Will the Truth About the Pharmaceutical Industry Make You Sick...or Make You Laugh?

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In 'Side Effects,' filmmaker Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau has turned her ten yearsÂ? experience as a rep for a top drug company into a darkly funny Â? and enlightening -- feature film starring Katherine Heigl ('Grey's Anatomy'). The movie has its national theatrical premiere at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas on September 9th, just up the road a piece from Angleton, Texas, where Merck & Co., embattled manufacturers of Vioxx, just lost their first legal battle to the tune of $253 million.

Will the Truth About the Pharmaceutical Industry Make You Sick...or Make You Laugh?

How about …both?!

In "Side Effects", filmmaker Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau has turned her ten years' experience as a rep for a top drug company into a darkly funny – and enlightening -- feature film starring Katherine Heigl ("Grey's Anatomy").

The movie has its national theatrical premiere at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas on September 9th, just up the road a piece from Angleton, Texas, where Merck & Co., embattled manufacturers of Vioxx, just lost their first legal battle to the tune of $253 million.

Consider …

  • In 2002, the combined profits (not revenues) for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were more than the profits for all the other 490 businesses combined ($33.7 billion)!
  • The pharmaceutical industry spends twice as much on Marketing as it does on Research and Development, a minimum of $25 BILLION per year!
  • The pharmaceutical industry spends more on lobbying than any other industry.

The facts about the drug industry are slowly coming to light, as lawsuits accusing patient misinformation continue to force medications off the market. Writer/director Slattery-Moschkau, whose personal story serves as the basis for "Side Effects", says, “Right now, it is an absolute crapshoot as to whether any given individual will benefit from the industry or be harmed by it.”

"Side Effects" reveals the techniques that drug companies use to market their products to physicians. “Even the medical community has had limited knowledge as to what is really going on behind the scenes of these companies,” Slattery-Moschkau notes. “It was important to me to raise awareness with both doctors and patients.”

“For ten years, as a drug rep, almost daily I experienced the comical marketing tactics of the industry, as well as their dangerous pursuit of profits that can, and have, come at the expense of patients' lives.” Slattery-Moschkau finally left the industry. “It was very difficult,” she recalls, “because the money and perks are so seductive, but eventually I couldn't look in the mirror any longer.”

The first-time writer/director felt, however, that she needed to share her knowledge and experience with the world. “I chose to do it as a story instead of a documentary,” she notes, “because I thought I could reach a wider audience that way. I felt that through fiction I could get people to laugh, be shocked, and get educated at the same time.”

E-mails from others in the industry support the veracity of Slattery-Moschkau's claims:

“I was caught in the industry for five years, till I lost the will to live and left.”

-- Sarah

“As a former sales rep in the pharma industry … I have thought about showing what the industry is truly like.”

-- Unsigned

“I work at an industry-related company where many of us grapple with these issues every day.”

-- Unsigned

“I was a pharma rep in Italy, lost my job due to mobbing, then published a book in 1999 that was the start of the trial that involved Glaxo Smith Kline and 3,000 people, from physicians, to reps and managers.”

-- Franco

“My wife is an area manager for a pharmaceutical company….The trailer, so far, has been an accurate description of a rep's life.”

-- Unsigned

In the movie, Karly Hert, played by Heigl, is a young woman struggling with love, ethics, and her unnerving career in the pharmaceutical industry. Seduced by the perks and benefits of corporate America, Karly is oblivious to her own value system until she meets Zach Danner (Lucian McAfee), a down-to-earth guy who challenges Karly to think clearly about what she's doing with her life – both personally and professionally.

Karly, encouraged by Zach, begins seeing her job more clearly, defying direction from upper management and employee handbooks, and does her work with a fresh twist – honesty. As she candidly begins revealing the true effects of her company's miracle drugs, irony takes hold, and her sales numbers go through the roof. Suddenly, Karly is reaping even greater benefits, and is lured back into the corporate machine.

While the company grooms Karly for management, she discovers some explicitly unethical marketing practices that are jeopardizing patient safety. She is faced again with ethical choices, but remembers her ultimate goal is the same as the corporation's, “to protect and prolong human life.” The film ends with Karly resolving her ethical dilemma – one way or the other!

Slattery-Moschkau filmed the entire production on a budget of $190,000, in Madison, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband and children, A “closet writer,” she jotted down some of her astonishing experiences while in the industry on “stickie notes.” Eventually, she had a whole pile of them, and “the script practically wrote itself.”

“I reached out to Hollywood, found an agent for the project, and everyone the agent showed it to come up with more ideas about how to dumb it down. It got so generic; it was like a bad TV movie of the week. There was no more pharmaceutical industry in it. Then my husband said, 'ever thought about making it yourself?' Boom! I was off and running.

“I hired an attorney who also happened to have some producing credits under his belt. He walked me through the whole process. We raised all the money in one month. I called the attorney on May 2nd and we started shooting July 19th. It was a miraculous whirlwind.” They used all local Wisconsin people, except for Heigl and the film's Hollywood producer, Holly Mosher, a Milwaukee native.

Slattery-Moschkau picked up some marketing savvy while working for Big Pharma. Her production company is offering a $1,000 cash prize, and inclusion on the "Side Effects DVD", to the consumer who submits to her the best original 30-second TV drug commercial. “It's a way for the American public to fight back with some humor and ambiguity of their own,” she says. Registration for the contest is at http://www.sideeffectsthemovie.com/bonus/. Those who pass the preliminary round will have their commercials posted on the Side Effects website.

"Side Effects" opens on September 9th at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas. Additional engagements include –

  • September 30, October 1, 2, 6 – Museum of Fine Arts – Boston
  • October 14 – Marcus Oakdale Theatre – Minneapolis
  • November 4 – Regal Galaxy 4 Cinema – San Francisco

-- Regal Berkeley 7 Cinema – Berkeley, CA

… with more bookings on the way.

Slattery-Moschkau's next project? “I'm writing a script on marriage,” she confides, “as honestly as I can write it. It's very humorous, but it's also got that flip side, of course.”

Shedding light on “the flip side” seems to be her great gift, along with her perceptive and incisive sense of humor. After you see Side Effects, you may agree that we'd all be better off with a little bit more of both. And fortunately, with Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau now making films, there's more on the way.

For additional information on "Side Effects," and to view the trailer, visit http://www.sideeffectsthemovie.com.

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David Langer
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