The new MTV docu-series Catfish: The TV Show, premiering on November 12th and based on the critically-acclaimed documentary feature, will focus on couples who have fallen in love online but have never met face-to-face. With 12 hour-long episodes, filmmakers Yaniv “Nev” Schulman (from the original 2010 film) and Max Joseph are on a quest around the country to tell the stories of these hopeful romantic partners, showing how social sites lead to romance that can blossom, get deleted and evolve in totally unexpected ways.
While at the MTV portion of the TCA Press Tour, Nev Schulman talked about making this show on his own terms, not wanting to know anything about the couples ahead of time, how he never expected the movie to be controversial, and how his life has changed since the film originally premiered at Sundance. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
YANIV “NEV” SCHULMAN: The most important thing to me, for making this show, was to make it on my terms. And the number one term for me was that I don’t want to know anything because I suck at acting. If you want proof that Catfish was real, just put me in an audition room and watch me fall apart. I can’t pretend. I’m really bad at it. That’s partly what makes me good at hosting a reality show. So, I don’t know anything, and 95% of the crew doesn’t know anything. We are actually going and discovering. I would feel really weird and gross about pretending not to know something, and stringing someone along on some story. So, that’s how we dealt with that.
Why don’t these people use Skype?
SCHULMAN: In many cases, if Skype is an option, someone finds an excuse or a way to avoid using it because they are hiding their identity, in some way. That is always a big question. You’ve been in a relationship with someone for so long, and you like them so much that you are willing to go to the extent to email me and agree to be on some show, but you haven’t made any effort in actually just trying to communicate with this person on a more meaningful level. A lot of people that we are meeting are young people, and they are so excited about the relationship. They are so happy that someone has taken such an interest in them, be it on Facebook or VampireFreaks, or whatever website they might be using. They don’t want to lose that, so they are willing to forego what would seem to be totally obvious things that one would want, in communicating with someone that often. Part of it is overcoming the fear of possibly losing something that you are so happy about having.
Some people tuning in to this will be familiar with the documentary and therefore expecting some weird twist, towards the end of the episode. Do you feel obligated to do that now? If it’s a straightforward love story, do you feel like you have to make it more interesting?
SCHULMAN: I think the story starts very much like mine, which is with an online relationship. Obviously, there’s always an element of mystery and curiosity. There’s certainly an element of love and longing. That’s where it starts. Where it goes is very much with the insecurities of teenagers. This actually dives headfirst and explores, in a real emotional way, what people are feeling. When you do that, you almost always find interesting, compelling truths, and that’s what this show ends up doing. So, whether or not two people are totally lying to each other and it turns out to be a huge disaster, that’s only the first part of the story. We then want to know why they are doing it, who they are, what they are feeling, what led them to this place, and why that resonates with thousands of other young people, who have the same feelings, who don’t have someone to talk to, or who don’t know how to express themselves, for whatever their reasons may be.
SCHULMAN: Sure. I’ve become increasingly aware, over the last few years since the film premiered at Sundance, at just how unbelievably lucky, unusual, and crazy my story was, not just because it happened to me, but because my brother and best friend are filmmakers, and that this woman had this story to tell and that she was willing to tell it. In a way, it was like lightning in a bottle. We never expected it to be controversial because it happened to us, and we never thought that people would not believe us. But, the conversations that it started trumped the controversy. The fact that people were talking about their online lives, and how much time we all spend using the internet, is a conversation that I was excited to be at the center of, and continue to want to explore and talk about.
How has your life been different, after the film premiered at Sundance?
SCHULMAN: Well, yeah. I was producing bar mitzvah documentaries in New York City. That was my job, and I had a good time doing it. Never, in a million years, would I have dreamt that I would be hosting a reality show on MTV, nor would I have said that I wanted to do that, if you had asked me three years ago. But, I got these emails, and they came in more and more and more. As someone who does like telling stories, and telling them with a film format, I said, “What can we do with these? How do we keep discovering and learning and exploring what seems to be an energy that we’ve tapped into with this film?” It seemed to be a perfect fit with MTV.