‘Catfish’ Filmmakers Respond To ‘Is It Real?’ Debate

'We're not that creative,' Ariel Schulman laughs to MTV News.

After making a splash at Sundance at the beginning of this year — both for being a hit with audiences and for stirring up a little controversy regarding the is-it-real-or-fake discussion that divided critics — “Catfish” is on its way to theaters September 17. The heavily hyped indie documentary revolves around NYC-based photographer Nev Schulman and the series of curious events that occur when he begins an online friendship with an 8-year-old girl and a romantic relationship with her older sister.

When MTV News caught up with the film’s two first-time directors, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, they discussed what prompted them to begin filming to begin with, their subsequent decisions to keep the cameras rolling no matter what and their reactions to the “it’s a fake” controversy.

MTV: Without revealing the big twist, what is this film about?

Henry Joost: It’s a true story about an experience we had. The main character is Ariel’s younger brother who works with us, who got into a Facebook relationship that took a turn for the unexpected, and we were there to capture it.

Ariel Schulman: People are surprised we started filming as early as we did, but truth is, we’ve been filming each other for years, and we’re always prepared. … I’ve got this brother who is just very charismatic and gets into a lot of trouble and gets himself into situations, and if I’m not filming him, I usually regret it.

Joost: We’ve been doing it since high school. We’re those annoying guys: “Come on, you don’t have to film this. It’s not interesting.”

Schulman: So [Nev] gets involved with this 8-year-old girl who’s a painter. She’s obsessed with his photos, he’s a ballet photographer in New York, he’s a dance junkie. He’s a straight dance junkie, which is a good situation to be in. … I was already filming him, because I’m always filming him. … I thought, “This looks like a friendship and sort of business relationship,” because she starts painting and selling the paintings based on his photos, and they split the proceeds. … It develops, and he meets her older sister, and they start to fall in love, and we’re like, “Oh, that sounds like a longer short film about Internet romance, and it will end when they meet,” and that’s just the first act of the movie, and it takes a pretty severe 90-degree turn from there.

Joost: We had no idea where it was headed. It was this soap opera unfolding in our office. … It was engrossing. Ariel started filming it, and he’s been wanting to make a movie about his brother, because separate from the movie, his brother is incredible, a real-life character and always attracting drama and people. He’s a really charismatic person, and he has no filter, and he just wades into things.

MTV: You mentioned that things take a serious turn. Were there moments when Nev wanted you guys to stop rolling?

Joost: He had to be talked into it [at times].

Schulman: It was his life in front of the lens, and it gets pretty hairy. We have a couple arguments, and that’s in the movie. There were times when I didn’t want to go through with it, [Nev] didn’t want to go through with it, [Joost] didn’t want to go through with it. … The tables turned, and …

Joost: Ultimately, it became Nev’s journey to find out the truth. He ended up convincing us to keep going at different points; each of us sort of chicken out at different points.

MTV: What do you think of the controversy, people claiming it’s all fake?

Joost: It is a documentary in that it’s something that actually happened and we filmed it and none of it is staged or fake. To us, we had no idea people were going to have that reaction until Sundance, and after the first screening, ["Super Size Me" director/star] Morgan Spurlock went up to somebody on our team and went, “That is the best fake documentary I’ve ever seen,” and we were like, “Really?” Because how do you react to that in our shoes? … It’s kind of strange, because to us, there’s no debate; that’s what happened. I think what people are reacting to a lot is, the film is edited. We can’t put out a 250-hour movie, so we’re making decisions and streamlining the narrative and presenting what we feel is the clearest representation of what happened, but it’s real, and there’s nothing disingenuous about it.

Schulman: It gives us too much credit, though. If this were fake, then it would be …

Joost: Yeah, we would be so much smarter than we actually are.

Schulman: Yeah, we’re not that creative.

Joost: It would be amazing if we had faked it. I don’t know how we would have done it, but …

Schulman: And my brother would be the best actor since Marlon Brando.

From the saucy Jessica Alba in “Little Fockers” to James Franco’s grueling journey in “127 Hours,” the MTV Movies team is delving into the hottest flicks of fall 2010. Check back daily for exclusive clips, photos and interviews with the films’ biggest stars.

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