Found vs. Found
The scene: The Orpheum Theater in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s April 2011, and two factions of men with similar interests and success levels working in the American cultural media landscape via radio, TV, movies, and print meet for the first time. It was fate that both parties happened to have films premiering there at the same time.
They had FOUND each other.
Here’s the weirdest part. When Davy Rothbart, founder of FOUND magazine and Nick Prueher, co-founder of the Found Footage Festival meet – everyone has a kind of “Parent Trap” moment. Both guys look similar, have the same prurient interests, so they make a quick bond and the new idea is born.
Soon, this idea would turn into a blood fest and civil war.
Not really, but it sure makes for good show. After touring separately most months of the year cross-country for nearly a decade, Rothbart and Prueher have joined forces for a November special tour which zig-zags major cities like Toronto, Chicago, and Milwaukee.
The Found Vs. Found show coming to the Oriental Theater on Tuesday, Nov. 16, is an entertaining competitive battle where one camp (Prueher and co-hort Joe Pickett) show prime videos discovered in bins from Goodwill or handed to them by fans. It may be a bizarre self-help video or Hulk Hogan rocking out on a guitar with green-screened fireworks behind him. The other camp (made up of Davy Rothbart and his brother Peter on guitar), will read a break-up letter aloud that was found on the sidewalk or a cassette tape with homemade booty rap songs all over it. Each camp gets three 12-minute rounds, and are graded on a ten point curve by three judges picked from the audience who hold up cards at the end of a round.
Each camp is trying to outdo the other both with humorous example and with poignancy. Both sides feel an actual affection for their subjects, and try to put forth a fair portrait. Both leaders have previously displayed (through their documentaries) an understanding that people are people (Dirty Country), that relationships can be messy (My Heart is an Idiot), and that putting yourself out there can have unintended results.
We talked to Rothbart and Prueher separately by phone, where their vans were trucking past Preuher’s hometown of Stoughton, Wisconsin on the way to Eau Claire. Along the way, we learn how the first few stops have gone, if any gameplan changes will take place, and what its like having to compete with the Internet for attention.
TCD: What have you found about these two groups as you go around on this tour?
Rothbart: I find it really interesting that people who have heard of FOUND Magazine haven’t heard of Found Footage Festival and people who love Found Footage Festival didn’t know about FOUND. And so we got some audiences that were used to something but were now experiencing something else.
TCD: That’s the thing, though, isn’t it? Here’s these two things with Found in the title. But the materials that Found Footage finds and the material that Found Magazine finds feel like differing lost items. The first one was meant to go out into the world and be seen, while the other was meant to be seen only by a certain someone or just to yourself and yet they produce a salient concept to the world.
Prueher: Yeah, in a way they are different but at the same time both find unintended audiences. But they’ve been curated by us in such a way that they aren’t random. They say something. Whether it was a letter in which the other person didn’t get it, or watching a training video in an art house movie theater, they’re finding a specific audience. So really, it’s a similar idea with differences to be made…actually I like the differences, it creates some competition in this case. Davy reads a note while his brother backs him up on guitar just for the note, and it’s heartbreaking. Then we come out with our jokes and comedy and it creates this balance.
Rothbart: I like to mix it up a bit, actually. You see what works, what doesn’t. In these Wisconsin stops I have some finds from Wisconsin.
Prueher: We changed the format already a little bit. We made some changes after the first stops, and we’re working on a few surprises. I mean, it’s kind of a competition still.
TCD: Well, yeah in that way you go to the big science fair and you wish your classmates well but really you want your volcano to work on cue and win.
Prueher: Exactly. We’re 4 and 3 right now, we pulled off a come-from-behind win last night.
TCD: In the beginning, I imagine you would just go to the thrift store and find some videotape or pick up scraps of paper and have people send stuff in. But with prevalence of the Internet, where everybody has a scanner and a blog or everybody is making their own video for YouTube – there had to have been a change in spirit over the past ten years in what you do.
Rothbart: Well, of course. Nowadays, the same thing might be found in an email that gets passed around or from a photo taken with somebody’s phone. So on the one hand you just embrace it. Right now we’re working on an iPhone App to encourage people to directly upload what they find to [Found Magazine]. It’s kind of a repository that can also filter through types and use GPS to give the location.
Prueher: Yeah, we used to hit these particular places down in Chicago, and we had a much better batting average back then. You just don’t know what you’re going to get. But just a little while ago, we got an entire Huggies box full of tapes that someone sent in for us to look through….we’re hitting a time in which a lot of places are just dumping their VHS tapes so you have to hit the dumpsters at just the right time. We get stuff from all over now, even from Canada….but yeah, we tend to just put some of our stuff online and then save some good stuff for when we go on tour. I watch YouTube videos, I think they’re great, but there is just something about watching something together in a room with 300 other people projected on a big screen.
When not traversing the country, Davy Rothbart can be heard on This American Life and read in publications like GQ and of course Found Magazine. When not rummaging through bins for footage gold, Nick Prueher produces movies, directs TV shows, and writes for movies — like the forthcoming short titled Glue Man. You can get tickets for Found vs. Found at the Oriental Box Office by calling 414-276-8711 or online right here.