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ID'ing phobias in movies

Website warns of icky subjects before you watch

Elkhart resident Tony Seger is a full-time working dad who had a problem.

His wife, Erin, has a fear of vomiting, scientifically known as emetophobia.

Just the thought of potential vomiting causes an intense amount of anxiety for her, leaving her clutching her ears and running out of the room even when it’s fake in movies and cartoons. When Seger wanted to watch a movie with his wife, her best friend had to watch it first to notify the family of all queasy-inducing scenes.

He began looking for a review website that would make watching movies less complicated for his wife. While he didn’t find such a website, he did find a community of people with the same problem.

Out of necessity, Seger spent the last two years creating PhobiasAt​theMovies.com, an online movie database for viewers with certain phobias.

Launching the website three months ago, Seger and his five-member staff of loved ones and friends have collectively screened more than 1,500 movies for blood, clowns, snakes, spiders, needles, vomiting, dentists and teeth, and dolls and puppets.

Each rating details the amount of phobias in the movie, the appearance time and duration of each phobia, down to the second.

Seger says it took a little more than a year for them to compile 1,000 movies before launching the website. The staff continues to add one or two movies to the database daily and go to the movie theater every weekend to review newly released films. Seger says the administrator side of the website allows them to plug in the information as they go along.

Reviewers also watch a weekly average of eight movies that are requested by website members; Seger says they try to post the review within 48 hours of the request.

He estimates that he and his wife have reviewed 650 movies alone.

“Well, it ruins movie watching for you,” he says, laughing. “When we first started, you kind of get lost in the movie and forget what you’re doing. So it’s pretty hard. But now that’s all I see in a movie. Even if we’re watching movies that we’ve already done, I won’t miss it.”

“I like that because we’re always trying to double check each other,” Seger adds.

Although he and his wife both juggle their day jobs, the website and two young children, Seger says it’s been worth it. Beyond just a movie date, his wife’s phobia affected their family life with their two sons, 3-year-old Zach and 2-year-old Caleb.

“I hate snakes, but I personally don’t suffer from a phobia like she does,” Seger says. “When I’m sick or when our 3-year-old is sick, she leaves the house. She feels terrible about that, but she’s gotten better at that.”

Erin Seger says she has gone to doctors and therapists but never has been able to pinpoint how her phobia began.

Previously feeling isolated about her fear, she says the response to the website has made her feel more comfortable.

Now that she knows what to expect and when to expect it when watching a movie, she says it’s easier for her to subdue her anxiety; she also is now able to fully help her husband screen movies.

“When we first started this, I used to pause the TV, walk out of the room so that he could do the part (with vomiting). I am by no means cured; I still might mute the TV or turn my head, but if I know what’s going on, I still might not like it, but I can stay in the room,” she says.

Over the past three months, Seger says website members from the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries have connected with him to let him know that they used the website as a method of exposure therapy.

“When you think about working on exposure therapy with a therapist, I don’t know how comfortable you can be, but when it comes to working with somebody that you love and trust, it can actually help,” he says.

As the website catches on, so does the demand for more phobias to be covered. Tony Seger says if the website is able to earn revenue, he would like to add phobias on another website and include a TV database, as well. He says he would love for the website to become a supplementary service offered through Netflix or DirecTV.

With the only stake in an open online market, competition could be ahead – if they’re crazy enough, Seger says.

“We might get someone who will be a competitor, but I don’t know if you’re going to find someone else to do this,” he says. “We’re at 1,500 movies now, and we go to the movie theater every Friday night or Saturday morning.

“I don’t think you’re going to find someone who wants to go to the theater by themselves and scan a movie, which is a hassle in itself.”

Outside of the few thousand dollars spent for a Web programmer, Seger says that between movie tickets, Netflix accounts and Web-hosting fees, he currently invests an estimated $100 a month into running the website.

Until the website earns its own revenue, the Segers have no plans to quit their jobs.

Tony Seger says he sent a pitch video to the ABC-TV show “Shark Tank” to bring his website to the show’s four moguls for financial backing in exchange for a percentage of the business or profits.

He says a producer called him back to say the website was a unique idea but perhaps too early for the show. He says he will know by August if he will be swimming with the “sharks.”

But even if they don’t make it to prime-time TV, he says he has no fear for the future.

“I guess I have only been on Tumblr for a month and already have a thousand followers – they are crazy about the website. That’s pretty cool to me, especially, if it’s helping people live their life better,” he says.

“I’m closer to the vomiting phobia, but I’ve been speaking to people who won’t leave their houses, and they’re saying they are going to try out the website and do more things out of the house.”

“It’s been a crazy ride with the amount of people that we have reached, and I feel like we’re just scratching the surface.”

kcarr@jg.net

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