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by • September 17, 2010 • NewsComments (340)455

CATFISH: Real or Fake? It’s a fake…sort of.

Last night I got a chance to watch CATFISH which is being marketed as a cautionary documentary that explores the world of online relationships, or at least a couple of online relationships that one guy has.

Throughout the entire film it all felt fake to me, but after the movie was over and talking with my other film critic friends they were all baffled how I could think it was fake. That got me to thinking…”maybe it is real?!” but then logic sat in and I realized that all of this is based on the internet, so I will just do the research myself.


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Now, let me stress to you that I don’t think the entire film is fake, there are elements in the film that are legit but for the most part the majority of the film doesn’t add up and most of the film was re-enacted/re-created.

I am putting a strict warning here, if you read anything below this it will spoil the movie for you. There is no way around that, so my advice…go see the movie then come back here to read this.


Everything is on camera. As a documentary film maker myself, the perils of getting everything on camera will drive you insane. In CATFISH, absolutely anything that holds any weight in the movie is on camera somehow. So for running a production company and making another film as the same time as CATFISH they still had time to film Nev almost completely non stop and at all the perfect moments. So this is either extremely lucky, or really staged.

The timing of when they actually started filming is a little weird to me as well. At what point would any filmmaker say “oh you know what, my brother got some paintings of his portraits from an 8 year old, that are mediocre at best, perhaps we should start documenting this”? There doesn’t seem to be any real reason why they would just start filming him non stop. They claim it’s because he is very cinematic and they always film him, but at the beginning of the film he states that he doesn’t want to be filmed, he doesn’t want to be the center of this documentary.

Their Blog: When I was reading up on their production company’s blog, I went through every entry back to the beginning of the site. In the film they start learning of the lies from Megan and Angela while they are in Vail Colorado shooting video for the Vail International Dance Festival. While on the plane they meet a young girl:

and give us this description of her:

That sounds remarkably similar to the Megan, the girl that Nev falls in love with in CATFISH. She is a model who has recently purchased a horse farm from a small town. Coincidence?

They also document every trip they take on this blog, as well as production on their films. However there is absolutely no mention of ever going to Michigan in the August or September blog posts. In fact there is never a mention about even shooting scenes for the film that eventually becomes CATFISH. There is a gigantic gap in posts from the middle of August to the middle of September.


Photo of Megan and Vince: After seeing the movie we know that Angela, the mother of Abby, was the culprit behind all of it. She used photos from someone she found online and posted them to a fake facebook account for Megan. The photos we see of Megan and her Dad Vince didn’t actually go online until March 28th 2008. In the film we see the photos at the beginning of the film, which is supposed to be late 2007.

Also, who in their right mind would actually believe the guy next to her was her Dad?! That is insanity that these guys could honestly be so easily duped.

Link to the mp3 of the song downhill: In the movie, after they are in Vail which we know we at the beginning of August, Nev is having a chat with Megan. In the chat she sends him a link to an mp3 of a song she supposedly recorded. I found the chat transcript on the CATFISH website:

So I decided to check out Charte.net and as of February 2008 it has been nothing but a landing page. See below:

http://web.archive.org/web/20080225112354/http://www.charte.net/

So it is obvious that this chat transcript is completely fake. In the film this would have taken place in August/September of 2008.

The Plot: The story seems to follow the big plot twist of MY KID COULD PAINT THAT, where the dad faces accusations that he is painting the portraits for his daughter. In CATFISH, Angela, the mother, is actually painting the photos for Abby.

Angela: After Nev confronts Angela with the truth, she does nothing more than put her head down. She never freaks out. She never asks them to stop filming. Instead she accepts that she is caught in a HUGE lie, on camera that could completely ruin her marriage and everything she has, and continues to let them film without any questions asked? This is insanity to me! Her husband had absolutely no idea what was going on behind the scenes, its almost as if she wants her marriage to end and her husband to find out she is insane…or its fake.

