Eric Bresler, the man responsible for turning PhilaMOCA into one of my new favorite venues is about to debut his first feature length Video Pirates show on the world on November 9th.
Eric has been releasing some interesting and very Philly-centric videos under this moniker for the last year and it will be interesting to see what is he unearths for the show.
Some highlights from the press release include:
• A history of the Beanie Babies phenomenon
• Strange dog training videos
• An over-the-top faith-based exploration into the dangers of internet pornography
• A rare video history of Nasubi, an aspiring Japanese comedian who slowly went insane as he spent a year and a half being videotaped in a room and forced to live off of sweepstake prizes
Definitely an interesting mix that I am looking forward to. Make sure you read through the entire interview, because Eric finally spills some details about the much rumored film festival he has been alluding to on Cinedelphia. This festival will be taking over the vacant spot left by the now defunct Cinefest.
So what was the genesis behind the Video Pirates project? It seems to be a great throwback to the old tape trading days where if you had extra space left on a VHS tape you would fill it with random weirdness.
That’s a great way of putting it, I still have a ton of compilation tapes like you describe from all corners of the globe. I was an active tape trader going back to junior high school, now everyone trades DVDs or media files, same principle.
The first thing I ever did on the internet (via a Prodigy account) was head to the tape trading boards, which led to my introduction to things like the Santo films, the K. Gordon Murray fairy tales, weird television pilots and TV movies that I’d always wanted to see (things like that terrible Corman Fantastic Four movie, Star Wars Holiday Special, Legend of the Superheroes featuring Ghetto Man).
I guess I’ve always been attracted to the bizarre, I’ve definitely always felt the need to archive everything, which turned out to be a good thing since a large portion of my collection is from my pre-college days.
You had to have a pretty large collection of footage to cull from. Where did you gather it from and how long have you been collecting?
I started around 1992, 13 years old-ish, that was when I started making active trips to video stores far and wide in order to peruse their previously viewed sections. I wasn’t content to just rent a movie, I wanted to own physical copies of my favorite films.
I remember Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 were two that took me a long time to find, they were out of print forever. Crimewave was another. I was always on the lookout for Hanna-Barbera cartoons and 80s cartoons, I was watching one of the animated Madballs videos just the other day, weird show.
In high school I worked at a video store, Saturday Matinee, owned by the same company responsible for Coconuts and Music World (formerly Tape World). When I moved from upstate NY to Philadelphia in 1997 the first thing I did was head to those bootleg kung-fu/anime shops in Center City, there aren’t many left now.
After college I worked at the Art Museum area’s TLA Video for almost six years, my collection has just continuously grown over the years and has now expanded to include other defunct home video formats.
I have a laserdisc player, a few Betamax players, and a fully functioning Sony U-matic player complete with a video camera and lighting kit. It came with a box of U-matic tapes that range from job interviews for an upstate NY hardware store to an early 80s high school musical out of Detroit concerning the hardships of being an African American. I’ll definitely feature that stuff in a future show.
How exactly did you pick clips to feature and is there a narrative you have in mind when working on a project like this?
It varies. I approached Video Pirates: Horrors organically. I had a half dozen VHS gems that all dealt with dated societal problems so I pulled the best bits from those and used them as benchmarks for the greater piece. And then I add personal favorite clips and scour hundreds of tapes looking for clips that will serve as bridges between topics. The 10 minute Horrors featured clips from over 100 tapes.
And then there are tapes that deal with a single topic and work really well as a time capsule-type piece. At the feature-length show I’ll be debuting Video Pirates: Beanies, an exploration of the Beanie Baby phenomenon told through collector videos from the time. Samm Levine, Neal from Freaks and Geeks, hosts one of them.
And there are always tapes that are just so crazy on their own that they deserve to be presented on their own. At the show I’ll be showing highlights from one of my favorites, Every Young Man’s Battle, this Christian scare video from 2002 about the horrors of online pornography. It opens with the host relating the Battle of Gettysburg to the battle against internet porn. The whole thing is really just a ploy to sell more copies of the book of the same name, the worthwhile video tapes are usually cheap cash-ins on something.
