If you’ve ever watched an instructional video, dating tape, or promotional VHS, with Chirons or star wipes and an accompanying song, then you’re not alone. We’ve all had to sit through these painful, amateurish and scripted videos that have seemingly served no other purpose but to make us dumber. If you watch them for fun, then you’re not unlike Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, the curators of the Found Footage Festival.
Well, you may not be quite as dedicated. Having spent years amassing all manner of god-awful relics from the era of VHS and sorting through them to find the very best in irony, Prueher and Pickett have toured the Found Footage Festival across the country, screening clips from videos that in their proper context might prove torturous, but viewed together, allow for a glimpse of some truly bad ideas. Catastrophically bad. And very, very funny.
Prueher was kind enough to talk for a little while about starting this series as well as some of the videos and stories surrounding them in advance of the duo’s first screening in New Jersey this weekend in Asbury Park.
So you started this by picking up training videos at fast food places?
Yeah. I worked in a McDonald’s in high school and in the break room one day I found this stack of 30 training videos that were collecting dust and just popped one in at random that was for McDonald’s custodians and I just couldn’t believe how insultingly dumb it was. It was just nauseating. They tried to have a plot to it. Everybody’s so cheery to be working at McDonald’s. It was just ridiculous. It was so insulting being paid minimum wage and having to sit through this garbage in a smoky breakroom. Just, what were they thinking? I watched it and I was like, ‘Oh man, I gotta show this to my pal Joe.’ I showed it to him, and we just became obsessed with this video.
We’d show it to friends in my parent’s living room. At the time, [I] still in high school without a driver’s license. So it just went to thinking that there’s got to be more ridiculous videos just out there waiting to be discovered, so we just started looking in out of the way places for other discarded VHS tapes and happened to find over the years quite a few of them. And we’d again, have friends over and entertain them with the latest videos from our collection. Then five years ago, having amassed a pretty decent collection of videos, we decided to rent out a theatre and see if there would be any interest in it, and to our surprise, people actually showed up and seemed to get a kick out of it and we just kept going wherever they wanted us ever since.
Did you find the ‘Grill Skills’ video?
Yeah, that’s in our Volume 2 show. ‘Grill Skills.’
That is honestly one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever considered. Have you ever thought about how much money these companies have spent producing them and then have their employees sit through these things?
Yeah, that’s what’s so infuriating. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, these are billion-dollar companies and this is the best shit they can come up with. Unbelievable. It’s infuriating that they’re spending this money on this and barely paying their employees. It’s also just the textbook corporate indoctrination. You will think this way, you will do things this way. It’s so far from the reality of what it’s actually like to work there.
The Wendy’s video has the magical black rapping crew trainer that comes out and teaches him how to flip burgers. We recently came across another video that was put out by this anti-software piracy group in I guess the late ‘80s that was attempting with this video to warn teenagers of the dangers of illegally copying floppy discs. It’s unbelievable, because as you’re watching it, these two kids are talking about copying their copy of The Oregon Trail or whatever and this magical rapping black guy comes out of the computer screen and raps all about how you shouldn’t copy software illegally. And the rap song’s called ‘Don’t Copy That Floppy.’ I guess that was the solution of how to appeal to teenagers and young people at that time. It’s like, ‘Well, the kids like the rap music, let’s speak to them in their own language.’ For some reason, that Wendy’s video, as bizarre as it was, it wasn’t an isolated incident. This was an actual trend, I think. Frightening.