These days, getting Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame seems less difficult than getting 15 minutes of privacy. This state of affairs is due in part to the internet (in particular Facebook and similar websites), which allows users to expose their lives — or versions thereof — to half a billion others.
Nev Schulman, a New York photographer, is one such subscriber, and a chance contact on Facebook with an eight-year-old named Abby who introduced him to her family . . . Well, it drew him into an alternative universe of truth and illusion that he's still trying to come to grips with. And as it turns out, Nev's brother, Ariel, and Ariel's filmmaking partner, Henry Joost, were on hand to record every moment of this experience in Catfish, a film that should be an invaluable complement to The Social Network, David Fincher's upcoming bio-pic of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
So I talked with Nev Schulman on the phone. At least, he said he was Nev Schulman. Anyway, bear in mind that in order to avoid spoilers, I asked some questions about the movie that might seem a little on the general side.
Has this experience shattered your belief in objective reality?
Wow . . . hold on, I really have to think about that question. Has this experience shattered my belief in an objective reality? Okay, I'm going to try to break that question down.
We can get back to it. You've gone from being a more-or-less private individual to something of a celebrity. Do you have some reservations about that?
Well, I am very grateful that this experience came at a time when I was ready for it. I had a childhood peppered with getting in trouble, and making bad decisions, and throughout all of it, I had unbelievable support from my family, particularly my brother. And I really feel like this came right at that moment when I was ready to experience something of this weight and intensity. And sharing that experience now, and knowing that I handled it in a way that I could be proud of, and having people react to that and want to talk to me about it and share with me their own stories, and having people feel like they can trust me — it's a great honor. But of course there's a sense of strangeness in having people feel a familiarity with me, especially because it's a very personal film.
Are you used to being shadowed by a camera person? Your brother says he constantly photographs you.
Yes. In fact, Henry is filming me right now.
Get out of town! Doesn't it get on your nerves?
I started a business with my brother about six years ago making short documentary films for events — mostly weddings and bar mitzvahs — and immediately we found ourselves enjoying the act of being present at a really important event in someone's life and capturing it for them. We started saying, "Gee, I wish we had more footage of ourselves and photos of us." Because that wasn't really part of our childhood. So we sort of made a deal that I would take pictures whenever I could and he would film me.