Growing up in a small town in northern Wisconsin, Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau never imagined herself as a movie director. That is, until she realized that she was actually living the screenplay of her dreams.
"I'd always had a passion for film, but I was too conservative to major in it in college or to pack up and move to L.A. after college," she says. "I felt that burning need to go out and get a 'regular' job."
As it turned out, that "regular" job -- a pharmaceutical industry rep -- would eventually lead to her big break in the film industry.
Based on her stockpile of personal experiences under the influence of the drug industry, Slattery-Moschkau wrote, and eventually directed, "Side Effects." The film opens Friday, Dec. 9 at the Ridge Cinemas in New Berlin and Westgate Art Cinemas in Madison.
"I had a story to tell," she says. "A story that I felt people needed to know. For 10 years I lived as a drug rep for a major pharmaceutical company. I experienced, almost daily, the comical marketing tactics of the industry, as well as the dangerous pursuit for profits that can come at the expense of patients' lives."
"Side Effects" follows Karly Hert (Katherine Heigl), who, through perks and attractive paychecks, gets sucked into the seductive and deceitful pharmaceutical industry, despite her increasing disapproval of its moral conduct.
In exchange for bonuses, new cars and promotions, Karly sacrifices personal relationships and self respect until she realizes she has one very important choice to make: sell out for wealth or expose the industry's dirty secrets.
"Writing the script forced me to explore my own demons," says Slattery-Moschkau. "I was disgusted by an industry that was putting profits before patients repeatedly, yet it took me almost a decade to walk away. Every time I made the decision to leave, I would get a big fat raise, or a new company car, or a promotion and I would find myself rationalizing reasons to stay. In essence, I was no better than the industry that I was disgusted by. To this day it is not something I am proud to admit, but it was an important part of the journey to the film."
With the script complete, Slattery-Moschkau got an agent in L.A. who then subjected her script to several sensationalized Hollywood rewrites, leaving her with something she says she would not attach her name to. Her film had almost lost everything she felt was important.
"At that moment, after having read the final rewrite, I decided to make the damn thing myself. I got rid of the agent and went back to my original script."
Within the next two months, she rose her own funding, recruited a crew and was shooting her film with actress Katherine Heigl in Madison.
"The vast majority of our cast is Milwaukee- and Madison-based talent," says the film's producer Holly Mosher, a Milwaukee native now living in California. Even the soundtrack -- available at Exclusive Company -- features Milwaukee-based indie bands Heathrow, On a Sun and Feet of Clay.
"Something always seems to bring me back (to Milwaukee,)" she says. "All three fiction films that I've produced have been shot in Wisconsin, and when Kathleen sent me ('Side Effects') I absolutely loved it! I was thrilled with the opportunity to finally work on a script that could possibly affect change."
Mosher has also been involved with creating a 50-minute documentary to coincide with the film called "Money Talks: Profits Before Patient Safety." An eight-minute trailer is available at sideeffectsthemovie.com.
"What we sell ourselves for as individuals every day and how that parallels with what the industry sells itself for was very important for me to explore," says Slattery-Moschkau. "I think audiences will laugh, be shocked, and ultimately come away with a much better awareness of how the pharmaceutical industry operates. Through this awareness, we can become much smarter consumers."
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”