Abby; The original subject of the “Documentary”: At the beginning of the film Nev tells us that Abby is the focus of the documentary, most likely because she is 8, and her mom is telling them that she is a local celebrity and all of her paintings are being sold around town. So they decide, at some point, that they should focus in on Abby and her paintings of Nev’s photographs.

So, a professional production team at no point goes to google in order to do some research on the new subject of their documentary? They seem pretty tech savvy with their iPhones and mini HD cameras. Why wouldn’t they try and get just a little bit of information just for the overall success of what they set out to shoot?

The only thing we re-created were the close-ups on the computer screen: This is the part of their explanation for the film that is super vague. What exactly are they considering “close-ups”? Is it only the parts where you only see the pages up close? Is it the scenes where you see mostly the computer and a little bit of Nev? And what exactly do they mean by re-created? At the end of the film they tell us that Angela deleted all of the profiles. Did they go back in and recreate all of the profiles? Did they use the same photos from before? At this point had they asked permission from the real “Megan” to use all of her photos in the film?

The real Megan: The girl that we know as Megan in the movie, is actually not named Megan at all. Her name is Aimee Gonzales (which we find out about in the movie). She is a model and photographer. Reading through her wall posts, it seems as though she frequently photographs dancers, just as Nev does, and is currently in New York as I type this. It seems that its a bit too much of a coincidence that they are both photographers, both shoot dancers and she is also doing it in the same city that Nev typically does his in. How is it that they haven’t run across each others path? Unlikely.

All of the above information doesn’t prove that the film is entirely fake. What it does prove is that much of the film has been recreated, and its possible that they did it in such a way to create a story where there might not have been one to begin with.

You be the judge.

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  • Luke

    I’ve just rewatched this movie in the light of the Manti Te’o mess, and two things I hadn’t noticed before jumped right out at me.

    Firstly, we see several pictures/video’s of Abby apparently painting the pictures and hanging them in the “gallery”.

    This makes sense if Abby is in on the deception, but apparently, according to what we see in the movie, she is not. There is no reason to believe that she would, in one moment, play along with her mom’s lies to fabricate these pictures, and yet somehow forget to play along and pretend to be the artist when Nev and his friends show up and it really matters.

    Secondly, we hear Abby (in the beach house scene) and her friend claim that they “never” sees Megan any more, doesn’t really know where she lives, never get to talk her and “… don’t even know what she looks like ANYMORE” (direct quote, emphasis mine.)

    This makes sense, if the “Megan really exists, she is really in rehab but you’ve never spoken to her” story is true… but it isn’t. Megan doesn’t exist in any form.

    So we are forced to chose between two equally unlikely choices to justify this comment.

    Either Abby is playing along with PART of her mother’s lie, claiming that Megan is real, but at the same time forgetting that she is the artist in the family in the very next breath, which suffers the same issue as above. Or Angela has lied to her daughter about the fact she had a half-sister, at some point introduced someone to Abby AS Meghan, either in a picture or in person (the only way you would claim to not know what she looks like any more is if at some point in the past you DID know what she looked like), and has also lied to her husband about having another daughter—you couldn’t expect an 8 year old not to let slip at some point.

    In this case, Angela becomes a thoroughly unlikable character—lying to strangers is one thing, but lying to your daughter about the fact she has a sister is unforgivable—and there is no reason for Nev not to cut off contact with her entirely.

    I’m not claiming that the entire film is fake or staged, but it certainly seems that there is more artistic license being taken here than they have admitted.

    It seems to me that the narrative the filmmakers were planning to follow, and the one they directed their “cast” to follow was that which Angela claimed—Megan is real but you’ve been talking to me—everything that everyone claimed during the film seemed to go along with that version of events. But realised that when the film started to gather steam and would garner deeper scrutiny, they would need to adjust this fact because it would be easy for people to prove that Megan didn’t exist.

    So they added a couple of lines of text at the end about how that too was a lie, and hoped that would smooth over it, forgetting that this would significantly change the character of Angela as presented.

    • Aquaman

      Luke, your conclusions are mistaken because you made a critical error. This error is actually very common among people who have seen the film.

