Ever wonder what happened to that tech-savvy kid who used to fix the slide projector back in elementary school? Actually, we have no idea. But we imagine he’d be jealous of A/V Geeks founder Skip Elsheimer, the proud owner and curator of over 22,000 16mm films that he’s lovingly rescued from school auctions, thrift stores, closets, and dumpsters. Flavorpill caught up with Elsheimer over email to find out why he started hoarding old movies in the first place, how he keeps his collection organized, and what it is about 16mm that has him so addicted.
Flavorpill: Tell us about the first film that you rescued. Where did you find it?
Skip Elsheimer: It was Uncle Jim’s Dairy Farm. I found it at a flea market.
FP: What about it inspired you to take on this project?
SE: Well, my housemates and I had been acquiring audiovisual equipment from local school auctions to use with our various bands and sound projects. We got a 16mm projector and wanted to test it out. We liked Uncle Jim’s Dairy Farm and wanted to get more. The guy who sold us that film had an auction where he sold us 500 films for $50. All those films were really amazing. After that I went a little crazy buying up films from schools that were dumping their collections.
FP: How many A/V Geeks are there? How did you decide on the name?
SE: It’s just me, although I get help from friends and I’ve had a pretty steady stream of good interns. The name is from school days — the kid who was entrusted to run the projector in school. My school didn’t have an Audiovisual club, so each class usually had one kid who knew how to run the equipment.
FP: Are you able to make a living from the website? Do people frequently donate to help you pay the bills?
SE: I don’t technically make a living from the site. Whenever people donate money to A/V Geeks or buy DVDs it helps in purchasing more films and covering the expense of maintaining the collection. I make most of my money digitizing films for other archives (many of those films are online at the Internet Archive).
FP: Where is your archive located? How do you keep it organized?
SE: The vast majority of the films are in my house. I bought an old 8-bedroom boarding house a couple of years ago and now the rooms are filled with films and film equipment.
FP: How do you go about curating your live shows? Do you come up with a theme first and then look for source material? Or is it the other way around?
SE: It depends. I keep a running list in my head of possible show ideas. Sometimes I watch a film and it just clicks — “Wow, I need to create a show around this film.” For example, I just saw a great promotional film made by the Cereal Institute, and I’m now am putting together a show about cereal.
FP: Why do you love 16mm so much?
SE: It’s the best film format to collect because there is so much diversity in what you find: educational and industrial films; TV shows and commercials; home movies. Science labs use 16mm film, too. 35mm is just too big. 8mm is too small. 16mm is just right…
FP: What’s your favorite movie?
SE: You mean feature film? Um, depends on my mood. Some days, it’s Eraserhead. Some days, it’s Network. My favorite film from my archive is Pride on Parade; it’s a film that I found on Ebay made for Oscar Mayer about high school marching bands. It took repeated viewings to figure out that the film was made for Oscar Mayer employees in the meat packing division to help build morale and pride in their work. A brilliant film.
My next favorite film is quickly becoming Tire Rigging Demo. Rescued from a dumpster near an ad agency, this one shows off the camera rigging equipment used to film car tires in action — driving and winding their way through mountain roads. There’s no narration, just a rocking synth soundtrack.
FP: Final question: Where’s the best place to get BBQ in your part of North Carolina?
SE: Since I’m not a North Carolina native, I’m not sold on NC BBQ being the best. I might get lynched for saying this, but I think NC Pork BBQ is similar to somebody chewing a bunch of pork, taking an occasional swig of vinegar, and then spitting it out on your plate. I personally like Texas BBQ — in particular Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, TX. No sauce, no forks, just slabs of amazing smoked meat on the butcher plate. If somebody does want NC BBQ, I take them to Cooper’s in downtown Raleigh. It’s pretty good and you can get fresh fried pork rinds (with little pig hairs fried right in).
Check out A/V Geeks’ large collection of online offerings here.