So what’s the true story behind ‘Catfish’? Before you read any further, be forewarned that this tale of the real Megan, Abby, and Angela, a family that filmmaker Nev Schulman found himself tangled up with, contains major spoilers about what happens in the movie. But if you have seen ‘Catfish’, check out some moments from the 20/20 special that didn’t make the movie here, as well as the feelings of Nev Schulman, Abby, Amy, and Angela Wesselman about the film.
Nev Schulman’s true story begins with him striking up a friendly relationship with a child prodigy through MySpace, an 8-year-old named artist named Abby from Michigan. She told Nev she had seen one of the photographer’s pictures published in a newspaper and wanted to paint it. Soon after, he received an amazing painting in the mail. He was so impressed that he sent her more photographs to paint, but eventually decided he had to make sure all of this was okay with Abby’s mom Angela, portrayed by Abby as a gorgeous woman in one the paintings she sent to Nev. Angela was more than okay with it, and Nev soon became friends with her, as well.
At this time Nev Schulman’s brother Ariel and his friend Henry decided to start filming their pal’s unique relationship with the child prodigy, thinking it would make a good short movie. But they didn’t realize just how big of a catfish they were about to reel in.
So Nev Schulman found himself becoming acquainted with Abby’s Facebook friends and family members, including her beautiful half-sister Megan. Like Nev, Megan was an aspiring photographer, but also a talented singer. She wasn’t hard to fall for, so the two soon struck up an online relationship. Megan really opened up to Nev, revealing that she was a virgin and singing songs for him that she posted on Facebook. They also talked on the phone and even started “sexting” through steamy messages. Though the photographers had never met, Nev did manage to doctor a photo of the two together, entitling it “Someday”.
Like Nev, Megan had big dreams of changing her life, too, telling him she was moving to a horse farm in Michigan near Lake Superior. He decided this would be the perfect chance to shake things in his own life up, and decided he wanted to move there to be with Megan, even breaking away from their technological relationship by sending a postcard to her stating that he wanted to come see her. However, before he made such a big decision to up and move to Michigan, another opportunity arose: he decided to take a job in Vail, Colorado, planning on having Megan, Abby, and Angela meet him there.
But Megan’s veil would be lifted ever so slightly before he ever made it to Vail. When she sent Nev Schulman a song entitled “Tennessee Stud” on Facebook, all it took was a quick YouTube search to find a video of a different girl singing the song exactly as Megan had. Nev Schulman immediately feared the worst, calling Megan and her family “psychopaths” and stating that she was probably a guy the whole time. He confronted Megan about being a liar, but her response was simply that it was a cover song, so it was supposed to sound similar to the original.
Nev Schulman just wanted the affair to be over at that moment, but his friends saw the moment as “the tip of the iceberg”, a revelation that was the start of a great movie being born. So they headed to the farm in Michigan to find out the truth about Megan, having no idea what they would find there or just how big ‘Catfish’ would become.
1,300 miles later, the boys arrived at the horse farm at midnight. They were so frightened by what might happen to them there (fearing a guy with a shotgun might be the end of their movie), that they sent the footage they had filmed so far back to their editor, just in case. However, they found that the mailbox contained Nev’s unread postcards; the farm contained no horses; and there was no Megan in sight.
As the boys drove back through the town where Megan’s mother Angela and sister Abby lived, they passed the art gallery where little Abby’s paintings were supposed to be hanging. It was empty. And then they went to Angela’s house.
Nev bravely walked to the door with flowers in hand, greeted by an Angela who wasn’t quite as thin or beautiful as the painting Abby had supposedly done of her. She gave Nev a hug and told him, “I can’t believe you guys came,” also letting him know that Megan wasn’t home.
Inside the small house, Nev met Angela’s two handicapped sons, whom he had never heard a word about before, as well as her husband Vince. Abby was also there, but when Nev asked her about her painting, she simply responded by telling him, “you’re confusing me”. It wasn’t long before Angela Wesselman finally had to tell Nev Schulman the shocking truth.
Angela Wesselman was an aspiring artist who had started posted her paintings online in hope of earning praise. However, when she received criticism, she came up with a new plan and started posting them under her young daughter’s name, pretending to be a painting prodigy. By doing this, she went from being a decent painter to an exceptional one, but her ruse would go much further than anyone could imagine.
