Psychology on the Big Screen

On Friday, May 25, 2012, Psychology in Action in collaboration with the UCLA’s Theater, Film, and Television Department presented a panel discussion at UCLA’s Bridges Theater on the intersection between the science of mental illness and the art of filmmaking.


– Jim Uhls, screenwriter (Fight Club)
– Gregory Hoblit, director (Primal FearFracture)
– Dr. Reef Karim, psychiatric consultant (ThirteenBourne Identity)
– Dr. Richard Gilbert, professor of Clinical Psychology at LMU

Moderated by Richard LeBeau, UCLA Psychology and Psychology in Action

Funded by the UCLA Campus Programs Committee of the Program Activities Board


Filmmakers create art that both provides entertainment and communicates a story or a vision. Films often examine the human condition, and inherent to understanding the human condition is understanding the full spectrum of psychological experience. Perhaps it is unsurprising that many characters in films frequently contend with common psychological issues (e.g., depression, anxiety, substance abuse), and rather disproportionately, cases of severe psychopathology (e.g., dissociative identity disorder, antisocial personality disorder, schizophrenia). This raises many interesting questions about why filmmakers and audiences continue to be intrigued by films that tell stories of mental illness, how these stories are told through the medium of film, what considerations filmmakers take into account when portraying mental illness, and how these films affect the audience.

Panelist Bios

  • Jim Uhls wrote the screenplay for Fight Club, starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, directed by David Fincher. For Steven Spielberg, he was creator and executive producer of a two hour pilot, Semper Fi, about young recruits in the Marine Corps, which aired as a special on NBC. He also wrote on Jumper, the film by Doug Liman starring Hayden Christensen. He is currently working on the mini-series “Year Zero” for BBC America and HBO. Jim is also a playwright, with The Relative Importance of Jeri produced in New York, and numerous plays produced in Los Angeles, including Collections of a Long-Distance Garbageman. Jim has studied with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the actors Estelle Parsons and David Suchet, playwright Robert Montgomery, and composer Bob Merrill. He was an original member of the Actors Gang when it was founded at UCLA. Jim founded the Writer’s and Actor’s Lab, a scene workshop for original material, and its successor, Safehouse.
  • Gregory Hoblit is a critically acclaimed director and producer of both television and film. On the small screen, Greg has earned nine Emmy Awards, a Producers Guild of America Award, and a Directors Guild of America Award for his work on Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, Hooperman, and the TV film Roe vs. Wade. After his success in television, Hoblit became a film director. Making his debut with Primal Fear, which won actor Edward Norton a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination, he has since helmed such features as Fallen, Frequency and Hart’s War (both of which he also produced), Fracture, and Untraceable. He has occasionally revisited television by directing the TV pilots NYPD 2069 and Solving Charlie. Greg completed his undergraduate degree at the UC Berkeley and UCLA, and he returned to UCLA to pursue graduate studies in film and television.
  • Dr. Reef Karim is well known as a clinician, educator, researcher and television personality. The Beverly Hills medical doctor practices as a board certified psychiatrist, board certified addiction medicine specialist and a relationship therapist while providing his expertise for numerous TV shows and feature films as a medical consultant (Bourne Identity, Thirteen, Laurel Canyon, Lords of Dogtown, Private Practice, Alias). Dr. Reef is an Assistant Clinical Professor at The UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and is a Senior Attending Physician of the UCLA Addiction Medicine Clinic. He is a published author (most recently the dating book, Why does he do that? Why does she do that?) and a writer (Huffington Post, Feature Screenplays), and has had many appearances as a guest expert on television shows from Oprah to Dateline to Chelsea Lately.
  • Dr. Richard Gilbert is Professor of Psychology at Loyola Marymount University and the Director of The PROSE (Psychological Research on Synthetic Environments) Project – a research lab that investigates the psychology of virtual worlds, virtual reality, and 3D digital platforms ( In addition to his academic appointment, Richard has a background in the creative arts as both a Grammy winning songwriter and a published novelist. One way he combines his academic and creative interests is by periodically teaching a seminar entitled “Psychology on Film,” in which outstanding character-based films are used as a vehicle to explore mental health and psychodynamic issues. Richard received his B.A. from Princeton University and his Ph.D. in the UCLA Clinical Psychology program.

Special Thanks

– Barbara Boyle, Chair, UCLA Theater, Film, & Television
– Cindy LaBarre & Steve Perlmutter, Bridges Theater
– UCLA Psychology Graduate Students Association
– UCLA Campus Programs Committee
– Psychology in Action volunteers
– Jaana Juvonen, Professor, UCLA Psychology
– Yalda T. Uhls, UCLA Psychology
– Orlando Luna, Center for Student Programming