Bret Berg on Off-Roading with the Museum of Home Video

Bret Berg hasn’t had much time to pick up the bass guitar lately, having become so gifted at all-consuming experiences for an audience as a film programmer and archivist that his work has become one for him, preventing him from playing in bands as he had up until a few years ago. However, when moviegoing has traditionally been seen as a passive experience, Berg’s more musical instincts have allowed him to shake things up on screen, allowing an audience to connect with movies differently with such inspired ideas as The Five Minutes Game where a crowd will be given a choice of what film to they want to see based on watching the first five minutes of a handful of obscure titles and Fasterpiece Theater where a bunch of movies from a similar genre or with a specific actor are cut together into one that spares viewers of the boring bits.

“Doing live shows is one of the things in life I enjoy the most,” Berg told me recently. “And because I played bass guitar for so long, there is a rhythm to what I’m doing. This is going to sound pretentious, but I like to treat Adobe Premiere and this laptop like a trumpet and press all the buttons, and have this musical-type edit [come] out the other side.”

He adds, “My big problem in life is I don’t say no. I just keep saying yes to shit when it rolls around.”

Berg may be the only one complaining about this when he’s created such a steady stream of exciting events, though it’s led to months like this April that are as action-packed as one of his supercuts. Audiences globally can catch up any time with what he is working on any given Tuesday night when there’s a new drop on Museum of Home Video, the streaming platform he launched with Jenny Nixon a few months into the pandemic. Six months into its run, Berg created a megamix of food buffet scenes from movies and TV commercials that was as good an indication of otherwise indescribable delights he so satisfyingly curates, where one can enjoy an entire season of “In Living Color” condensed to its bare essentials one week – like this one – or the next, a compendium of every celebrity impression of Christopher Walken, throwing in rare docs such as “Fast Food Women” and shorts such as “Invasion of the Aluminum People” into the mix, yielding the kind of high you’d get from channel surfing upon settling into the right place, except all the work’s been done for you. (Full episodes of the live broadcast have been backlogged on the Museum’s Patreon account.)

However, that hasn’t meant the Museum of Home Video operates at a remove, embracing the ephemeral qualities of the virtual experience where a group chat is always going, and without the burden of booking a theater, there can be an immediacy in the programming when Berg is attuned to the cultural current, turning around tributes to beloved artists not long after they’ve passed or slyly reacting to news with seeming relics of the past with renewed import. Yet given how natural a home the Museum of Home Video has found online, it’s surprising to learn that wasn’t where Berg intended it to be seen, with the pandemic delaying plans to start a screening series in his hometown of Los Angeles.

Now after building a community virtually, Berg can think even bigger geographically as the Museum of Home Video starts to create a physical footprint, first making a splash at the Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans this past weekend with a live edition of “Fasterpiece Theater” where even among all the unusual sights at the genre fest, there were horrors that one could only see there after slicing and dicing an array of obscurities into one cohesive screamfest. Berg will then return to L.A. for the Museum’s first headlining gig on April 12th at Los Angeles’ Whammy, the 40-seat altar to all things analog where a collection of Sparks concert footage and music videos will have some material directly sourced from the Mael brothers. And while it’s not under the Museum of Home Video banner, Berg’s handiwork can also be enjoyed at USC during a two-week celebration of the American Genre Film Archive, where he’s been the theatrical sales director for the past seven years, helping to canonize transgressive cinematic gems such as Jon Moritsugu’s “Terminal USA” and Sarah Jacobson’s “Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore” and allowing Joe Dante’s five-hour “The Movie Orgy,” a cinephile’s dream and rights holders’ nightmare, to travel.

Although editing can be lonely work, Berg has long found it an opportunity to connect people as much as scenes, and I first interacted with him when he was the director of programming for Cinefamily well before the L.A. arthouse became a disgrace, helping the theater become a magnet for talented programmers when his own adventurous tastes were on full display, only for all of them to be exploited by its executive director and the toxic workplace he cultivated. If that theater’s early reputation as a liberated creative collective proved to ultimately be an illusion, Berg has made good on its promise on his own terms, creating a space where oddities and outliers are celebrated and guests from various artistic realms and cities are obliged to bring everything from their bat mitzvah videos to professionally-mined troves of Ernie Kovacs sketches to the party.

