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Catfish Interview

With their controversial documentary Catfish hitting the big screen in the UK, co-director Henry Joost and and star of the film Nev Schulman, spoke to View's Matt Turner about their habit of recording their own lives on a daily basis and just how real life can turn out to seem more peculiar than fiction.

If we accept the story at face value, and I assume we can, then what was it that made you think there was a story in the paintings by the little girl? I assume you'd seen My Kid Could Paint That.
Henry Joost (HJ): Uh, yeah. Actually, we hadn't seen it, but we knew of it at that point. It was really Rel [co-director Ariel Schulman], Nev's brother, who started filming and had the instinct to do that. I mean, I think it's a lot of reasons – one is that we're kind of full-time documentarians, like there's no moment in our lives when it's not appropriate to film each other and that's kind of the agreement that we have. So if anything interesting happens, it's okay and expected that one of us will film it.

The other thing is that Rel always wanted to make a film about Nev, because he's just like a story-generator, you know, he's like a magnet for people and experiences and he has this way of living that we wish we could live that way sometimes. So I think he had this instinct that was like, 'Oh, this is probably going to turn into something because it's Nev', you know? So in the beginning, we thought, 'Oh, Rel's making a short film about Nev meeting this painter online and it'll be like a cute, short film'. And that was about it.

Nev Schulman (NS): Yeah, I mean, to his credit, it was pretty unusual. I mean, how often does a little girl from halfway across the country send you fan art? That was strange and interesting, so he thought, 'Why not film it for a little bit?' Whatever happened, it was obviously like -

HJ: Something's going on.

So is the self-documentation still going on?
NS: Oh yeah. We filmed ourselves on the BBC this morning. We were on the breakfast show and then they kept us and we were on, like, just the news, I guess. But it was fun, because we filmed that stuff. [Shows off tiny camera with footage of BBC interview]

So how many hours of footage of yourselves have you accrued at this point?
HJ: Oh, God.

NS: How many hours? Oh, my God. There's probably more of me.

What do you do with the footage?
HJ: Most of the time we don't even watch it. We keep it – we're all organised about it and we have it by year, by month on hard drives. Sometimes we thematically organise things.

NS: I also try to put, like, key words on things when I'm out with my camera.

Do you think the controversy generated over whether or not it is a documentary has helped you or hindered you?
HJ: I don't know. It's more people talking about the film, which is probably good. I don't really like being lumped into like a fake documentary category, just because it's not, that's not what it is. It's not Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch. And I don't know if that turns people off or turns people on, really.

NS: We like the idea of people seeing the film and being sort of raw and not expecting anything. But the whole kind of 'Don't find out anything about the movie! Is it a thriller? Is it a horror?' - that was more sort of the built-up ad campaign in the States, which, you know, has goods and bads.

The film has lots of different elements at times, like, mystery, thriller, comedy and so on. Was that a stylistic choice?
HJ: That's just real life, I think. Real life doesn't follow genres, you know? I don't really feel like we had control over the tone of the film but the tone changed for us personally as we were going through the experience. Like, in the beginning it was fun, then it got mysterious and actually got very scary in real life and then it kind of became profound and the jokes stopped. What was the approach to filming, especially with things like the phone calls? Are you just always there or does Nev say, 'Okay, I'm going to be making a phone call in five minutes – get the camera ready'?
NS: Yeah, sort of. Rel had basically said to me, 'If you're going to call Megan or if you're going to open a package - if I'm not there, call me and give me like 20 minutes to come or if I'm there, then let me know and I'll just turn on my camera. And you know, I didn't always do that, of course, because I talked to Megan almost every night.

But presumably Megan didn't know she was being recorded, so did you ever question the ethics of that?
NS: I think we never thought about that because the storyline had not evolved and there was no intention. We weren't making a film – Rel was just keeping track of this story as it unfolded, because he thought maybe, eventually, it would turn into something worthwhile, but no-one ever considered that this is where it would lead. He joked that he was going to be making a montage - a short film to show at our wedding, you know? In which case, she wouldn't mind that he was filming, it would be charming.

HJ: Or like we would surprise them one day with the film and Nev would meet Abby in real life and that would be the end of the film.

NS: Right. And I'd actually talked to them about us sending a camera to them, during this, so that they could be filming on their end. But yeah, we never expected it to go the way it went.

Obviously you shot tonnes of footage, so when it came to the editing, what did you cut out that you hated to lose?
NS: One of the frustrating things during the editing for me was that it certainly made me look like a total dope, in a way. And that I just sort of willy-nilly, blindly went into this thing and never stopped to think, like, 'Hmmm ... maybe?' Which is not true. There were little things along the way where all of us said, like, 'Huh. It's good music, but ... you know ... okay' or 'The painting is really good, but ...' But something would always come up, like Abby sold a painting and they sent me half of the sale price as like a thank you for all of my support. So I was like, 'They sent me money, so I guess they're not trying to scam me or anything like that'.

So all along the way, if there was a question that I had or a concern, there was always either an answer or an overwhelming amount of new information that would distract me. And those things I wish we could have put in but when they tried that early on, as soon as you introduce a sense of curiosity or scepticism, immediately the viewers just assume like, 'Oh, I know where this is going', whereas if you just focus on the love story and you leave that stuff out, it allows you to kind of focus more on the love story and not on the feeling that something isn't right.

HJ: It was also just too complicated. It's one of those things where all of that information is much more interesting after you've seen the film, because in the beginning you don't really know why you should care about that stuff. But I think we're going to have some great DVD bonus features.

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Content updated: 24/09/2018 11:12

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