The Found Footage Festival comes to Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Nick Prueher's fascination with found footage started in the early 1990s when he was a freshman in high school. He was working at a McDonald's when he came across a training video called "Inside and Outside Custodial Duties."

"Out of boredom, I just popped it in one day and could not believe how ridiculous it was," Prueher says.

The video featured upbeat music, an excited trainee and basic instruction on custodial work, a job referred to as "McC."

"What's a McC?" the trainee asks at one point.

"I'm sorry, that's McDonald's language," the instructor says. "It's your job to make sure that this McDonald's restaurant is the cleanest place in town."

"Wow," the trainee responds.

"I just tried to envision a McDonald's custodian's first day on the job," Prueher says. "It's already fairly demeaning and then he has to sit through this insulting video."

From the McDonald's tape, collecting lost footage became something of an obsession. Prueher and his friend Joe Pickett combed through thrift stores and garage sales in search of rare videos. Meanwhile Pickett went straight to the source, getting a job at a video duplication facility. Then a few years ago, Pruher says, the two were looking to raise money for a comedy project when a friend gave them an idea.

"I think somebody suggested we're kind of sitting on this gold mine of footage and it might be entertaining to people outside our circle of friends," he says. "We weren't really convinced but we thought we'd try to rent out a theater in Manhattan and we did. And for whatever reason it sold out and really struck a chord with people."

In 2004, Prueher and Pickett created The Found Footage Festival. The comedians have their own Web site and they tour cities throughout the U.S. Last year, they performed 100 shows in about nine months.

Their act will hold the world premiere of its newest installment tomorrow night in Providence.

Their show features highlights from their vast collection of found videos, including exercise tapes from celebrities and novices, cautionary videos from insurance companies, and how-to productions.

The founders of the Found Footage Fest say it takes a certain type of video to make it into their collection. They look for a production that was supposed to be serious and earnest. Joe Pickett says whatever the video was trying to accomplish, it must fail at it completely.

"It has to be bad in just that right way," Pickett says. "It has to be unintentionally hilarious."

The creators say, unlike Youtube, their show is curated and hosted, and it offers the opportunity to enjoy found videos collectively.

"Some of the videos, I think it's kind of cathartic to watch in a group," Pickett says. "Normally, in a training video, you're sitting by yourself in a break room. It's usually pretty depressing but now you get to laugh at it out loud with everybody else."

And even though Pickett and Prueher have an extensive collection of found footage, they're always looking for more. They plan to search thrift stores when they're in Providence and they're asking audience members to bring tapes to the show. Like any longtime collectors, the duo can always make room for one more gem.

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