Thursday, May 23

Movie reassures those with phobias

Alumna Catherine Pirotta's "Dreamkiller" reveals that fears are normal and widespread

Immersion therapy, in the language of psychology, refers to a treatment approach such that patients confront their phobias head-on, with increasing intensity. In the most bluntly traumatic way, this technique might describe such films as “Hostel” and the “Saw” franchise, films gruesome enough that they were dubbed “torture porn,” but popular enough that they assaulted theaters regularly throughout the 2000s.

For those who prefer their psychological thrillers to be cerebral rather than guttural, though, attention may well be paid to “Dreamkiller,” directed by Catherine Pirotta, an alumna of the UCLA Screenwriting Program, and filmed partially on campus. It is set to premiere tonight at the Arclight in Hollywood.

“We all know about the most common fears,” said Dario Deak, who stars in the film as Dr. Nick Nemet, head of a psychological research team studying phobias. “But we went even deeper, to areas that people don’t even really classify as fears, but that are scientifically known to be fears, such as the fear of love, fear of success, fear of poverty. Those things we all feel to one degree or another, but we either don’t see it as any kind of a handicap or we don’t acknowledge it.”

“Dreamkiller” places these fears front and center, as patients in Dr. Nemet’s lab begin dying in ways that coincide suspiciously with the phobias they’ve been working to overcome. The concept came initially from Deak, Pirotta and Nick Rish, who plays a detective in the film, but the writing process grew to incorporate an entire team of people, including a group of researchers looking into the psychology of fear. Deak said they set out in pursuit of making a film that had both substance and entertainment value.

“As a director, I’m more inclined to drama, always,” Pirotta said. “To me, the most important thing was that the characters are more than just guys going from here to there and trying to discover the crimes. They had to be persons.”

The most important persons to consider, however, were those who would be watching “Dreamkiller.” During the marketing campaign for the film, titled “What Do U Fear?,” Deak and Pirotta have posed this central question to many an ordinary citizen, with many a forthcoming response.

“Every one of us has a whole list of fears, and it was interesting how many people were actually happy and willing to talk about them,” Deak said. “Nowadays, people are very responsive to that question and seem almost happy to put it out there.”

This responsiveness is encouraging to Deak and Pirotta, who see bravery not as an absence of fear but as an acknowledgment and confrontation of it. One of the main goals of the “Dreamkiller” campaign is to spread a feeling of normalcy, to reassure viewers that their fears do not place them in a minority. A potential partnership with UCLA’s Counseling Center fell through, but Pirotta and Deak are pursuing connections with other psychological services offices nationwide, as well as celebrities and well-known figures.

“When you hear celebrities talking about their fears, you feel a little more normal,” Pirotta said.

Ultimately, though, Pirotta and Deak realize that the burden rests upon each individual, no matter how many movie stars confide their fear of elevators.

“There are no shortcuts in life ““ that’s one of the messages in the movie ““ sometimes you just have to be strong and get up every time you fall, and at the end the only way to defeat fear is to be brave,” Pirotta said. “We just have to do it.”

Easier said than done, some of the more fearful among us might argue, but Pirotta’s proactive philosophy seems to have trickled down to the cast members.

“A lot of people think that they need to overcome their fear, and it’s not necessarily an easy thing to do,” said Diandra Newlin, who plays Dr. Nemet’s sister Natalia, and contributed a song, “Cuss,” for the film. “But take a small step every day. (Viewers will) learn how to overcome their fears a little bit in the film, and that you’re not the only person who has them.”

The most compelling argument for Deak and Pirotta’s call for empowerment, however, comes from their own challenging journey creating the film, itself a textbook example of practicing what you preach.

“We were scared,” Deak said. “To make a film is a humongous undertaking, not only to make it but to put it out there. … That’s fine. As long as you do it, that’s okay, no matter what the outcome is. We jumped into the water of fear by doing this film, and in it we’re defeating it, every single day.”

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