ELKHART — For people with phobias, seemingly harmless activities, like watching a movie, can be a source of crippling terror.
Now, thanks to a website created by an Elkhart couple, watching a film without worrying is easier than ever.
Phobias at the Movies is a searchable online movie database created by Erin and Tony Seger. Their inspiration to create the site stemmed from Erin’s struggle with emetophobia, the fear of vomit.
“Pretty much as long as I can remember I’ve had the issue, and it’s not so much myself getting sick, it’s seeing other people get sick or knowing that they are,” she explained.
Her fear has forced her to watch most movies on mute with subtitles.
“It’s always been annoying to anybody I’ve been watching movies with.”
Her husband Tony Seger got the idea for the website in April 2012 and recruited two family friends, Darrick Parker and Adam Griffin, to help.
“Tony and I have been friends for 10 years and we always talk about movies. It’s like our friendship revolves around it somehow in one way or another,” Griffin said. “All he had to do was ask and I was in.”
Phobia facts from the National Institute of Mental Health
- Specific phobias affect an estimated 19.2 million adult Americans and are twice as common in women as men.
- They usually appear in childhood or adolescence and tend to persist into adulthood.
- The causes of specific phobias are not well understood, but there is some evidence that the tendency to develop them may run in families.
Before the website even launched, the group screened more than 1,000 movies.
The screening process involves at least one of them watching a movie from start to finish and looking for eight of the most common phobias: blood, dentists or teeth, needles, puppets or dolls, vomit, clowns, spiders and snakes.
If any of those triggers make an appearance in the film, they write down a brief description of the scene and what time it appears, then update the website.
Visitors to the site can search for their specific phobia or phobias to see if a particular movie is safe for them or if they should skip it.
Some films, like “27 Dresses,” are phobia free. Others, like the recently-released “X:Men: Days of Futures Past” have eight recorded instances of phobias, including blood, vomit and needles.
Between the four of them, Tony Seger estimates they work nearly 100 hours a week screening films (including a weekly trip to the movie theater), updating social media and adding films to the website.
“We want people to come back to the site so we’re putting as much time as possible as we can into it,” Tony Seger said.
For him and his wife, that’s all in addition to raising two young children and working other jobs — Erin Seger works at Tire Rack in South Bend and Tony Seger works for Composites One in Goshen.
The goal is to see the site become so successful that it becomes their main job, Tony Seger said, but what energizes them is knowing they’re helping others. They get five or six movie requests every week, and they do their best to screen them all as quickly as possible.
“It’s to help people just enjoy a movie,” Tony Seger said. “You shouldn’t be afraid when you’re watching a movie.”
Since they started the website, Erin Seger has noticed a slight improvement in her own phobia. When she started screening films, she’d have to call her husband in the room anytime vomit appeared and have him take over.
”I mean, I still don’t like it now, and I mute it, but I can at least watch it without him coming in. It’s exciting,” she said.
Find Phobias at the Movies at phobiasatthemovies.com or on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or Pinterest.