      You think that in real life Angela has only one biological child and she is Abby. Angela has two biological children and they are both female. She has a daughter named Megan from a previous marriage. But Megan and Angela are estranged and do not seem to associate with each other much. Plus Megan lives far away.

      Megan and Abby are half-sisters. Same mother – different fathers. Abby had met her half-sister on some previous occasions but it had been so long ago that Abby had gone without seeing Megan that she easily tells Nev that she doesn’t know what she looks like anymore. For all we know, Abby may not have seen her half-sister in years and years and years. Are you following? It’s then very easy to understand why Lauren already knows what Abby is talking about at the beach house. Abby has told her about her half-sister which she has met but hasn’t seen again in a long time.

      You probably made the same mistake as so many others. You saw the text at the end saying that “there is no Megan at Dawn Farm (rehab)” and translated that to “there is no Megan whatsoever…period”.

      Abby was not really engaged in Angela’s scam on Nev. She wasn’t coached or put up to some acting by Angela. This is why Abby is genuinely confused by Nev at the beach house when he tells her that she is a famous artist who paints a lot. She has no clue what he is talking about and quickly says “You’re confusing me!”

      Yeah, she’s confused by Nev because Mom never told her that she needed to play the role of a famous accomplished child artist.

      • Luke

        Fair enough, though the comment at the end of the movie just proves that the filmmakers propensity towards at very least fudging the truth.

        We can argue semantics, but clearly the intended reading of the final comment is “there is no Megan, period” even though, technically that isn’t what it says.

        However, regardless of that, there remains no explanation for the pictures and video of Abby painting. There remains no explanation for this unless Abby was, in some way, playing a part in the process or the filmmakers are faking things after the fact and fudging the narrative.

        • Abi

          Why couldn’t Abby have been stood near her mother’s exhibitioned paintings without being the artist? It was only a photo of her stood near them, not claiming to have painted them…
          And why is it not plausible that Abby was painting her own picture, with the photo for reference? We didn’t see her complete the painting, so maybe she was just painting a picture like every other kid?

        • Carson

          One explanation for fudging the truth about the real Megan is that the filmmakers wanted to protect her privacy. They wanted to dissuade people from trying to find the “real Megan”. As for Abby’s role, it’s quite possible that Angela instructed her to hang a painting or pretend to paint, and Abby just did it without being in on why Angela had her do it.

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  • Chriss

    Great Blog, insightful research.
    Sorry to be so late to the party, just watched it last night and although I agree with written here, I was deeply moved by watching this film. I thought, for the first a genuine documentary. Then again that point alone could be debated for hours on end.
    If Angela didn’t have two retarded children would this film be as moving? Probably not.
    Did Nev play it up a bit for the camera? Of course he because that’s what people do when you turn a camera on.
    When did they actually decide to make the documentary? Well, they have answered this question differently in numerous interviews and a doco about a little girl that paints has been done to death.
    Albeit Angela had gone to elaborate lengths to create a virtual online reality for Nev, the film’s actual macguffin was staged for the audience. Why? To justify the film being made at all. When did they they know? In the context of the drama itself it doesn’t matter, obviously they had entered into a strange and perhaps dangerous world and this was more important.
    These guys are hardly naive.
    In 2002 and I had a friend who married a girl from texas he meet online. The following year I had another friend who meet a nymphomaniac from New Zealand online and guess what? She turned out to be a real crazy.
    But in 2006, I was using skype on a regular basis and although it wasn’t a common form communication, I suspect these tech savvy young guys knew about it. But thats not the point either because the very anonymous nature of the internet lends itself to fantasy and dreams.
    These guys were actually expecting a transvestite with a shotgun, or better still, the Russian mob or at least something completely unusual. They got it. But Angel was far more human than they imagined and you couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. If anything these guys were the real culprits feeding her active imagination.

