The nicest thing that Ryan Beitz has been called in the past few weeks is a loser. Most of the insults hurled his way have been a lot worse than that.
Since the Moscow, Idaho, man's Kickstarter campaign for the World Speed Project — in which he attempts to collect every VHS copy of the 1994 movie Speed on the planet Earth — was featured by Good Morning America, NPR's All Things Considered, Vice, USA Today and Entertainment Weekly, he is reminded constantly by vitriolic online commenters that his project is stupid.
Even in video-collecting circles, Beitz has found himself in pissing contests. The guys collecting all of the Jerry Maguires — who have more than 5,000 copies, compared to his puny 500 Speeds — claimed he was copying their idea. Commenters brought up the Mrs. Doubtfire collectors, the Jurassic Park collectors — was he copying them, too? And why collect Speed anyway?
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Beitz — clad in offensively short jean cut-offs, a blue coat that could pass for a dress and a giant Russian fur hat on his head — is in the passenger seat of a beat-up gray sedan. He hops out of the car, runs up to a Peaceful Valley house and grabs a stack of Speeds from the front porch that have been left out for him.
Even he thinks all the media attention he's gotten is borderline hilarious. And the question he says every single reporter — including this one — has asked is simple, "Why? Just... why?"
"Why is any of this happening? Who f---ing knows!" he says as we drive to Value Village. The whole reason his Speed VHS collection expanded beyond one copy, he says, is that in 2007 he was at a pawn shop and saw several copies of the film. He thought it would be hilarious to buy them all for his family members as Christmas gifts. But then he just kept them, collecting more and more and even retrieving the bulk of them from the wreckage of his house after it burned down.
But why would Beitz, someone who just got into three prestigious master's programs for philosophy, spend so much of his time on such a thing?
"It totally just is an art project because art is the easiest term to apply to it," he says. Does he think he'll actually get every Speed tape? Not really. He admits he doesn't try all that hard to find them, and he refuses to buy them if they aren't under a dollar.
At Value Village, he doesn't see any Speed in the VHS section, but his two friends find a Jurassic Park and a few Jerry Maguires.
He approaches a middle-aged checker and asks her if there are any Speed videos in the back. She says no, looks down and starts scanning the several Jerry Maguire tapes he's placed on her counter.
"Are you the guy who collects the Jerry Maguire films?" she asks. Beitz seems surprised. "No, we're the Speed people."
"What does that mean?" she asks.
"We collect the copies of Speed. We were on Good Morning America this morning."
"Really?" she says.
"Yeah, just Google... "
She stops him mid-sentence: "I don't have a computer."
Beitz pauses for a second. "The Jerry Maguire people are somehow more famous than me," he says.
"Well, just because you have Jerry Maguire, that's why I asked," she says, apologetically. "So, $8.65."
"They have publicists. I don't," Beitz says. "$8.65? God, this is an expensive peace offering."
"So if you were on Good Morning America this morning, how are you back here?"
"No, they didn't interview me, they just used pictures of my project and talked about me," Beitz says. Then, hesitantly: "Just so you know, the Jerry Maguire people started collecting two years after I started mine."
"How many Speed videos do you have?" she asks.
"I only have 500."
"So how many do they have?"
"They have 8,000," he says.
For the next couple of minutes as they talk, it becomes clear that Beitz feels terrible that this random, middle-aged woman without a computer knows about the Jerry Maguire collectors, who live so far from here, and not him. She reassures him: 500 is still a sizable collection of Speeds. Beitz perks up as he leaves.
"OK. Maybe I'll see you again someday," Beitz says.
"Oh yeah, I work here every day," she says.
"OK, cool. Well, I'll come back," he says. "If you get any copies of Speed, save them."
"I can't do that."
"That's OK," he says, walking out the door, Jurassic Park and Jerry Maguire tapes in hand, walking a little less confidently than when he came in. ♦
Visit the World Speed Project at facebook.com/theworldspeedproject.