As Berg starts to bring that energy from indoors out into the world with more live events, he graciously took the time out of a busy schedule to talk about the evolution of the Museum of Home Video, his partners-in-crime IVOR and Jenny Nixon who have become integral parts of the channel and beloved presences on spin-offs Musicvideodrome and Playtime, respectively, and the desire to inspire others to recontextualize what they watch.

Is Overlook the first time you’re doing Fasterpiece Theater as a live show?

Actually, a couple of years before Museum of Home Video existed, I was thinking of different kinds of live shows that I could do in L.A. and I came up with the name “Fasterpiece Theater,” but only really used it as a concept for Museum of Home Video when we started the live streaming, so the show at Overlook is the first time where I’m going to do this as a show. I’ll probably do it a lot more because not only do I have so many banks [of edits] that I’ve already done, but it’s just fun and the idea is an easy one to understand what it is and Museum of Home Video is more complicated. It’s hard to explain what it is.

Has it been interesting to return to the physical space after seeing what works in the virtual space?

Yeah, it’s been a long journey for me. Originally, Museum of Home Video was supposed to be a live show. Originally, it was going to be at Zebulon [in Los Angeles] every Saturday at 4 p.m. I had it all planned out. They had already agreed to it. And I was going to start it in June of 2020. So coming back to doing live shows took a minute, and I had been waiting the entire time to unleash it. We had announced one in 2021, which we rescinded a couple of weeks before the event because that’s when one of the surges was happening. And then the first [live show] was at Vidiots last summer [“Ring, Ring: A Doorbell Cam Fantasia”], so it’s just been a long time coming and now that the flood gates are open, like I said, I can’t say no.

Was it a fork in the road moment when it was safe to come back to live events, but you had established this great ongoing platform online?

I wish I could do this seven days a week. I think the pattern of me going out for a live show in one city, and then trying to figure out a couple of other tour spots surrounding that, doing it a week at a time is probably about as much as I can do right now with my day job. It’s actually similar to Joe Bob Briggs because he started doing more movie hosting at least the last year or two and I’ve noticed that he’ll do a week and then won’t do anything for a few months and then he’ll do a week, so that seems like a good new model instead of having to be on tour for two months. I’ll just do a week here. That seems to suit me a little better attention-span wise.

And my day job involves working with movie theaters, e-mailing people who are the programmers all day, so when it came time for me to start doing IRL shows, I immediately had the network of people who I needed to reach out to. I could go the Everything is Terrible route and do [shows] at music venues, but I figured I’d start with people I knew and the Overlook crew I had known from going to film festivals. I was also on a weekly trivia team with some of the Overlook folks during the lockdown and when it came time for them to resume their live events, they asked me if I wanted to do something and I just didn’t have the energy to think about anything but the weekly show [last year], but when they asked me a second time, I was like, “Yes, I’m fucking coming,” and it’s nice to [think], “Oh, this might be a tradition every April.”

Everybody that I’m dealing with at the venue and festival level are all just movie heads like I am, and that initial spark of friendship between someone is really the reason why they trust me to do a good show. I’m looking forward to touring a lot more because I used to be in bands and I loved touring and I’m just very grateful for Jenny and Ivor because they make great bandmates.

How did you find your partners for this?

Jenny was originally going to produce the live shows at Zebulon and she’s just the right kind of voice to be another smart person in the room, having an opinion on what we should be doing and the tone and the frequency. I first met her when she worked at Cinefamily for a year and change as our office manager, and then post-Cinefamily, I had done a lecture series [Voyager Institute] mostly at Resident in the Arts District, which was a lecture series instead of Museum of Home Video was because I couldn’t find a venue in town that had good enough AV. I was winding that down after doing 10 or 12 live shows of that because it was so much work and I felt the grind of it, and [Jenny] came to me and said, “I saw that you’ve been doing those shows. Do you need any help?” And I said, “Yes,’m winding that down, but I’m starting this other thing,” and she was down.

We met at her house very frequently, going over what the first edits would be for the first few shows and I remember an early piece that we did was the Elvira one, and that was really fun to makeand it was a really engaging, constructive, fun partnership. Then when the lockdown happened, neither her nor I had the immediate idea to pivot to doing it online. It took us a few months, but we were very gung-ho about the idea once we figured out that it was doable, so this would not have happened without her.

When did IVOR come into the mix?

