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Here’s part two of the interview with Nick from The Found Footage Festival! I think this one’s more interesting because Nick had some really great explanations about why comedy like FFF and Tim and Eric is so funny. There’s also more videos in this post, because that’s what the kids love. The kids love embedded video.
AHG: How does the legal side of this work? Do you have to get permission from the people in the videos before you show them?
No we don’t. It’s considered Fair Use and satire. We’re showing small snippets of much longer videos, talking over them, and putting them into the context of a comedy show. We don’t ever run into legal issues; in fact, whenever we meet the people in the videos, they’re flattered by it. They like the attention.

AHG: That’s interesting: do the people in the videos know they were doing something funny?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It’s like when you act up in class, you don’t care if it’s good attention or bad attention. You just want the attention. I think most people get it. It’s been 20 years, or longer, since they recorded their video and now people all over the country are celebrating it. It’s being resurrected. There’s gotta be something flattering about that. Certainly, it’s not mean-spirited–we have a genuine affection for the videos we find. I think people get that.

AHG: Do you guys ever find stuff on DVD?

Occasionally. We found an Elvis impersonator training video on DVD and a Toilet demonstration DVD showing how powerful a flushing device can be is in the new show. That’s proven to us that the format doesn’t matter. As long as someone has a bad idea and acess to video equipment, that will work. We have a nostolgic appreciation for VHS because its the format we grew up with–and it’s such a dead format so we find it a lot at thrift stores.

AHG: You mentioned satire a minute ago, what exactly are you satirizing?

I think the show satirizes the video obsessed culture from the 80s and 90s (and this hasn’t abated, it’s only gotten worse with web-cams) It was a time where anybody with an incling of an idea could get a video green-lit–it was like a gold rush. People wouldn’t even think things out fully before hitting the record button. It’s sort of a gentle look back at that time and getting to laugh at it.

AHG: Do you guys think you’re doing something similar to Tim and Eric or TV Carnage?

Yeah. I think it’s cool that people are embracing this aesthetic, or formula. We’re friends with Tim and Eric, and Derek (who does TV Carnage) We’re all colleagues, and we draw from similar material, but all three of us have a different take on it. There’s a lot of found videos out there, and I think there’s room for everybody.

AHG: What do you mean by “aesthetic?” What do you call this aesthetic? How do you define it?

I don’t know if there’s a name for it. Maybe the VHS aesthetic? Certainly Tim and Eric are recreating that in a lot of their shorts–the intentional bad tracking and poor green screen work. Derek (with the moniker TV Carnage) he cuts together feature length movie that require no attention span at all–it’s creative editing that finds themes and ideas in TV culture. We take people on a guided tour of found videos–the videos are so weird, you might need someone to ground them. That’s where we come in.

AHG: Why do you think there are so many weird religious videos?

It’s weird, but the most common types of videos we find are excercise videos, religious videos, and kids videos. I think education and religion are always looking for new ways to influence and teach. With video it’s like, ‘Hey, if we make this religious puppet video for kids it will be a fun video they can watch at home. They won’t have to go into a stuffy church to learn.’ It’s a new avenue they could use for influencing people–that’s maybe one reason. Another is, it’s cheap to do, churches have money, so it’s ‘Hey, let’s explore that.’

AHG: Why do so many people continue to practice ventriloquism?

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/hLEMgf_NIgA%2Em4v%5DThat was the strangest find. I was in Atlantic City, NJ. All those videos in that montage were found on the top shelf in the same Goodwill. It sort of begs the question, was there an Atlantic City teenager with dreams of being a famous ventriloquist who tried to learn from videos and then just gave it up? Who knows how they all ended up there. It’s one of those goofy hobbies, and it seems that no esoteric hobby was too obscure to not warrant its own how-to video.AHG: Is there any video so strange it’s beyond explanation?

There’s one in the new show that I’m still at a loss to explain. We found it in chicago last year. It’s called “Rent a Frined.” I guess the idea behind was if you were lonely, you could put this tape in the VCR and the guy on screen would be your virtual friend. It starts off with him asking questions like, “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” and you’re supposed to answer along with your TV screen–which requires a huge suspension of disbelief. If you can make that leap, he starts talking about himself and tells where he’s from etc. etc. But then, he runs out of things to talk about and kind of goes off the rails and revealing far to much about himself. You start to wonder if you want this guy as a friend, virtually or otherwise. He talks about how he regerts never approaching this girl he liked in high school and he pages through his high school yearbook. You’re doing this for strangers, man! At one point he says, “Nancy, if you’re watching this now, how are you doing? Look me up!” It’s just sad, it’s really sad. It’s one of those concept videos from the 80’s and this one clearly did not take off.

It’s sad, it’s strange, it’s funny. The good news is we tracked down this guy two weeks ago, and we’re going to meet him in Chicago. We have so many questions. Mostly, “What the hell were you thinking.”

AHG: What do you think makes these tapes funny? Is it failure? Is it a complicated irony?

**Laughs** There’s maybe a schadenfreude there, watching other people fail is always funny. For us, the videos have to be unintentionally funny. Maybe you feel subversive when you’re watching something that’s supposed to work on one level and we’re appreciating it on a different level–especially when you can do that in a big group in a theater.