Angela Wesselman stated on 20/20 that she was glad when she heard that knock on her door, feeling a sense of relief that it was all about to be over. She could finally tell Nev Schulman the true story of Megan as he allowed her to sketch him, revealing during their time together that Megan’s photo was actually that of a model named Aimee Gonzalez, a 30-year-old married mother of two who managed to become a star of a movie without actually starring in it. Angela Wessleman says that she just looked for photos of a model with long hair, and Aimee Gonzalez was the lucky lady that would one day get the shock of her life.
Angela Wessleman fessed up to creating 21 different Facebook characters to support the character of Megan, knowing that having a Facebook family and friends would make her look less suspicious. She doesn’t say that she has multiple personality disorder, although she does admit to being a diagnosed schizophrenic.
But Angela Wesselman does exhibit an amazing ability to create characters, much like a great author. But why do it on Facebook? She tries to explain herself by saying that Megan is fragments of what she wanted to be; someone she could never be. Basically Angela Wessleman created a whole online fantasy life for herself, living the lives of a child prodigy, a young girl in love, and a beautiful mom with a family of successful daughters all at once.
In a bizarre moment, Nev asks Angela Wesselman to speak to him as Megan one more time. He says that he wanted to make her uncomfortable; to make her see that this wasn’t a game to him as it was for her. And Angela Wesselman admits that it was too uncomfortably easy for her to lapse into the character of Megan once more.
But if being in love with a character wasn’t confusing enough, Nev Schulman and his friends decided they also had to film the reaction of the face behind the personality as she learned what her photos were being used for. And so they tricked Aimee Gonzalez, right after being fooled themselves, into making her think they were filming a photography documentary in order to be able to film her reaction. Aimee Gonzalez describes her feeling at that time as embarrassment, exclaiming “Oh my god!” and nervously laughing during the very uncomfortable moments she spent learning about what Angela Wesselman had done. She also apologized for breaking Nev’s heart, and reveals that her husband once told her not to put the photos that Nev fell for on the internet. And in a weird twist, it’s also revealed on the 20/20 special that Angela even used a photo of Aimee Gonzalez’ little sister to create the painting of the woman that was supposed to be her, as well as using a photo of Aimee Gonzalez’ husband’s photo as one of her characters. Aimee Gonzalez never responded to an apology letter from Angela, and, unfortunately, the scenes involving Aimee Gonzalez didn’t make the final cut of ‘Catfish’.
So what to make of all of this? Some critics have said that ‘Catfish’ isn’t exactly a true story and that the movie is all an elaborate hoax that Nev and his friends concocted, believing that Angela Wesselman is the victim here. They contend that they caught onto what was going on early on and continued to toy with Angela/Megan in order to make a good movie. However, Nev simply says that he had those blinders of love on the whole time, and that he didn’t want to start Googling to remove those goggles. And so it took something extremely obvious being wrong to make him finally remove them (he wasn’t even being suspicious when he stumbled across that YouTube video; he was actually hoping to help Megan pursue a singing career).
Angela Wesselman also feels that she wasn’t being exploited, telling the camera that she was the one doing the exploiting. She just wanted the attention, and even admits to hoping that Nev and his friends were filming what was going on before her big reveal. She says that there were times that she felt like she was falling in love with Nev, but also says that she feels that he and his friends still don’t fully understand the level of her mental state (she couldn’t stop herself from emailing Nev for some time after the ordeal was over), and she fears that there are probably more people like her out there than we would like to believe. However, the ordeal has helped her; she went to counseling and is now more focused on fixing her own family life after trying so desperately to escape to a fantasy world. She believes she’ll never try to do it again.
But what about Megan? Well, Angela Wesselman does have a 21-year-old daughter named Megan that she rarely saw or talked to at the time. She did tell Megan about what was going on, but that could end up being a fragment of her life that she never manages to mend.
So is this end of the ‘Catfish’ story, or will the fish continue to get bigger and bigger as years pass and the world occasionally checks in to see what has become of these players in a drama that could only be born in the age of technology? Angela’s husband Vince, who declined the 20/20 interview, doesn’t seem to mind Angela’s over-the-top tale too much. In the movie, he reveals why it’ called ‘Catfish’, stating that fisherman used to throw catfish into vats with codfish to keep them agile. Without the catfish in life always nipping at our fins, life would be dull and boring, according to him.
And if you really stop and think about it, the ending for all involved here isn’t all that bad; now Nev Schulman is a well-known filmmaker; Angela Wesselman got help for her problems and became closer to her family; and even Aimee Gonzalez, with her newly famous face, could use this experience to her advantage, if she wishes.
Sure it’s not what the filmmakers here expected to catch when they started filming what they thought was going to end as a modern-day fairytale, but they’ve instead reeled in a bountiful catch that we can all take a little something away from.