Side Effects

Interview With Director Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau

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What made you decide to make Side Effects?

The film is fiction, but is based on my ten years of experience working as a sales rep in the pharmaceutical industry. As a rep, I could not believe the things I was asked to do and say on a daily basis in order to push the drugs of the big pharmaceutical companies. It was both comical and scary at the same time.

To be honest, for most of my career, I could hardly look at myself in the mirror. It is hard to admit this, but I stayed because the money was good and I got a free car. Towards the end, as I started to mature, I began to see how devastating the consequences of such marketing practices could be. I could see that patient safety would always take a back seat to profits. I just could not be a part of it any more and decided that unemployment was a better alternative to an unethical career. Since I had taken many notes along the way and had already begun writing screenplays, I decided to develop the story.

I really felt compelled to show the general public what goes on behind the scenes of these companies. Also, it seemed that my internal struggle as to whether or not to stay in such a career was almost a universal struggle that many face on a daily basis. Thus I thought the combination of the backdrop of the pharmaceutical industry combined with a very personal internal struggle would be a very compelling story. I wanted to write a script that would both shed light AND have the audience come away questioning their own choices. In order to protect the integrity of the story, I decided to make the film myself.

Describe Side Effects. What message do you hope that people will take from the film?

The film is both a satirical look at the pharmaceutical industry as well as a film that makes us all take a look at what we sell ourselves for every day. I want audiences to come away with a better understanding of the marketing practices of the pharmaceutical industry...this will help them make better decisions about the drugs they are prescribed on a daily basis and HOPEFULLY be a catalyst for change in how business is currently done.

I think audiences will laugh and be shocked by what they see. On more of a human level, I think people will personally relate to this film. It seems that I meet so many people that are selling their lives for a big paycheck... they have the SUVs and the big house in the 'burbs and every other toy imaginable... most of them when pressed hate their jobs, but are slaves to it because of all of their stuff. They can't leave because they are all wearing the golden handcuffs.

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Have you always had an interest in film?

I have always loved film, but was way too practical as a young adult to ever consider it as a career. I was raised that you go to school and you get out and get a solid 8-5 job in Corporate America. I had no balls then.

When you made the decision to make the film yourself - how daunting a prospect was the task ahead? How did you approach it?

It was very daunting, but also the most exciting thing I have ever done. It felt right from the first moment I made the decision. That is not to say that it wasn't difficult, but I surrounded myself with great people and took it one day and one decision at a time. Also, from the start, I set a very tight timeline for myself in terms of raising the capital, casting, and our shoot dates. I was very strict about not changing any of these deadlines...that is what helped to drive the project forward.

Your background in the pharmaceutical industry is markedly different from a career in filmmaking, did the fact that Side Effects is about the industry you know so well, make it easier or more difficult to direct your first film?

It made it much easier. It was the one area I knew more about that any one else involved with the project. The comfort I had with this knowledge gave me the confidence I needed to take on and complete this project.

How hard was it to get the necessary backing for the project?

Not very difficult at all. The topic is obviously very timely, we had a very reasonable budget when compared to the rest of the film world, and it was obvious to the people that I approached that I was passionate about the project. I think that most people felt it was a pretty solid investment and it would be something much more fun to invest in than old stocks and bonds.

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How did you find the process of turning what you had written into film - did the film materialize in the way you had visualized?

I loved the process. I am so glad that we went this route because I did not have to sell out and change the story a thousand times to appeal to big powers that be. I was able to tell the story the way that it was meant to be told. Obviously, it would have been great to have a larger budget, but every filmmaker thinks that... no matter what budget level they are at.

When did the casting process take place for the film and how did Katherine Heigl get involved with the project?

I worked with a casting director in LA. Due to our tight time frame, we began casting in June for a late July shoot. The casting director and I worked very closely to identify the right person for the role. She had actually worked with Katherine on another project a few years prior and we both decided that Katherine was what we were looking for.

How important was that process and also how important was it to assemble a crew that had the same passion and drive for the project as yourself?

The casting process for the lead actress was instrumental. The success of the entire project was dependent on finding the right person for the role. We had to find an actress that looked the part and would have the acting depth to play the role. Katherine was the perfect match. Although many actresses might have been able to play the part of Karly Hert, Katherine WAS Karly Hert. It was eerie.

