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Writer-Director Jess Varley on the Real Life Fears Behind 'Phobias'

March 18, 2021
2 min read time

Phobias, a horror film about a group of strangers brought together by their fears for an insidious medical experiment, is rooted in the real-life fears of its creators.

Jess Varley wrote and directed two segments of the film: Atelophobia and Outpost 37.

“The producers reached out to the filmmakers and got the squad together and we all sat down to talk about our fears and found our own phobias,” she said.

Some of the film’s producers also worked on V/H/S (2012) and Ready or Not (2019), which gave them “a really good gage on what segments were going to be the best to shoot,” according to Varley.

For her, the project was about exploring what she describes as the dark side of perfectionism.

“Atelophobia is fear of imperfection … This story is about comparing yourself to other people and when you’re in this dark space of perfectionism, you’re never going to measure up to that person,” she said.

“What’s so amazing about horror is it’s a way to share those darker corners of ourselves. My struggle pre-body positive social movement helped inspire this segment.”

Some fan favorites can also be found in Phobias, including Alexis Knapp and Hana Mae Lee (both of Pitch Perfect), Monique Coleman (High School Musical), and Camilla Belle (When a Stranger Calls).

A Phobias highlight for Varley, however, was working with the inimitable Macy Gray.

“Macy is so dynamic and fascinating to watch. She really gave it her all and trusted me to go on this journey with her,” Varley said.

“This was not an easy role, and I was really impressed with what she brought.”

Phobias, as with all of Varley’s projects, started with an outline.

“Personally, I find outlining is helpful. I also recommend that writers do a logline and synopsis first and then write out every scene, especially if you’re working with producers,” she said.

“I feel it’s easier to write if you have a strong foundation to start with.”

From there, her work moved to Final Draft.

“Final Draft is just the ultimate tool for a writer,” Varley said.

“With filmmaking, you need so much to do your job; cameras, audio, lights. As a writer, all you need is your idea, a computer, and Final Draft.”

Phobias is now available on VOD.

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