I’ve known him for more than 20 years because he and I were both DJs on KXLU here in L.A., so he and I had been friends for forever, but I didn’t initially think about him in the scope of Museum of Home Video. At the time that [Jenny and I] were starting online, he was also trying to think of something that he could do and was initially [considering] a cooking TikTok-type thing. Then in the early [part of] lockdown, he did a couple test runs of a music video [show], but on YouTube as a playlist and YouTube is not a good medium for people who want to do found footage, and he was down on himself [thinking], “I don’t know how to get anybody to pay attention to the thing I’m trying to do on YouTube,” so I said, “Well, fuck it, just do something on my thing.”

That really was it. I had an innate sense that he could handle it because I’d watched him handle his own weekly radio show for 20 years, so I knew he could make do a music video show [and he told me] “I’m doing a lot of things on my own show, but I didn’t have enough time to concentrate on music videos I liked,” so I said, “Just do that.” I didn’t really have any other direction for him outside of just do it and he immediately took it in directions that I was not expecting, and I was thrilled to see him improve on the initial idea that I just blurted out. So it’s been really great to have him as a band member because he and I were in bands, but never in the same band and he and I have been through a whole lot of life, but even before Museum of Music Video came around.

There’s guests on the show, but is all the material still pulled from your own personal collection or are other people contributing at this point?

It’s from a variety of different sources. People are contributing new edits, which I love. I had hoped that would happen and people see enough of episodes of the show and pick up on the rhythm and be able to cut in their own voice, but in the [same] style. We just aired one two weeks ago [where] the finale of the episode was [something] somebody had cut a 15-minute Doublefaded that had three different songs in it, so that was really exciting. We had that piece last month called “Hello Nashville,” which was someone who was from Nashville originally just doing a whole local commercials and like local news bumpers that was really fun. Dave Cowen, a longtime viewer who is in Austin, has cut several Fasterpiece Theater segments for the show over the few years now. So it’s happening slowly, and it all still comes from either my downloading habits from torrent sites or YouTube or But my collection is the Museum of Home Video. I realized some years ago that because I’d been collecting so much, I figured people would take it seriously if I named it and I think that happened.

It really has become an institution. Have there been favorite programs you’ve put together?

If I were to single out some, I would say that the Sparks mix that I’m showing at Whammy is actually one that I’ve had always thought about doing way before Museum of Home Video, I was a big Sparks fan and at Cinefile Video where I once worked before I knew how to torrent things, here was actual literal tape trading where you had to have a tape to hand somebody and this guy who used to come into the store was an obsessive tape collector. He would go to all the record collector conventions and sell bootleg Led Zeppelin concert tapes and he threw so many awesome tapes our way, compilations of stuff. One that was super influential to me was this Krautrock ’70s German TV tape compilation that I saw in 2002 and it still blows my mind and informs stuff way, way later. He had a Sparks mix that he’d made, and it was always my favorite thing to put on in the store, so getting to soup up that presentation and do my version of it was really exciting.

I love cutting the movies down because most movies are boring. They’re way more interesting at 10 or 12 minutes than they are at 90 and I love it when I do anything related to commercials because my brain is infested with memories of broadcast TV and ironically what I hated the most back then is now the thing that I love the most. The “Ring Ring” piece [comprised of doorcam footage] was also a really nice way for me to tap into something that’s happening currently and have a political viewpoint about it, but it’s still a wild ass Museum of Home Video thing. I also have a huge affinity for all the game show pieces I do because reruns of game shows on the USA Network was all I was watching growing up, coming home after school every day. The “Garbage Plate” mixes made up of truly random finds that I do are always a ton of fun because I feel like I’m editing in somebody else’s style — a big influence on me was TV Carnage and his entire style is nothing but garbage plate, and any time I do one of those, I love springing that on people.

I love when it’s like, “Here’s an hour just of post-punk performances from British TV” because that was all I was listening to growing up and I would have traveled the Sahara in order to see that footage and now I’m just drowning in it. And I’m not going to claim that I invented a new form with Doublefaded, but I don’t see too many other people doing a strange chopped and screwed thing of a song and setting it to visuals that purposefully create this dissonant, weird poke-the-brain effect. I hope to do “Doublefaded: The Movie” one day where it’s just the best of those in a tightly edited 90 minutes I get to show that at festivals.

When you mention the “Ring Ring” program, which you did eventually show theatrically, it does seem like with streaming you’re able to respond more quickly to things should you want. I know if a celebrity’s passed, you’re able to throw up something relatively quickly. Has that been exciting to respond in real time?

