, [where] you can't actually check anything out, you just have to watch it in the store, but have our entire collection of 5,000 plus tapes curated in the categories we have them in. Like, "unusually specific" is one category, and you've got videos in there like "Identifying Machine Made Marbles" and things like that. Or "questionable celebrity career moves" and you have "Linda Blair's How to Get Revenge." So it'd be like the video store we would like to see, with little viewing stations. You'd pay a couple bucks and watch an hour's worth of footage. That would be the dream.

Almost like a VHS museum? Pay five bucks to get in and wander around, you can check out three tapes at a time and you can take them to a station to watch them?

Yeah, exactly! Free admission with a donation, that would be awesome.

There you go, get people to donate their old tapes, unload their crap and give you new material at the same time.

We'll give it a good home. The good news is we have like probably a thousand videos we haven't even gone through yet, that are just kind of piled in our offices and storage lockers. So if the apocalypse hits tomorrow, we'll have enough to last us. It does worry us that VHS tapes are dwindling a bit.

Based on your experience over the years, how many of those are going to have golden clips out of those thousand tapes?

We'll probably have to watch thirty videos before we find one that fits the bill. I don't know what that ratio is, but yeah, thirty videos, one of them's good. It ends up being a lot of watching. These videos are usually an hour long so you have to watch thirty hours to get a few good minutes. It can be pretty mind numbing, pretty painful. I feel like we are pop culture masochists in a way. We've almost come to enjoy torturing ourselves with it. It's almost like an endurance thing. We're willing to suffer for other people's entertainment. We're very Christlike in that way.

It's very noble.

Thank you. We're doing God's work.

Do you want to tease some stuff from the new show that people can look forward to?

There's one we actually found in Colorado last year. I think we found it in a town outside of Boulder. It was this workout video [with] these very fake looking blonde girls with fake boobs on the cover. We're like, "Okay, we're picking this one up..." It's kind of a unique thing, because it's not sexy enough to get off to, and it's not even close to being a real workout. It's neither sexy nor a workout, and it's called the "Sexy Treadmill Workout" It's exactly what it sounds like, it's topless women on a treadmill for an hour. Different angles, different speeds. It's from 1988, so it's vintage. Amazing find.

I don't know how printable this is, but, there's one we found that we just felt was too remarkable. You know, you think you've seen it all, then you find this tape. We were doing a show in Vancouver and a guy came up to us afterward and said that he heard this government office was getting rid of all its VHS tapes, this government office in British Columbia. So he drove down there and just kind of rescued anything that looked interesting. The one he gave us, the one that caught our eye, was called Hand Made Love. We didn't know what it was, it looked very official. What it turned out to be was an instructional video about masturbation. The target audience for it was developmentally disabled men. It shows you, in very graphic detail, the whole process of how that works, being very clear to say "never masturbate in public," etc. etc.

It's a very noble cause, because who wants to teach somebody how to do that? But the thing that makes is so unsettling is it has snuff-film production values. There's no tripod, so it's handheld and it's in some guy's depressing looking apartment in Vancouver and he's staring directly into the camera and saying, like, 'I'm going to take my underwear off now." It's just one of those videos that stays with you. Then we did some research on this company and it turns out they did a sister video for women called "Fingertips". We tracked down "Fingertips" as well, so we do a little one-two punch of "Hand Made Love" and "Fingertips" in the show.

That sounds pretty amazing.

It's pretty incredible, I have to admit. One of the big breakouts of the show is this video we found called the Magical Rainbow Sponge and it's a crafting video. We find a ton of these crafting videos and they're all boring. This is the one exception we've found in 21 years of collecting. It's a woman named Dee, and she's just really enthusiastic about craft sponging -- putting paint on a sponge and making wiggles and designs with it. She's almost oprgasmic while she's doing this, just screaming in ecstasy with each stroke of her rainbow sponge and making all these noises. We cut together all the little noises she makes while she's doing the sponge painting. We open the show with that one.

After doing this for so long, have you gained any insight into why people do these videos? What's the impulse to make these weird things in the first place?

I think it was kind of a gold rush. In the '80s and '90s, VHS was so cheap to produce, it was kind of a novel format. For the first time you had the ability to have a video in your home you could control. It was sort of like the gold rush. Everybody went there in search of fame and fortune and was trying out [unintelligible] stuff. You ended up with a lot of goofy ideas. There's a video in the new show called Instant Adoring Boyfriend, which is a very handsome British gentleman who's saying all the things that a woman would want to hear. It's a very sexist video, but that was an idea. There was video fireplaces and VCR board games, and how-to make craft sponges videos. I think it was just so affordable and just sort of the Wild West, like let's just try out a lot of ideas and see what sells. That's why you ended up with a lot of weird, esoteric things.

One thing that we've just come to realize in watching this, is America is full of people with a ton of ambition, regardless of whether they have any talent whatsoever. That, to me, if anything about the show is uniquely American, I think it's that.

Anything else you want to mention?

We'll be searching around at various charity shops in Denver while we're in town, and if anybody has found anything, please bring it to the show. We'd love it if anybody had some donations for us.

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Cory Casciato is a Denver-based writer with a passion for the geeky, from old science fiction movies to brand-new video games.
Contact: Cory Casciato