It was an innocent cyber romance that met a shocking conclusion, and it was all caught on tape: The documentary thriller "Catfish" chronicled New York photographer Nev Schulman's relationship with a woman he believed to be an attractive 19-year-old girl and her family, including her 8-year-old artist prodigy sister. He would later learn that the girl, who said her name was Megan, and her family were not at all what they appeared to be online.
"Catfish," which debuted last year and was released on DVD in January, made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival and became one of the most buzzed-about documentaries of the year. But just because you've seen the film doesn't mean you know the whole story.
"20/20" spoke with Schulman, Catfish filmmakers Ariel Schulman (Nev Schulman's brother) and Henry Joost and, in an exclusive, the woman who created the nuanced illusions that fooled a young man into thinking he'd found the love of his life.
The story began in 2007, when Schulman, then 24, heard from an 8-year-old girl named Abby via MySpace. A budding artist, Abby said she had seen one of Schulman's photographs published in a newspaper and requested permission to paint it. Schulman said yes and, weeks later, received a watercolor rendition of his photo.
The painting, Schulman said, was great. "I was kind of floored," he remembered.
Schulman sent Abby more of his photographs to paint and with her mother Angela's blessing, the two began corresponding online. Schulman was soon deluged with packages filled with Abby's paintings and drawings. That's when Ariel Schulman and Joost -- both filmmakers who shot Schulman and their friends hanging around all the time -- began to see a story taking shape.
"That's when I started filming because he would go, 'Pick these packages up, bring them down to the office and slice them open,'" said Ariel Schulman. "I thought it would make a cute short film. Simple as that."
Within two months, Schulman became Facebook friends with a small throng of Abby's fans and family, including her 19-year-old half-sister Megan. Like Schulman, she was a photographer and he was intrigued by the photos of herself which she posted online.
"She was smoking hot, unbelievably sexy ... super beautiful," Schulman said.
Although they were complete strangers, he quickly fell for her and found himself opening up to her in ways he hadn't with other women, he told "20/20."
As part of their virtual courtship, Megan, who was also a talented musician, would write songs for Schulman -- often singing them as duets with her brother and mother, Angela -- and post them on Facebook.
Schulman said the songs made him "melt."
"Here's this girl, this beautiful girl, virgin girl in Michigan who's writing me passionate love songs," he said.
The two talked on the phone and exchanged steamy text messages. Schulman even doctored a photo to look like the two of them were posing together.
"I titled the photo 'someday' because I thought, you know what … I'm not going to be guarded. ... I'm not going to reserve the fact that I really do like her and that I'm hoping it works out," he said.