updated 07/10/2014 AT 1:00 PM ET
•originally published 07/10/2014 AT 3:55 PM ET
Catfish’s Nev Schulman took a break from the complex world of online relationships to address another important issue.
The show creator joined Sophia Bush, Jemima Kirke and several other celebrities in a new batch of PSAs for the NO MORE movement. NO MORE is dedicated to bringing an end to sexual assault and domestic violence by creating a dialogue about these often taboo topics under one unifying symbol.
Schulman talked to PEOPLE about why he is proud to be part of this important project, the connections between NO MORE and his own show, and his most meaningful Catfish moment.
How did you become involved with NO MORE and its PSAs?
Viacom worked with NO MORE to bring talent from different MTV network shows to participate in this. When they asked me if I would like to join, my answer was immediately “Yes!”
I’ve worked for years now with an organization called Leave Out Violence. It is an organization that focuses on young individuals who have been affected by violence of some kind. It gives them a community to go to for support and offers really amazing programs. I’ve been involved in the effort to provide support and offer alternatives to people who have been affected by violence, so NO MORE was something I was very excited to be a part of.
Catfish gives young people and all those who watch the show a conversation starter, a new perspective on issues, most of which are emotional, and all of which are universal. It’s doing a lot of good that people are discussing these feelings and issues.
Like the feelings of love and loneliness explored on Catfish, there are a lot of feelings associated with domestic violence that people are afraid to talk about. This campaign is all about that. It’s about discussing the effects of domestic violence and not being afraid to bring it up.
What do you hope viewers take away when they see these PSAs?
The timing of these campaigns coincides shockingly well with the current rise of attention surrounding violence, in general.
There seems to be a shift towards a better understanding, and hopefully finding a respectful and balanced relationship between everyone. When you see these spots, you see both men and women, young and old, coming together to say domestic violence is an important issue that needs to be dealt with. We want to deal with it, and we would like you to do the same. If it gives one person just enough courage to change the way [he or she] thinks, or seek help, or remove themselves from a harmful situation, then it’s a success.
What do you find is the biggest misconception people have about Catfish?
The thing I struggle with the most about making the show is the misconception that we are exploiting people, which I am not surprised exists. I admit that many reality TV shows, in my opinion, do exploit the people on the show to some degree. Unfortunately, we are lumped in with that category.
We are so careful with everybody who comes on the show in terms of what each one is participating in and getting permission to make sure people are comfortable with everything. We’ve had episodes where, after filming, the participants have not been comfortable with what they shared, and we didn’t air those episodes.
The people on the show are choosing to have this intense life experience because it’s something they wanted. When people take the perspective that Catfish is exploitive – because sometimes I do feel badly that someone has to get humiliated or upset on television – I remind myself that, in my case, being humiliated in the Catfish film, featuring my crazy online relationship gone awry, liberated so many people around the world. It gave them permission to not be ashamed. So if every episode of the show does that for someone watching, then I think it’s for the greater good.
It’s the people who watch the show that I get to meet from all around the world. Just the other day, as I am standing at the airport, a gentleman comes up to me – in his late 40s or early 50s – and he says, “Hey, I just want to let you know that I watched your show with my daughter.”
And he said that when the episode ended, the discussion he and his daughter had was the single most intimate and meaningful conversation that he had with her. It was about self respect and online relationships, and all the things I desperately want the show to communicate. It was such an amazing thing to hear, that my work had initiated the most meaningful conversation he had with his daughter. What better thing can you hear?
What is your best piece of advice to people who are struggling with an issue they feel uncomfortable discussing with those around them?
There is no one right way to do things. There is a lot of pressure about how you are supposed to be. How you are supposed to look, dress and live your life. There’s all these built-in, preset expectations – and they aren’t true.
If you are dealing with an issue that you think is the kind of thing people don’t want to talk about or it’s embarrassing, I promise you it’s not. That weird, uncertain, lonely insecurity you have is the same one that everybody has. Don’t let it eat you up inside. Chances are the first person you turn to to talk about it is dealing with it or has dealt with it. The more vulnerable you can be, the more you will be able to connect with people in a meaningful way and grow from it.