Selecting the crew was also critical. Because we were a relatively low budget film, that meant we needed to have experienced people come on board because they were passionate about the project and not necessarily because they were seeking a big paycheck. As a result, although we stayed within our budget, we have a film that looks like it cost a lot more than it did. That was due strictly to the experience and passion of our talented and hard working crew.

Were you expecting to get a reasonably well known actress such as Katherine to play the lead role or was that a bonus?

We knew that the future success of the film was dependent on landing a name talent star. In today's world of film distribution, no matter how good your film is, it is almost imperative to have name talent attached.

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Thus we went after this quite aggressively. I think that the project was appealing to Katherine for several reasons. I think the character of Karly Hert allowed Katherine to display both her comedic and dramatic abilities. Obviously, the film was also very timely and Katherine showed a lot of interest in the topic and the life choices that the lead character had to make.

Finally, Katherine indicated that she really enjoyed the script as a whole.

Had you seen Katherine in other films and television shows prior to working with her?

Yes, I had seen her in a variety of roles.

On your production website you wrote, 'Side Effects stars Katherine Heigl. Katherine knocked our socks off. She is an amazing talent and we feel honored to have her be a part of this project.' Did her performance exceed your expectations?

Her performance so exceeded my expectations that I often had goose bumps watching her perform. She made my job as a director incredibly easy. She nailed almost every scene the first take. In fact, after the first day, it became quite evident that we needed to roll the film on rehearsal because the first take was often dead on.

There were a few scenes where she did not quite understand the tone I was going for, etc. We spent some time talking about these scenes and I would give her some of the back story as to the emotional motivation for the scene. She would then walk onto set and nail it. She was very in tune to what I was looking for and very willing to ask for more information when she felt she needed it.

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Her performance in this role did change my perception of her as an actress from the stand point that I am not sure that previous projects did justice to the depth that she has to offer... again both from a comedic and dramatic standpoint.

Heigl is listed as 'Executive Producer' in the credits for the film. What was her involvement with the film from this perspective?

Katherine took a strong leadership role on the set in terms of setting the tone of relaxed professionalism and scheduling of the shoot during production of Side Effects. She was continuously working with the crew to ensure the best output.

What was Katherine like as a person?

Unbelievably naturally beautiful, talented beyond my expectations, laid back and funny as hell.

You have a soundtrack for the film. How important was the choice of music to the project?

The soundtrack was one of the most fun and important aspects of the film. Obviously music really helps set the tone of any given scene and since this film is complex in the fact that it is both funny in a satirical sense, but also dramatic, we needed music that could accurately depict and enhance the mood of the film at various stages. We are so pleased with the results and our hats are off to the musicians involved.

How important was choosing the right producer given that this was your directorial debut?

This was critical. I needed someone who was experienced and passionate. I got that in Holly Mosher. Since this was my debut as a director, I needed to surround myself with a team that was rock solid and qualified to take this film to another level. Holly's commitment to the project has continuously exceeded my expectations... I have never seen someone give so much of themselves for their work.

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In the behind-the-scenes shots on the website - the cast and crew seem to be very happy and relaxed. Did everyone work well together?

To be honest, although the shooting schedule was gruelling, we all had a ton of fun. Everyone involved seemed to be both professional and fun at the same time. Katherine's sense of humor really set the tone on the set and I am so grateful for that as a first time director.

Do you have any advice for would-be filmmakers?

I could write an entire book on this topic. Here are just a couple of pointers... write a really good script, that is what the actors are looking for. Surround yourself with experience.

Believe in yourself and your vision... there will be so many along the way that will try to tell you it cannot be done, shouldn't be done, or here is how you should do it different. Listen to words of wisdom but ultimately stick to your vision... this is what is missing in Hollywood films right now. That IS how you will differentiate yourself.

What are your hopes for Side Effects? Were you happy with how the film turned out?

Obviously, my hopes for the film are quite high. I think we have a great film that will appeal to a very broad audience. Not only is the timing of the topic hot, but Katherine's performance was incredible. I think she is a star on the verge of a huge break through. I think Side Effects will be one of the vehicles that will allow audiences to see all that she is capable of. I am very happy with how the film turned out.