Catfish filmmakers get real

Catfish may be the most buzzed about movie of the fall. The documentary captures modern social networking through online sites such as Facebook and the proliferation of texting, and how worlds can be created that don’t exist, but will still change people’s real lives forever. For the filmmakers of Catfish, this fact is what makes their film a “must-see.”

Catfish started out as a group of friends (two of which are brothers) documenting one of their experiences with an online fan. Nev Schulman is a photographer and one of his photographs came back to him as a painting from an eight-year-old girl in Michigan. What happens next is the movie Catfish and to say everything is not what it seems is a drastic understatement.

Catfish star subject: Nev Schulman

For more on the film, check out our Catfish review. It is with great pleasure that SheKnows welcomed the three filmmakers, Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman and “star” Nev Schulman, as they talked to us about the process of bringing Catfish to life as well as its subsequent hotly buzzing response from those who have seen it.

Catfish creators chat

SheKnows: When you first got the paintings, were you compelled to find out who this child phenom was?

Nev Schulman: Absolutely, I thought they were charming and I thought the paintings were amazing. Plus, it was flattering to have someone sending me artwork based on my photographs.

SheKnows: Are you a little cautious in terms of who you meet online now?

Nev Schulman: Yeah, basically I don’t meet people online. I never used to do that, anyway. This was sort of a unique experience for me. At this point, when I get friend requests from people I’ve never actually met, I just ignore them [laughs]. But, that goes against my nature because this whole experience happened because I finally threw myself into something unknowingly and said yes to something and went for it and look what happened. Better or worse, it changed my life. I think for the better. I’m not someone who likes to be cautious or assume the worse. And it may get me in trouble, but it also gives me a story to tell.

Online world amidst the real world

SheKnows: At the end of the film, it says you have 700-plus Facebook friends, has that increased?

Nev Schulman in Catfish

Nev Schulman: It dropped after that. I went through and if I don’t recognize your name, you must not be my friend. In this Facebook age, we have redefined the word “friend.” It just means a loose acquaintance that you may, or may not, ever see because you share some mutual connection. I defiantly went through and thinned out the herd. It slowly has been building up lately because I have been meeting so many people.

SheKnows: I would think so with the traveling for this astounding film. How do you respond to people who are asking whether the whole thing in Catfish is real? Obviously it is, but you could see how people could be skeptical.

Ariel Schulman: There has been a trend for a while of the mockumentary, and the fake documentary, with Cloverfield and Blair Witch, even the commercials lately that are trying to look like YouTube videos. I think people are trained to be suspicious about what they see and wonder about the motives behind it. This question of whether the film is real or not never occurred to us while we were making it or editing. Because, why would you ever suspect something that was happening to you?

Henry Joost: But, when we started showing it at Sundance, that’s when we started getting questions about its reality. When we were making the film, there were several times where we thought what was happening was too good to be true. It really happened and that was the truth.

SheKnows: At what point when you were shooting, did you realize you had something?

Henry Joost: Ariel had the instinct to start picking up little bits of pieces with Nev shortly after he got the first painting from Abby. We really didn’t have that much footage in the first act of the film, maybe an hour. We beefed it up with the online correspondence. When we discovered the truth about the songs in Colorado, that’s when we turned to each other and said, “This is not just a little thing. This is a movie that has a very concrete story and we should not stop rolling for as long as this takes.”

Catfish gets creepy

SheKnows: Was there any point after you realized where the story was going that you got a little apprehensive about making this a film? Did what was going on ever freak you out? There were a few times that it looked like you were going to pull the plug.

Nev peaks at a frightening moment in Catfish

Ariel Schulman: There was a lot of back and forth and moments where he [pointing to Nev] wanted to stop. I’d push him to keep going. There’s a very significant moment where I wanted to stop and he pushed me to keep going. And the same goes for Henry, driving up to that horse barn at night, he was ready to go home.

Henry Joost: That still makes sense to me [laughs].

Ariel Schulman: Yeah [laughs], he said, “Turn the car around.” That’s how we work as a group of friends, we keep pushing each other.

Henry Joost: We support each other, when somebody falls behind, the others pull him up.

SheKnows: That scene at the horse barn, it felt like a horror film. Were you frightened?

All three nod their heads and say, “Yes.”

Ariel Schulman: That was the most terrifying moment of my whole life.

Nev Schulman: I don’t know, fear was never in my mind at that point [laughs], probably should have been! I guess I was emboldened by the notion that I was potentially going to meet someone who I knew and I thought I was very close with and almost ready to discover whatever it was in an aggressive way. I have a tendency to turn into a…

Ariel Schuman: Bulldog…

Nev Schulman: Yeah, a bulldog.

Catfish: Documentary as thriller

SheKnows: The movie is being marketed, and rightly so, as a thriller. What do you make of that as the filmmakers?

Henry Joost: That is the movie, I think. That’s the crux of the second act. What I like about it being marketed that way, it has you looking in a different direction and expecting something, but the film ends up being a lot more than that.

SheKnows: What do you think the film says about the online community?

Henry Joost: I think the Internet has become the perfect fantasy for people to fill any empty space in their lives. Whether it’s to fill time and distract them from a real situation that’s uncomfortable, a bad date, just hop on the Internet and you’re surrounded by tens of thousands of people.

SheKnows: What do you guys think you learned about yourselves as filmmakers through the Catfish experience?

Henry Joost: That’s a good question. I learned, we have a commercial production company, and you’re spending a lot of time making things look right or perfect all the time. This was a lesson in if you have a good story and compelling people to film then you don’t have to worry about that stuff as much. Let it go and try to have it be a pure experience. That was hugely liberating. Let’s just film this on whatever camera is closest.


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