In the break room in a McDonald's in 1991, Nick Prueher met his destiny.
That's where he spotted a video used to train janitors at the fast-food franchise. Bored, he watched it. And his mind was blown.
The video's crimes against cinema are too numerous to list, but they include wildly condescending dialog delivered by actors with faces twitching back and forth between comedy and tragedy, an epically corny soundtrack, and possibly the worst inner monologue of all time.
"It was the most insulting, over-the-top thing I'd ever encountered," Prueher said.
He swiped the video, feeling "it had to be seen." Upon viewing it, his friend Joe Pickett felt the same way. The duo's small Wisconsin town was somewhat short on entertainment, so they organized screenings of the video at parties for fun. Eventually those screenings attracted something of a cult following, featuring a running narrative from Prueher and Pickett to accompany the training video, as well as a series of other equally bizarre VHS tapes they began collecting.
Between garage sales, thrift stores and Pickett pocketing footage on the sly at his day job duplicating home movies, by 2004, the two had enough to put the show into theaters as The Found Footage Festival, which will make its way to Boise Friday, Nov. 30, at Red Room.
"It's a live-guided tour through our video collection," said Prueher.
That collection includes everything from bizarre self-improvement seminars to workout videos to home movies--all videos that never were intended to be shown in public. One incredibly strange one offers graphic advice on how to use hypnosis to seduce women. Another provides an overly detailed explanation of the shipping policies for a series of heavy metal guitar videos. And then there is the home video of Partridge Family actor Danny Bonaduce grimacing his way through a nunchaku kata, apparently the paper bag he can't act his way out of.
"The main thing we're looking for is that it has to be unintentionally funny," said Prueher.
According to Prueher, the strangest of the bunch is an old VHS tape that was scavenged from a government office in Canada and given to Prueher and Pickett at an appearance. When they put the tape in, they were treated to an ultra-low-budget masturbation training video for developmentally disabled adults called Handmade Love, the full details of which aren't suitable for print.
"It's a noble cause, what they're trying to do," said Prueher. "No one wants to train anyone how to do that in person. But they just didn't have a budget for it, so it looks creepy. They didn't even have a tripod or any audio equipment."
In Prueher's opinion, that comedy-breathing low production value was an inherent product of the VHS era--something that has been lost over time.
"People were naive enough, not savvy enough to get it," he said. "And since video in your home was a new thing, people were experimenting with all sorts of things like VHS board games and fake fireplaces, stuff you just don't see anymore."
As Prueher and Pickett make their way around the country showing these gems, they also cruise local thrift stores and sales to find more videos.
"Garage sales are hit-and-miss," said Prueher. "Home movies end up at garage sales a lot. But a lot of times, you're negotiating a price with some burgeoning racist in the South."
Prueher says the consistently best bet for weird VHS tapes is the Salvation Army. Goodwill is too diligent about screening its videos, but Salvation Army will often put anything on the shelves, no matter how dubious it looks. If something looks creepy enough, Prueher and Pickett snatch it up. After years doing the festival, the pair now has a collection of more than 5,000 tapes.
"What we find is pretty lopsided in favor of old exercise videos," he said. "The other thing that's the most common are children's videos. Most of them are religious."
The duo is also glad to take any old VHS tapes you think they might be interested in off your hands, if you bring them to the show.
And though some might be wondering what the point of a showcase like The Found Footage Festival is in the era of YouTube--when so much of that content, or that style of content, is available online--the volume of exercise videos makes it perfectly clear: curation is key.
But wait! There's more to this special TV offer.
"We take it a step further than YouTube, because we're kind of obsessed with the people in these videos," said Prueher.
They track down people in the videos and do follow-up interviews with them for the show. Once, the pair even went as far as hiring a private investigator to find someone.
Prueher has also found that online viral videos have made explaining The Found Footage Festival easier.
"Before, it was really hard to explain to people why you would want to watch bad videos," he said. "But now, in the age of YouTube, it's easier for people to wrap their heads around it."
Though he can't say for sure, Prueher doesn't see online video cutting into his turf.
"I don't know what the future holds," he said, "but as long as there's people out there with bad ideas and video equipment, we'll continue to be in business."