Fans of MTV's "Catfish: The TV Show" may notice something familiar in the new film "We Are Your Friends."
The movie, out Friday, is the feature directorial debut of Max Joseph, best known for co-hosting the "Catfish" series, which unmasks people who use fake online identities to deceive someone else, usually when it comes to online romances.
Joseph says he worked on the film and "Catfish" simultaneously and that some of the TV show "definitely worked its way into the movie."
"We Are Your Friends," which stars Zac Efron, follows a young man named Cole (Efron) as he struggles to make his fame and fortune as a DJ in the electronic dance music scene. It also examines the youthful angst of today.
Joseph, 33, says the 20-somethings he worked with while sleuthing for online scammers are basically the same people you see in his movie.
The director says he'd "absorb and observe what they're going through and they're hopes and dreams and aspirations and if they feel stuck or if they don't like who they are for whatever reason — bad decisions they made, what they look like, etc., etc."
Joseph says a lot what he heard fit in with what his characters were going through.
"Someone would say something during the day on 'Catfish' and I would remember it and I would put it in the script that night when I was writing it and send it back to my co-writer in LA," Joseph said.
The TV show's rough documentary style is also reflected in the film, which the director says "needed to feel gritty and have a lot of movement to it" so Efron didn't look too polished for the part.
"Zac has been in a lot of big, glossy commercial films and also a lot of indie films as well," Joseph said, "but I don't feel like anyone's seen him in shots that are quasi-documentary and I think that that would allow people to accept him more as a real person, as opposed to Zac Efron, the handsome movie star."
"We Are Your Friends" even has something of its own catfish among its characters.
The character Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) "leads Cole to believe that she's got her life together," Joseph says, "but then he realizes at one point that that's not entirely true and that she was putting on a facade."
Joseph says he just recognized that these were compelling qualities.
"Those elements that make 'Catfish' so interesting to watch, elements of deception and mystery, make any movie or any piece of content exciting to watch," he said. "It makes characters complex and interesting."