This week sees the return of MTV's "Catfish" for its third season. Based on the infamous 2010 documentary of the same name, the word "catfish" has become a shorthand for social media duplicity. The rise of the Internet has never made communication easier, and with it has come an influx of people pretending to be someone they're not.
"Catfish" the documentary followed Nev Schulman as he uncovered the true person behind his own virtual infatuation. Joined by filmmaker Max Joseph, the TV show has expanded the scope of the original project, finding stories of both the deceived and the deceivers, rich veins to explore notions of online identity and the ephemeral nature of virtual relationships.
HuffPost Canada TV spoke with Schulman and Joseph about "Catfish" Season 3, beginning with the question that has dogged them since the original doc...
HuffPost Canada TV: How do you respond to those that think you guys are pulling a catfish on your audience?
Max Joseph: At the end of the day, people believe what they want to believe, and it's very hard to specifically respond to each one of them. and that becomes a petty exercise in wasting your breath. The show is not staged. It is very much real, the people going through it are real, their emotions are real, and we don't do multiple takes. We film everything and are as transparent as possible. I don't know what else to say about that.
We saw something we could do to keep it authentic this season. We found ourselves ... getting into a little bit of a pattern in terms of the way we went about making the show. We would meet the hopeful, do an investigation, meet the hopeful's friends and family, and then take them on the journey to meet the catfish. This season we broke that mold, and we were a lot more spontaneous. There was less structure, which kept us on our toes, kept the producers on their toes, and kept the catfish guessing as well.
Nev Schulman: I don't really care if people don't think the show is real. We're dealing with issues that are real, whether we're faking them on the show or not. As a result, we're helping viewers deal with these things, we're helping to start conversations between parents and kids, friends and teachers, and people in relationships that're important. To me, it's almost irrelevant if you think this is real or not, because you can just ask viewers if these are real issues and they'll tell you that they are.
How do these stories keep coming to you?
NS: Stories come to us in many different ways. We've got an incredible team of people back in Los Angeles who sort through the thousands of e-mails and submissions looking for the type of stories that we're trying to tell.
Do you see the film differently now, now that you've done the TV series?
NS: I'm constantly amazed whenever I have the opportunity to rewatch scenes or the entire documentary at how innovative and sophisticated that film was. I don't take credit for that, I give it all to the editor, my brother and his friend Henry and our producers for crafting that masterpiece. It constantly provides a standard for us to aspire to, both stylistically and emotionally and creatively.
MJ: The real legacy of the film is the balanced storytelling and the way it didn't just jump to a judgement.
Do you ever get partway through a storyline and realize oh, these are just people who want to be on TV?
NS: It has happened on the show, that we have perhaps been used by people who worked in tandem to get the show to highlight their perhaps-fake story. More specifically, someone who was catfishing many people, but reached out to us because they wanted to use the platform of the show simply to get attention and in their opinion, praise, to be famed for what they were doing. There's no way for anybody to totally know exactly what the motivations and intentions are in real life and on this show and ... we're up for it. We think. Bring it on.
Have you guys ever gotten halfway through shooting a story and realized you can't use it?
NS: We see every story through. The only thing that has happened this season was we were towards the end of an episode, and we were unable to get the catfish to agree to come on the show.
Do you run into clearance issues? Do you wait to have them sign off on the show until after the revelation occurs?
NS: Everyone on the show has to sign a comprehensive release afterwards. We really do our best to treat everybody on the show with respect and compassion, and I think that speaks to our success in having been able to air all of the episodes that we have.
MJ: We've even had an episode or two not play on TV because even after some people signed, they felt uncomfortable with it airing and so to respect their wishes, we've not aired the show.
Some may criticize the show as being simply voyeuristic. How do you maintain the balance between capturing the inherent drama of the situation while avoiding the exploitation of your subjects?
MJ: I'm a documentary filmmaker, I know what it means to craft a story, especially when you've shot a lot of material. What we go through each week is a lot bigger and more complex than what gets on to TV. I think if you're a filmmaker, you understand that you tell the best story that's possible that represents the truth. You're always telling the best story that happened and scenes that were four hours play in two minutes. And there's a lot that was said. Often Nev and I are heartbroken that moments we experienced during the show, during the production of it, don't make it onto the air. But that comes with the territory of making films, doesn't it?
Any examples of something that got cut that jumps to mind?
MJ: There was a guy on the show pretending to be a guy named Mark. He had a complicated story, a history of lying. He was gay, he was only 19 or 20, but he had a son. He said that he tried to be straight in high school, it worked a little too well on one night and he has a son now. We never saw the son, we weren't sure if he was lying about the son, even his friends didn't know if he had a son or not, and we didn't know if it was true because this guy was lying about a lot of other things. Nev and I found it fascinating, and we thought it was a good part of the episode, but when the episode got cut, the son got cut out of the episode and it wasn't included at all. It was simply too big a digression from what was the main and more important narrative.
Already planning Season 4?
NS: There's still a lot more of these stories to tell. I don't think that issues of sexuality and confidence and love will ever get tired or old. I think young people and older people need to continue to learn to communicate better, and be more expressive and vulnerable, and that's why I think making the show is a good idea. That's why I wrote a book that comes out in September called "In Real Life," which goes into all of that and more.
After all these years chasing "Catfish," are you still as active on social media?
NS: I use social media now in a very controlled way despite the pressures and guilt I feel to use it more. I try my best to make sure I'm always tipping the scale in the direction of doing rather than showing.
"Catfish" Season 3 premieres Wednesday, May 7 at 10 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. PT.
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