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Catfish: Computer Love

Henry Joost and Nev Schulman's doc style take on internet dating and cyber friendships will have you both laughing and cringing

The zeitgeist hit of the winter, Catfish is a twisted love story played out in a frenzy of Facebookery that captures, with cringing brilliance, the giggling romance and creeping fears of online flirtation. When Nev starts receiving paintings in the post from eight-year-old painter Abby, his brother Rel and filmmaker partner Henry start filming their unusual correspondences. As Nev slowly becomes more involved with Abby’s family, including some steamy messaging with older sister Megan, their occasional oddness and evasive behaviour cause suspicion. Driven by curiosity, Nev arranges a detour while on a business trip to meet the family, chiefly to yield some pent up man-love on his coy cyber-lover Megan.

Though the impending twist appears over the horizon less than midway through the film, the sheer unbelievableness of their predicament means none of the suspense and baffling intrigue are lost. What follows is not the shock and awe implied by the trailer, rather the quiet drama with which the situation is handled carries a stifling perplexity that is sweet and touching. Dazed Digital hooked up with Henry Joost and Nev Schulman for a couple of tips and to find out about the making of Catfish.

Dazed Digital: Was this your first foray into cyber dating?
Nev Schulman:
Yes, well, sort of. I think we’re all guilty of using Facebook as a means to prey in some ways, I’m not saying I go out looking for strange girls, but if you meet a girl and you want to know more about her, you look at her photos you see who’s she’s friends with, it’s sort of like your online dating resume. But I wasn’t looking for an online relationship when the story started. It was about this penpal friendship with this family. I was really excited about Abi’s artwork, that’s how it started before Megan came into the picture.

DD: Did you always have the intention of filming?
Henry Joost:
It was really Rel, Nev’s brother, who started filming. One reason was he always wanted to make a film about his brother. Nev has a way of attracting problems and stories and events and people in his life. Rel felt he didn’t want to miss out next time it happened, so he was on the look out for Nev getting into something. And it was pretty strange that we got an email from an eight-year-old girl and then we started getting these cute paintings in the office, it was enough to start filming.

DD: Was it uncomfortable having these relationships filmed?
Nev Schulman:
Not really. It’s funny, if you put the camera on me when I’m doing something I’ll just keep doing it, but if you ask me to do something on camera then there I become very self-aware. I can still do it of course. Like most people I hesitate. I have that moment of, ’Oh I don’t know, is this what I want to do?’ But if I’m doing something on my own account, and it might be ridiculous or it might be silly or it might be weird, as long as it’s inspired by me, it’s fine.
Henry Joost: I think Nev’s a good subject because he doesn’t change when you point the camera at him, he’s quite an unfiltered person to start with so he’s interesting to film no matter what he’s doing.

DD: Did you make any efforts to make the film more cinematic?
Henry Joost:
In Vale we were sat in that hotel room for so long we were like, ‘we need to get out of here.’ So we took the chairlift to the top of the mountain and that was the moment Abby called to arrange a meeting for the first time. And that was kind of cinematic.

DD: What was the most unnerving part of the film for you?
Nev Schulman:
I think the most awkward moment in the film, which was also the most awkward moment in real life, was when I had my portrait drawn by Angela. It came at the end of the trip, a lot of emotional things had happened, my brain was sort of spinning, I didn’t know when to make of it all. And there I was sitting in this very small room with this woman and I didn’t know what to say. It was just very uncomfortable and I have this nervous smile on my face, like I was enjoying the moment, when it was actually really awkward.

DD: Do you still keep in contact with the family?
Nev Schulman:
Angela, the mother, is still very much involved in the film, we’re involved with her as friends and of course the family’s a big part of the story and we wanted them involved as much as possible.

DD: How did the family react to seeing the film?
Nev Schulman:
Angela watched it and really liked it. It was fun watching it with her; it was emotional. And there are parts that are embarrassing. But she thought we’d made a good film and said it was a fair representation of what happened.

DD: Was it at all embarrassing for you how events in the film turned out?
Nev Schulman:
Fortunately I don’t embarrass easily, but the sex messaging was probably the most embarrassing scene.

Catfish is out on general release Friday December 17