In a time where pharmaceutical drug consumption is akin to picking out candy, it’s unique to find a film that expresses apprehension at how easily we fill our guts with pills and how rigorously those pills are marketed to us, whether we need them or not. Side Effects, starring Katherine Heigl (of Grey’s Anatomy fame) is one such film, spoken from the perspective of someone who really knows what’s going on behind closed doors, former pharmaceutical drug marketing rep and director of the film, Kathleen-Slattery Moschkau. Kathleen took some time on the eve of the major DVD release of Side Effects to talk to Film Threat’s Mark Bell about the impetus behind the film, convincing Katherine Heigl to dance naked and the implementation of true DIY filmmaking ethic.
How did your feature directing debut with Side Effects come about? What was the genesis of the project?
Side Effects is a feature film loosely based on my decade selling pills for the pharmaceutical industry. This experience provided a lot of great material to work with… funny, shocking and soul searching. The film is a satirical insider’s look at the daily marketing practices of the pharmaceutical industry. Side Effects is fiction and follows the ethical, comical, and disturbing experiences of a young woman caught on the inside of an industry out of control. On a basic human level, it is a film that evaluates what we sell ourselves for each day. I think this is why the film is resonating with folks so much…even those who don’t give a lick about the pharma stuff. Most of us at some point or another have faced these choices… a life/career filled with passion and integrity vs. selling out for money, benefits, and the charade of the good life.
I landed an agent in LA for Side Effects. However, he wanted me to water down the script significantly to make it more appealing to the studios. When I started seeing the results of what he felt would ‘sell’, I said no thank you, I will make my own damn movie. To be honest, the choice was not just as easy as this: living in Wisconsin, I knew I would be cutting myself from my only Hollywood connection. In the end though, I just felt that I could not sell out again. I lost sleep and weight over this decision, but the moment the final decision was made, it felt amazing.
I made the decision to make the film at the end of April 2004. I raised the money within 30 days and we were shooting with Katherine Heigl by July 19th, less than three months from the moment I walked away from my agent. To be honest, previous to this time, I NEVER thought/considered making my own film. Once I made the decision, I was scared to death but unbelievably invigorated by the liberating thought of just doing it myself. That said, I still feel a little shell shocked by this whole experience. It has been non stop for almost two years now. Every day I wake up and have to do 20 things I never have done before… and it is challenging, exciting, exhausting, scary, and intoxicating as hell.
The day I decided to make the film, I immediately hired an entertainment attorney who held my hand throughout the process of pre-production and pointed me in the direction of my producer, Holly Mosher. Her production experience combined with my enthusiasm and vision for the film is what was necessary to take us through production, post, and distribution.
After spending so much time in the corporate world, what made you decide to take the leap into filmmaking?
I always had a passion for film, but in my younger years (high school and college), I was always too ‘practical’ to consider it for a career. Maybe due to how I was raised or some other craziness, I felt like I had to graduate from college in four years and go out and get a ‘real job’. Even though I loved film, it NEVER occurred to me to pursue it as a career or to even to take classes in that direction as an undergrad. My desire to be involved in film continued to eat away at me as I entered the corporate world. By that time, I was already locked into life in Wisconsin… a house, a husband, etc. I became a closet screenwriter because I felt it was the one way that I could be involved with film and live in Wisconsin. Although I have no formal screenwriting experience, I read tons of scripts, watched lots of films, attended weekend writing seminars, read lots of screenwriting textbooks, and began to take acting classes to better understand the use of dialogue, etc. I also had some great people reviewing my work and giving feedback. Fast forward a few years to Side Effects (which was not my first script). The first draft of Side Effects practically wrote itself… I was writing from the heart and writing from experience and trying to be as honest in my writing and my goals as possible… I wanted to write a real woman who was facing an issue that affects almost all of us…that issue of what we sell ourselves for everyday… that fork in the road of do I pursue what I love and feel right about or sell out for the big house in the burbs, the big SUV, the granite countertops, etc. I also felt the backdrop of the script (the pharma industry and how they operate) was critical for us as consumers and prescribers of prescription medications to understand… it was a world most had not yet seen or had very little understanding of. 63,000 drafts later (does the tweaking EVER end?), we have the version of the script that appears on the screen.
So, Side Effects is your story, does that feel odd to bring to the screen, a film that reveals a particular time in your life?
It is odd, but it also serves a constant reminder of something I never want to repeat… constant selling out for money or doing things that are not ethical just because it is the status quo. I also love the fact that the film does seem to be getting folks thinking/talking about the prescription drugs they take/prescribe. Maybe it is somewhat therapeutic for me… a way to correct ten years of doing the wrong the thing.
What was the budget and how long did it take you to make it? How did you raise the funding?
Our budget was $190,000. We shot the film in 16 days.
I raised the money within 30 days from individual outside investors. I was fortunate in that the people I approached were very excited about the script, the potential for the film, and my passion for the project.
I think more filmmakers should consider this option… rather than waiting around for someone else to give them the nod… give them approval. If we TRULY want to make films…how we want, when we want… let’s go out and raise our own damn money.
How did you go about casting and how did you get Katherine Heigl?
When I made the decision to make the film, I set a very tight deadline for myself to begin shooting. I set July 19th as my shoot date come hell or high water… the topic was too timely to drag out pre-production and I knew I would have the best chance of landing a name talent for the lead if I shot in the summer. (those involved in television would be off, etc). The clock was ticking and did not want to hire a casting director until I had my funding in place. Thus, in the first few weeks, I just picked up the phone and started calling people’s agents. I was lucky in that there was a good amount of interest in the script and several agents asked me to send it to them. Because of our time constraints, we had to give the actresses very short turn around time for an answer. It was really fun to hear the general excitement about the script.
When I had my funding in place (at the end of the first month), I hired casting director Dorian Dunas to help cast the lead. Dorian had previously cast Katherine on other projects. We were very fortunate in that Katherine loved the script and was willing to take on this little indie film. Things moved very quickly… we literally signed her within a couple days of her reading the script.
Katherine was amazing to work with… she set a fun and relaxed tone on set and delivered an outstanding performance… I was so impressed with her ability to pull off both the physical comedy needed as well as the dramatic elements of the film. I love how well Side Effects shows her outstanding range. She really was perfect for the role.
To round out the rest of the cast, I held several Midwest Casting calls and most of our actors hail from Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago.
And you and Katherine are both blonde… hmmm… care to comment?
I think the box says L’Oreal 110. (smile)
Were there any on the set antics with Katherine you care to reveal?
Katherine was a hoot on set… she was constantly messing around with the cast and crew and has a wicked sense of humor. I am sworn to secrecy on some of the more saucy ‘antics’ that occurred on set.
Get more Side Effects in part two of THE “SIDE EFFECTS” OF KATHLEEN SLATTERY-MOSCHKAU>>>