Posted on Friday, December 3rd, 2010 by Germain Lussier
Made for $30,000 and grossing over $3 million, Catfish is an amazing story both on screen and off. Its “don’t ruin it for me” plot helped turn it into one of the can’t miss indie films of the year but controversy over the film’s validity was questioned almost immediately. Now, The Hollywood Reporter has learned of a brand new lawsuit issued by Threshold Media against the distributors of the 2010 Sundance documentary darling, Relativity Media and Universal, demanding licensing fees for a song that plays a major role in the film. If the case makes it to trial, it could force filmmakers Ariel Schulman, Nev Schulman and Henry Joost to swear the validity of their movie under oath.
The controversy surrounding Catfish hypothetically stopped the film from making the list of documentary films eligible for an Oscar this year and, though they’ve sworn up and down in the press that the film is real, they haven’t had to do so under fear of perjury.
Discussing the lawsuit involves delving into heavy spoiler territory and since the film won’t be released on DVD until next month, we’ll discuss all the specifics after the jump. But don’t read if you don’t want to be spoiled.
As you all know, Catfish is the story of a New York man, Nev Schulman, whose brother and his friend decide to make a documentary about his online relationship with a family from Michigan. Through a series of events, it’s revealed that the family in Michigan is actually just one woman – the mother Angela – and she fabricated various people, personalities and whole lives.
One of the most important moments in the film is when Nev goes on YouTube and realizes a song that his fake girlfriend Megan has sent him is actually an original song by Amy Kuney called All Downhill From Here. Kuney is signed to Spin Move Records, which is owned by Threshold Media Corp., the company issuing this lawsuit. Here’s the song.
So, obviously, that song is in the movie and is used again in the end credits of the theatrical release. Since the release, Threshold has been trying to get the licensing fees it feels it deserves but, according to the lawsuit, have yet to be successful. The argument the Catfish camp has is that they were making a documentary and came upon this song by chance. There by they can use it under “fair use” laws. The problem is, if the film was staged in any way, that argument gets completely destroyed.
In the Hollywood Reporter article, they cite the recent film I’m Still Here and how David Letterman confronted Joaquin Phoenix on a similar issue, in a joking way of course. Because that film was revealed to be fake, Letterman felt he was owed back pay as a performer.
Chances are this case will probably settle out of court. But, if it doesn’t, the Schulman’s and Joost will have to swear under oath that the film was real. It probably won’t get to that, but it would be a very interesting end to an incredible trip. Let this be a lesson to all aspiring filmmakers though. Success is great, but it’s not without some downsides.
Do you think this case will settle? And do you believe the film is real, fake, or maybe a mixture of both?
Personally, I feel like the film began as real, but then the filmmakers slowly realized it was all crap. From there they just decided to go with it and act like they didn’t know what to expect. How could they have not Googled any of these people until MONTHS later? That’s my take in either case. What’s yours?