What are most of our hobbies and commercial activities, besides a long, slow exercise in ultimate pointlessness?
Ryan Beitz, the creator of the World Speed Project, decided to just, uh, speed up the whole process. His current life mission? To collect every extant VHS copy of the movie Speed. That’s it. Oh, and he wants to decorate a tour bus to take his copies around, look for more copies, and open up creative “possibilities” for people through the project.
Yes, there’s a Kickstarter for it. Yes, it’s ridiculous. Yes, it may be impossible to finish. Yes, the project may never end. Yes, we totally admire Beitz for his dedication to this effort when we can barely stick to an order at a restaurant.
But yes, we have all kinds of burning questions about it — why Speed in particular? Why this movie and not some other mid-1990s jam like Jurassic Park? We had to speak to the man himself via Skype. Check out the video above for the best and read the full interview below.
Fusion: Alright, first question. Is it cold where you are? Why are you wearing the jacket and the multiple hats?
Ryan Beitz: I keep this real tree hat, so that way if I need to hide from the paparazzi I can. I’ve got my penis-shaped communist leader’s hat, you know, that I have to wear, because the World Speed Project is about collecting all of the same thing and making everything the same. There’s kind of a bit of communism in it, and then I’ve also got my lab coat, because I consider myself a mad scientist. And you can’t see it in the shot, but I’m not wearing any pants.
You’re in Moscow, Idaho. How did you wind up there from Seattle?
I am from Pullman, Washington, which is eight miles away from Moscow, Idaho. I moved to Seattle to go to art school but instead of going to art school I went to normal university, and then I went to the University of Idaho. Open space means an open mind.
What do you do when you’re not collecting copies of Speed? What do you do with the rest of your time?
Ooh. That’s hard for me to answer because I feel like I’m always looking for copies of Speed. So maybe I don’t do anything with my free time. I’ve never actually thought about it. Maybe I don’t exist if I’m not looking for copies of Speed.
I feel like this project raises all kinds of existential questions.
Right, yeah — metaphysical, existential, ontological, you name it. We’ve got questions.
Let’s get to the basics here. What were you doing going to so many thrift stores and looking through the videos in the first place, when you realized there were so many copies of Speed everywhere?
You know, the first time I just went to buy my family Christmas presents, as I’m sure you’ve heard before. It’s a somewhat infamous story at this point. I went into a pawn shop which sold VHS tapes and they had six identical copies, and I thought, there are six members in my family, and no better a way for a communist to show their love than to get everybody in the family a standard-issue gift. So I bought six identical copies of the movie, and I was going to give them to each member of my family to tell them I loved them equally, but then I kept them for myself.
Is it very communist to go through the capitalist exercise of buying a gift for a commercial holiday?
Well as my good friend Ian says, you have to pay to play. What he means is, we live in a capitalist society, and so you’ve gotta live within that. So the World Speed Project being an implicitly communist exercise, it can still exist within the confines of capitalism. I don’t think I have anything more clever than that to say.
Okay, so it’s an implicitly communist project, but it involves a capitalist transaction over and over again, which is buying these tapes. You can reconcile that?
Yeah, and here’s how. People typically assume that capitalism, practicality, and success all go hand in hand. But at the World Speed Project, the goal is sheerly impractical. There’s no good reason for doing this. So by employing capitalist means in the service of doing something impractical, we can then begin to undermine western capitalism’s emphasis on usefulness and practicality.
When was the final moment then you realized that it was specifically Speed you wanted to collect? When you realized that particular tape was everywhere?
You know I was standing there in that pawn shop, and there were three videos. There were Jurassic Park — like 10 copies of that — and Jerry Maguire, and then there was Speed. And Speed was the only rated-R movie my mom would let us watch as kids, so it had to be Speed.
Do you have a particular affinity for the movie, or is it just about the ubiquitousness of the VHS tapes?
My particular affinity or proclivity might stem from the fact that Keanu’s face is on every cover. But it can’t be simply reduced to that. I try not to psychoanalyze myself as to know for sure why I’ve chosen the movie Speed. And that’s because I don’t want to kill the magic of the project.
Are there different versions of the VHS tape?
There are at least five that I know about. One category is “different languages,” like Japanese, or Spanish, or various other languages. Then there’s the “premiere series.” Then there’s also the standard-issue, which doesn’t say “premiere series” across the top. Then there’s also the “selection series,” and then there’s one more, called “the millennium edition.” But I only have two of those; they’re extremely rare. So that’s all five.
Have you watched the different actual videos to see if there’s anything different about the content?
Yeah, I did, and I think some of the millennium and premiere series have different previews, and that’s it.
Do you obsessively collect anything else? Or just copies of Speed?