It makes me feel like I’m not just an old fuddy-duddy when I can like respond to news events in real time, specifically, going back to 2020 and being able to take things that were happening in November or December of that fucking terrifying hell hole that was and dissecting them within days of them happening and being able to put them on air made me feel like, “Oh, I’m not just showing old TV. I’m actually reacting to something that matters to me and it matters that people get to see how much buffoonery went on. None of it should have been taken seriously, but sadly it was. And when someone passes away, typically I don’t have enough energy to get something on the show the next week, but I will try my best in a few weeks to get something substantial on the person if I can.

Just this past Saturday, Jenny did one of her episodes of Afternoon Delight, where she picks a feature film for the audience on a Saturday on the channel [with] “Carrie” and I was watching it in real time with everybody and it immediately made me give up my entire evening to make a DePalma megamix that I’ll air at some point soon. I got super into it and made two — one on DePalma’s split screens and then another with long takes, which brings me back to the Cinefamily time [where] out of frustration when we were making our own trailers [for screenings]. We had so many things to make trailers for that it would be like a week-and-a-half before a show and I’d see we’d only sold like 15 advance tickets for something that should rightly sell out, so I’d be like, “Fuck, we have to promote this somehow,” and at four o’clock in the afternoon, I’d realize, I have to make a trailer for tonight’s show. So I would drop what I was doing and I would immediately make the trailer. I’d be just like Joan Cusack in “Broadcast News,” racing through the newsroom, ducking underneath file cabinet drawers being pulled out so I can make it to the control room on time to get it on air. I hate doing it, but I love the feeling that I can pull it off. So any time I can see DePalma and then go, “I wanna make a DePalma thing” and then download all his movies immediately and then make the thing, it makes me feel in control of my ability, which is nice. We don’t often get a chance to be in control of anything in our lives, so it’s just nice to be able to control something.

Which, as I understand it, couldn’t have been less true for you at Cinefamily…

And yes, for the record, this is all to spite my ex-boss. A healthy spite against that person made me want to just keep my foot on the pedal and just keep making interesting things. There’s plenty of people who are also ex-Cinefamily that are doing good things in L.A. — Alex McDonald is now a programmer at the the Philosophical Research Society. Zena [Grey], who used to do Lost and Found Film Club, did a few shows in a row at 2220 Arts and Archives recently [for a series called Lightstruck with Mark Toscano]. Tom [Fitzgerald] and Marcus [Herring] do their own found footage thing called EXP TV, and they do shows at the PRS. Alex Nicolaou, who cut some of our best trailers and was around for a year or two, is in the band Drab Majesty and just did a live score to the Unarius film “The Arrival” so hopefully he’ll be presenting that in L.A. at some point. K.J. [Relth-Miller] is at the Academy Museum. Will Morris went out to Chicago and programs at the Music Box, so a lot of really great people have done great things post-Cinefamily, and I don’t know if they’re doing it despite Hadrian, but I’m sure they are. It was really leaving Cinefamily and understanding that I could do events on my own, and [realizing] the only limit to it was the amount of time I could put into it.

There’s no one saying no to me, so that’s why I keep doing this stuff. And if I had waited for someone’s permission, that’s how all kinds of great ideas wither and don’t happen. Especially during the lockdown when my day job was slower, I just filled my days doing a whole lot of video editing because it was my art therapy and I’m so grateful that people get anything out of it, much less watch it from week to week. And I’m looking forward to doing more IRL shows because I think that it’s a nice personal connection to people who like my stuff. I just want to keep talking to people who love editing and found footage and the whole world of it.

I hope that I could be a gateway to people loving Everything is Terrible if they’ve never seen that, or any of the other people that I mentioned, or any of the people who did it before me, like TV Carnage, TV Sheriff, Animal Charm or Craig Baldwin or all the new other people doing found footage stuff like Liz Purchell, my co-worker at AGFA who made an incredible movie a few years ago called “Ask Any Buddy,” which is [comprised entirely from] gay porn from the ’70s, but she had fashioned a meta-narrative about a fantasy gay realm in the ’70s that didn’t exist. We’re doing more found footage features at AGFA. We’re about to release one that I co-edited with my creative director Joe [Ziemba] that’s all intermission time and drive-in snipes, but we made it pretty psychedelic, so there’s just a lot going on in the found footage world, and I hope that I can stir people’s interest to not only participate in it audience-wise, but maybe start cutting things themselves.

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