I think it’s a combination of things: the nostalgia; being able to laugh at our past; maybe even a catharsis for some people. These are videos that ring pretty close to home. Sometimes they’re exercise videos your mom would work out to every day after school, or a training video you had to watch at your crummy first job that you couldn’t make fun of at the time, but now you can in a theater setting. It’s the catharsis of being able to laugh at something you couldn’t in another context.

AHG: One last question, Nick: where do you get your shirts?

Well, we spend a lot of time in thrift stores, so these are all thrift store finds. But that’s a very good question–I’m glad somebody noticed.

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I had a chance to talk to Nick from The Found Footage Festival. FFF is two guys who collect and exhibit really strange videos that probably should have never been made in the first place. Instead of describing them, watch this one, then read my interview!
AHG: How do you describe the show to someone who’s never seen it? The live show is like a guided tour through our video collection. Joe and I come out and introduce the videos. We explain where we found them, and give the back story of what we’re going to show–then, we come out

We’d collect the videos and entertain friends by showing off the newest ones in the collection. We would search thrift stores and garage sales to find tapes then see if there were funny parts on them. We’d que them up for friends, in the living room, and it was just something we’d do. We’d crack jokes over the videos, give quizzes over what they had seen. That’s sort of the origins of the show until we decided, ‘Maybe if we cut it together into a show where we don’t have to fast forward anything, then put it on a DVD that might be the best way to do it.” We tried it live, not expecting much but people seemed to really like it.

We’ve been collecting tapes for 20 years, but we first took our show out of the living room and put it in a theater in April, 2004–we’re coming up on 7 years.

AHG: How did you guys get into comedy in the first place?

Joe and I met in 6th grade and we immediatley bonded over our mutual love of things that are “So Bad, They Were Good”–That’s always been our sense of humor. In high school, we started up a humor magazine. Right out of high school we wrote for the Onion, we were contriubting writers. We’ve always done stuff with comedy–short films, I later worked at the Letterman show, etc. We always gravitated toward comedy. I think, because of that, that’s our take on using this raw material we collected as hobbyist. It’s kind of a comedy show–we call it a festival just for the alliteration–using videos as raw material.

AHG: Do you call yourselves comedians? Is that what you file on your taxes?

We hate the word comedians because then there’s the expectation that you have to be funny. Really, the videos are the funny part. We’re the “straight guys” to the videos which are the funny part. We prefer curator or host.

AHG: Where do you keep the videos? I assume they’d take up a lot of space.

Yeah, they do. The VHS tapes are really cumbersome, so we have two different storage lockers in Queens NY, stacked floor to ceiling. Plus, my apartment and Joe’s house are just full of them.

AHG: That’s a lot of videos! How many bad ones do you have to watch until you find a funny one?

90% of what we find is unusable. It’s bad, but not bad in the right way. We might go through two dozen tapes before we find something that’s usable. Sometimes, you could watch 100 tapes and there won’t be anything on them. You have to stay the course and hope there’s something around the corner worth showing.

AHG: Do you guys ever get Fan Submissions? Do a lot of people send you weird stuff?

Yeah! We love it because occasionally we’ll get a package in the mail–maybe once a week–that will be a couple of video tapes people have found and they always include a handwritten note about where they found the tape and the story behind it. That’s the fun part for us, as much as what’s on the videos, is how they were found. People will actually bring stuff too the shows too–we always end up checking extra boxes of tapes home with us. Part of the reason we tour is to collect more videos for next year’s show. So, this will be our first time in Champaign, and we hope people who’ve been scouring through thrift stores will bring stuff to the show.

AHG: Do you ever get videos off the internet?

No, we don’t take any videos off the internet. That just seems like cheating. We’re stubbornly old school and come from a tradition that collects physical tapes. You had to physically find them and dig through a bunch of bargain bins to find material. If you put in the elbow grease to do it, you’ll have a better appreciation of what you’ll find. If you’re just typing things into a search engine it just doesn’t have the same appeal. The internet is off-limits.

AHG: Can you tell me one of your strangest video finds?

One time, Joe was at an estate sale in Queens and he found a VHS camcorder for sale for $5. He picked it up thinking we could shoot a bit for a show actually on VHS. He took it home, plugged it in, and it turns out there was a tape still inside it–the guy’s home movie. He must have forgotten to hit eject before selling it–or before dying maybe–but it’s one of the weirdest things we’ve ever found.

It starts off with an overweight teenager wearing a fancy dress and dancing to The Phantom of the Opera. Then, it cuts to the old man–presumably the one who died–also wearing the dress dancing to Phantom of the Opera looking eerily, directly into the camera. That was weird enough, but then it cuts to the same old man behind the camera video taping a construction crew demolishing a house across the street from him. The construction foreman asks, “What are you doing filming this?” and the old man says, “I have every right to film it!” Then, they get into a New York style screaming match about whether he has the right to shoot it or not. Abruptly, the tape just ends–and that must be where he just left off.

More in a minute!