Is it hard to pick content that hasn’t already made the rounds on YouTube? Does that play a part at all in your creative process?
Well, the only rule that I follow for this project is to not lift anything from YouTube or any other online video services though I’ve gotten out of the habit of checking to see what’s available online and what’s not. Even if I use something that’s somewhat common, like that Fangoria Weekend Of Horrors tape, odds are I’ve manipulated it enough or restructured it into its own thing so that it still seems fresh and funny.
Video Pirate Eric Bresler on a PBS show about recycling
How long did it take to put together this feature length effort, and with all your other projects how did you find the time?
So the feature length show will run from 90-120 minutes and it’s made up of a series of short subjects with breaks in between where I’ll elaborate upon the topics and tell anecdotes and stuff like that. I’ve been editing the new shorts since early summer and I’ll be showing clips from things that date back to when I was young, things that my high school friends and I still quote to this day.
I’m constantly working on something, it’s just the way I am. My schedule these days is actually rather orderly: I wake up at Noon and work on Cinedelphia.com until the afternoon, spend my evenings/nights at PhilaMOCA doing sound or upkeep or whatever, and then I relax by working on Video Pirates from midnight until 5 or 6 in the morning.
The only thing I’ve had to sacrifice this year is movies, last year I was averaging 4-7 movies in the theater a week, this year I’m lucky if I see two.
The shorts you have released so far under the Video Pirates banner have had a very distinct Philly flavor to them, do you think this is a reflection of our very colorful locally produced commercials we have had over the years?
Well, every city has its low-end production companies and business people who want to star in their own commercials. You may have seen those Krass Brothers commercials I uploaded, I can’t explain why but those really feel like they couldn’t have been made in any other city, at least to that degree of strangeness.
But yeah, I’m glad to hear that they have a Philly flavor, it shows how this city can seep into your subconscious and take over…now that I’m thinking about it, my videos would probably be a lot different if I’d spent my adult years in a city like New York or Chicago. Maybe we have a distinct sense of humor around these parts, I’ve never had a desire to leave Philly so that must say something.
And related to this topic, I lost one of my favorite local commercial productions so if anyone out there can help me track this down then I’d be ever so grateful: I forget the name of the shop, but it’s in NJ and they rent/repair arcade games and also have a party room.
I believe it was 30 minutes in length and I most remember that the host keeps appearing and disappearing like a ghost throughout various locations in the building and at one point they push an arcade game off of the roof and it shatters on the ground below. It was broadcast late night in the Collingswood area around 2004-2006. Any help will be rewarded!
What are your futures plans for the release? Will it be touring as all?
Next year I’ll be self-releasing a DVD, Video Pirates: Year One, a compilation that will include maybe half of the Video Pirates pieces from 2012, there are some things I wont include that require live narration and others, like the 50 minute Mael Brothers tribute Video Pirates: Sparks, that I have bigger plans for. I also, of course, want to encourage people to attend the live show so there will always be things that are only screened live. Only one of the new shorts from the upcoming live show will be uploaded to the internet post-show.
I’m aiming to have the first Video Pirates tour set up by next summer, it’s in the works.
And as for future live shows, here’s a Geekadelphia Exclusive for you: The next live full-length Video Pirates program will occur in April 2013 as part of the Cinedelphia Film Festival, April 4-13. It’s too early to release details, but I’ll say that the festival programming, including the Video Pirates show, is entirely Philly-themed, a celebration of our city’s film past, present, and future sans any screenings of Rocky or Shyamalan films or anything like that, we’ll be showcasing some really fun and esoteric stuff.
So if anyone has some Philly-related VHS tapes that they’d like to contribute then please e-mail me! I swear that 99% of my Philly-related tapes are sports-based, which grow tiresome after a while (unless they feature the Phillie Phanatic, and most of them do).