    This film has two ending. Oddly enough the one on youtube where we all finally get to meet Megan (Aime Gonzales) with her husband. This should have been the real ending to the film. Because in the back on Nev’s mind he knew Angela was full of BS, but just maybe, maybe, she knew this girl in the picture. And by all accounts she is worthy of her own film. Girls like Aime Gonzales don’t exactly grow on trees (not in Michigan) and the character that Angela created of Gonzales, Megan, is a myth. And although Aime may well be the most beautiful in our dreams and a talented artists, she could also be just very normal and dare I say it, boring. Not into animals, hates music. Spends her nights working bar, (which I have read she does) goes to mothers group and really hates NYC wanna bees. Most guys guys I know wouldn’t be married today if 80% of what they said on a first date wasn’t BS. It goes both ways.
    I actually preferred the second ending when we meet Aime and her husband, far less dramatic and without that revolting taste in my mouth of the film makers wanting us to feel sorry for Nev.
    I have never used Facebook of any social media website unless I am trying to sell or market something. All they really are, are advertising companies. And you can always trust an advertising company to give you the truth about something. i just have better things to do with my down time.
    chriss

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  • Carson

    When we examine the behavior of Nev and ask why he did not do X,Y,& Z we are operating from the position of someone who is not in the middle of an internet crush and who is not enamored with himself and the thought that some total stranger is so smitten with him. In other words, it’s possible that Nev was punch-drunk on the entire crush thing and on the thought that he is so good-looking and interesting that some stranger had fallen in love with him. He didn’t do much investigation because if it WASN’T real then that meant that Nev was not this interesting,handsome guy who some beautiful girl from Michigan easily fell in love with. It was Nev’s ego that caused him to be so unsuspicious.

    As someone else said, if it’s fake then Nev and co. are incredibly clever if not brilliant to have assembled the entire ruse and have done it so well that we are all here debating it’s veracity. That is the problem for those who do not like Nev and dismiss him as a ‘douche’ who faked it all- if he faked it then he’s a VERY talented douche.

    I have yet to see anyone even suggest that the ENTIRE thing is fake. Were that the case, it would mean that Angela was hired and what?…they found mentally handicapped young men to place in the home? If Angela was acting during those scenes at her home, then she is a VERY talented actress and those scenes are worthy of an Academy Award.

    I am interested to know more about the horse farm that they visited. One way to do some checking on the story would be to find the owner of that farm and ask them if they received mail from Nev during the time that the events supposedly take place.

  • Carson

    One more thing- why were sections of the postcards from the mailbox at the farm blacked out? It does not appear as if they were blacked out digitally and were instead actually blacked out at the time that they were photographed in the film.

  • http://www.bahiaenfoco.com.ar/ David Busto

    Hey Scott, no comments on this? wtf! And know you are getting one from a photojournalist from Argentina. You made quite a thorough job here, and while I was watching the film I had my head split among several visions, for instance, “the shoots are quite ok for just home cameras” “I guess that the sea scene is something they always do” ” god, can’t focus on the outside ’cause the story is killing me” and finally, “god, aimee does exist! she look’s so…” As an amateur documentarist I first watch a sneak of the film -just before the real story starts- and thought “this is way a too-charming story for my, these lovely gringos and their high-tech way of life” It was some minutes ago that an mtv ad about “catfish” ring a bell and googled for it, and well, that’s how I end here after watching the film. I believe they are very good at filmmaking, the story is so much innovative in the way it is told, he, as a sort of main character, does a very job and how they turn from a “I got you” film to a drama is a really amazing twist, in fact, the “identity kidnapper” becomes a deep character with shades, rather than just the typical get-a-life target. Regarding how much is real, for real; well, recently we invited a filmmaker to show his film and provide some on-camera training to our city (our film festival is http://www.fecilbba.com.ar -under maintance as it is off until october, for real :P) and he told us that before making his movie (emiliano romero’s topos, quite good actually) he made a short-film that awarded at a film festival, an important one, and that he was inches away of getting another award for sound; now, he had so little money that he could not afford a stereo -nor 5.1- mastering, so he recorded everything in mono, but as the short-film was about classic tango, the judges thought the sound was a wise choice. Filmmaking is, in its very substance, smoke. Nice review! Greetings from Bahía Blanca. PS: Thanks for “my kid could paint that” hidden recomendation

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