“For me the experience was totally real,” says Nev Schulman, the subject of this year’s most enigmatic documentary, “Catfish.”
Schulman was responding to claims questioning the authenticity of “Catfish,” at a Q&A following a showing of the controversial documentary Thursday night at the ArcLight Sherman Oaks. Part of TheWrap’s ongoing Awards Screening series, the discussion was hosted by TheWrap's Dominic Patten. (Photograph by Jonathan Alcorn)
“Catfish” chronicles an intense on-line relationship between Schulman and a woman in rural Michigan named Megan. Over several months, as the relationship grew increasingly intimate, clues began to emerge that indicated Megan might not be who she said she was.
Eventually, Schulman and the film's directors — his brother, Ariel and their friend Henry Joost — decided to pay a surprise visit to Megan — only to discover they were the ones in for a surprise.
The comely blond in the photos Schulman had been gazing at for all those months was a model named Amy Gonzalez — the woman Schulman met in Ishpeming was an overweight fortysomething named Angela.
“As talented as my brother and Henry are, they’re not that good. They’re just not smart enough to write this movie.”
“It never occurred to me it would end up being a movie,” Schulman maintained. “It was just me having a friendship and then that sort of turning into a weird relationship and that turning into this mystery and what you saw.”
The truth will likely come out in court, as Threshold Media is suing the filmmakers for lying about the veracity of their movie in order to avoid paying for music rights.
“First of all, Angela knew we were filmmakers,” Schulman said. “I don’t really think it’s an accident that she connected with us.” So if there is an element of fraud to the film, he suggested it might have been Angela’s doing.
Angela, on the other hand, is the one who created Amy Gonzalez and all her Facebook friends. “The truth is, she is a kind of an incredible writer,” Schulman said. “She wrote this movie, in a weird way.” He added that her only regret upon seeing the film was that her other characters didn’t make the final cut. “She misses all of those other people that she created.”
Upon his return to New York, Schulman began the process of grieving. “When you break up with someone they’re still there,” he said. “In this case it was like my girlfriend had just vanished, just totally disappeared.”
It was then the trio decided there could be a compelling feature film within the countless hours of footage they shot.
They began by telling friends and family the story on camera and recording their reactions. The filmmakers bumbled through a series of false starts, “they sort of went down three or four different roads and turned around and came back.”
Eventually they were advised by filmmaker friends to lose the interviews and tell the story through the footage using emails to fill the gaps.
“That was sort of a revelation when they thought, ‘Oh yeah, let’s just show the emails,’ cause that’s how the story played out.”
“It was just as much my fantasy as it was Angela’s, and I guess in some way we’re sort of like two ships that pass in the night,” Schulman said dreamily. “My whole life I’ve lived in Manhattan and only known vertical, high tension, loud lifestyle; 24 hours. And hers, which is very horizontal, all the outdoor activities and horseback riding and music still seems very attractive to me.”
The upshot of all of this is Schulman is working on a pilot about the experience for MTV. “It’s a show about connecting people who have only known each other virtually in real life and see what happens.”
More to the point, the twentysomething — now the star of an indie hit — finds it easier to pick up women. “Usually, as a guy you gotta go over – but in this case they just come over and say, ‘Oh my God, I want to talk to you about this movie that I saw!”