I think I obsessively collect lots of things. My life partner considers me a hoarder. I feel like I’m a child of the Depression, because I have to save things that seem useful. But I realize that I was only saving things that seemed useful, like bolts or pieces of tape. So I decided that I needed to combat my own emphasis on usefulness by collecting something useless.
I think people are always collecting useful things. People always collect Apple products. I think the same impulse you would have to collect Apple products is the same impulse I have to collect copies of Speed.
Is this project generating any money for you?
The World Speed Project is in the process of becoming a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. It’s not about making money for any one person. It’s not my project. The World Speed Project is about bringing magic to everyone by opening up possibilities through the film Speed. We kind of let the film Speed guide us. It’s fast. But we haven’t made any money.
The World Sped Project is about creating possibility. It’s not about eliminating possibility. By amassing a number of copies of Speed all in one place, we see what possibilities might arise. For example, we have thought about shooting the copies into space. I have bathed in a bathtub full of them. We have set them up in dominoes. We have thought about trying to assassinate various leaders of corporations with them. The possibilities are endless.
Have you come close to actually bringing any of those to fruition?
Well I went on the Internet and I looked up how much it would cost to shoot into space, and NASA wouldn’t email me back.
Who’s first on your list of leaders to potentially assassinate with VHS copies of Speed?
I would say just go to the list of the richest people in the world and just pick one. Probably the Koch brothers.
So you’re trying to collect money on Kickstarter to paint a bus you have like the one in Speed, and take it around?
A few years ago the World Speed Project bought a 15-passenger bus. It’s a Dodge 1988 Ram Van B350. It’s got a big old truck engine. It’s got a bus door. So we bought a bus and we’re trying to paint it like the bus from the movie Speed so we can go on a U.S. tour and cruise the country looking for copies of Speed.
But there’s been a new development in the bus situation. A man who actually owns the bus they did the filming in for the movie has offered to sell me the bus. Sandra Bullock sat in the driver’s seat; Keanu Reeves stood over her shoulder. He owns the actual bus and we’s willing to sell it to me for $11,500. So the new Kickstarter goal is to obtain $11,500 to buy the actual bus from the movie that has been offered to me.
I feel like you have to do that. The project can’t really continue unless you get that bus.
Right. We’re looking for corporate sponsors and I would prefer the Koch Brothers.
One of the places you mentioned you would take the bus to are D.I.Y. punk basement shows. What is so punk rock about Sandra Bullock?
Well I don’t know if there’s anything inherently punk rock about Sandra Bullock. Let’s just say that anybody can be punk rock. Punk rock is a mindset about getting things done. Not in the same way that Larry the Cable Guy gets ‘r done, but the punk rock community forms itself around the idea of giving everyone the opportunity to participate and share in an alternative lifestyle.
That’s exactly what the world Speed Project does. So the essence of the World Speed Project aligns with the essence of the D.I.Y. punk community.
About how many copies do you have right now?
Over 500. I went and picked up a hoard of packages that were sent to me. The first package I opened had 10 in it. So I’m easily at 550 if not more. I haven’t done an official count yet; it’s kind of boring to count them. But I’m waiting to count them until I receive more packages, just because it’ll be more fun to count them that way.
It seems like that’s a very small fraction of all the possible copies of Speed, right?
Yeah, no doubt. I emailed Fox asking them how many VHS copies were ever released, and they never got back to me. But I think Fox should buy me the bus.
How much of this is just sort of a culture jamming or performance art piece?
Well, it’s difficult to draw a distinction between performance art and the way people live their lives. I think most people live their lives in a way that is a self-styling. I suppose the World Speed Project just styles itself slightly differently than most people do. I think most people buy an Apple product and then like a car, and then try to get a job, but also listen to indie rock so they can retain some form of authenticity.
The World Speed Project only listens to punk. And we only collect copies of Speed. We’re not better than anyone else, but our identity is slightly different.
What is the World Speed Project’s favorite band?
We would listen to mostly thrash metal, like Sepultura. Actually Sepultura is all that the World Speed Project listens to. We listen to Beneath the Remains on loop.
Do you think you’re actually ever going to finish this? What’s the realistic end to this project?
I think asking if there’s a realistic end to the project doesn’t make sense. I’m not insulting you. I’m just saying the World Speed Project has no realistic end. It’s about amassing all the copies and we won’t stop until we die. Every single copy. So it’s not a realistic goal. It’s not a practical goal. The World Speed Project is an exercise in radical uselessness. It’s an effort to combat practicality.
So in other words, there is no end, there is no beginning, all there is, is the World Speed Project.
There only is, is the World Speed Project.
Awesome. Do you have any other projects in radical uselessness coming up besides this one?
I think my life in general might be one. Like most people’s lives. I’m going to graduate school for philosophy, so that’s another project in radical uselessness.