Filmmakers shot cinema verite pic on consumer cameras

There are no whiskered catfish in “Catfish,” Rogue Pictures’ documentary that opens Friday.

But the film’s title makes a lot of sense when, at the end, it’s revealed that catfish are natural provocateurs, keeping other fish species alert, active — and tasty. There’s a character in this raw study of Facebook relationships who penetrates the lives of the filmmakers, keeps them intrigued and drives them to get to the bottom of a mystery.

Welcome to social networking as a new theme in motion pictures.

David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” set for an Oct. 1 release by Columbia, centers on the founding of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg.

“Catfish,” far smaller in budget and scope, is a cinema verite feature docu that follows real-life New York photographer Nev Schulman, 24, as he develops a web friendship with a family in Michigan.

Nev is the younger brother of co-director and d.p. Ariel Schulman, who shares those credits on “Catfish” with fellow filmmaker Henry Joost. The older Schulman and Joost own Supermarche, a small Gotham production company that makes docus and commercials.

The trio says they truly lived the experiences shown in the film, painstakingly documenting Nev’s life over the course of a year with small, handheld digital cameras. Their story begins when an eight-year-old Michigan girl starts sending Nev paintings of his photographs, sparking a sustained online correspondence with her family that blossoms into an online and cellphone romance with one of its members.

But some things about the family seem strangely unreal so the Schulmans and Joost decide to take a road trip to meet the people behind the Facebook pages.

“At first we didn’t set out to make a film,” said Joost. He and Ariel simply shot Nev with small Canon and Samsung consumer HD cameras as he pursued his Facebook friends.

They used no other equipment. “We didn’t place a single light in the entire film,” said Joost. “Those cameras are good at dealing with low light and we shot things exactly the way they were.”

Their grainy documentary took an unexpected twist as Nev’s online adventure morphed into a mystery story, with the filmmakers trying to make sense of the characters they finally meet.

They ended up with over 200 hours of footage, which they spent 18 months editing on an Apple Final Cut Pro system with the help of editor/co-producer Zac Stuart-Pontier.

“The hardest part was trying to keep the film true to the experience we had,” said Joost. “This being a documentary, our first instinct was to shoot talking heads of the characters and their friends and relatives, record a voiceover track, and start the film with a flashback. That ended up feeling totally wrong. People told us, ‘Guys, you have enough verite footage to support the story and tell it the way it happened.’ So we scrapped that cut.”

In the end, the trio ended up with a film that documents how “our generation is so comfortable filming ourselves all the time,” said Nev Schulman. “You carry the technology around in your pocket. In this case we just lucked out (with the story). Lightening struck and we were ready to catch it in a bottle.”

Bookings & Signings

Montana Artists signings: producer/UPM Richard Sharkey (“The Pacific”) and first AD Mark Taylor (“Roadkill”). Agency has booked exec producer/UPM Tom Karnowski on RZA’s “The Man With the Iron Fists,” co-producer/UPM Sharkey and UPM Angie Vlaisavljevic on James McTeigue’s “The Raven” and line producer Harry Bring on CBS’ “Chaos.”

Montana also booked d.p.s Attila Szalay on “Chaos” and Brandon Trost on Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s “Ghost Rider 2″; production designers Donna Hattin on Disney XD’s “Zeke and Luther” and Maxine Shepard on TNT’s “Southland”; costume designer Pamela Withers Chilton on CBS’ “Mad Love”; first AD Bill Clark on Oren Moverman’s “Rampart”; and editors Mark Scheib on NBC’s “The Paul Reiser Show,” Keith Reamer on Maggie Greenwald’s “The Art of Love” and Michelle Tesoro on HBO’s “Luck.”

Jacobs & Kole has booked editor Beatrice Sisul on Mark Mann’s “Generation Um”; editor Alex Rodriguez and production designer Jean Rabasse on Nenad Cicin-Sain’s “Second Coming.”

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