Side Effects is the fictional true story of life as a legalized drug dealer. Karly Hert (“Grey's Anatomy” star Katherine Heigl) has spent the last 10 years working for the pharmaceutical industry and has made a pretty comfortable living doing so – big salary, company car, a closet full of designer suits. The only problem is Karly feels like she's losing a little piece of her soul each day, compromising her values in order to keep her big paycheck. Loosely based on Slattery-Moschkau's own experiences as a drug sales rep, Side Effects is the smart and sexy comedy that tackles a controversial subject some might find a little hard to swallow.
“Selling prescription drugs has nothing to do with who has the better product,” Slattery-Moschkau states. “It's all about wining and dining these people to buy your drugs.”
“Shocking things happened every day,” she continues, “and I knew – being the writer I am – that my life had the makings for a really good movie. People need to know how the industry works; they need to think twice before they pop that next pill. Things would happen and I would find myself diving for a pen. I would get completely lost in writing – I had sticky notes everywhere!”
After spending a decade working in the pill industry, Slattery-Moschkau finally found the reason to leave behind her empty – but lucrative – job. The Wisconsin native turned her life into a screenplay and quickly discovered that studios in Hollywood were eating it up. But when she was asked to “jazz up” her script and add some car chases, Slattery-Moschkau took the biggest leap of all and decided to make the film herself.
“I really wanted to be open-minded because I wanted the script to get better,” she states, “but the studios were just making it more generic. I wanted audiences to be entertained, but I also had critical information I wanted to share. I knew that I wouldn't want to put my name on the movie they wanted me to make.”
Working as Side Effects' writer, producer and even director, Slattery-Moschkau definitely learned about the filmmaking business fast. She jokes that she never even saw a movie set before creating one, and humbly admits that the balancing act was difficult for a first-time filmmaker – especially when working with a budget of less than $200,000.
“This was truly a product of passion. We were working 16 to 18 hour days, making peanuts if we got paid at all. There were times where I, as the director, had to cut scenes because of time and budget, and as a writer those moments killed me. That was a big challenge for me from a creative standpoint because we were always short on money.”
While some of Slattery-Moschkau's scenes were never shot, others simply ended up on the cutting room floor and are now getting a chance to see the light of day thanks to Effects' DVD release. The DVD features a director's commentary, behind-the-scenes footage, a bonus documentary and bloopers; but it's the deleted scenes featurette that holds a special place in Slattery-Moschkau's heart.
“It's pretty interesting,” she says. “It killed me some of the stuff we had to cut to keep the pacing good. But I had to compromise certain areas.”
Those compromises paid off, though, and Side Effects has been receiving rave reviews since its premiere at Cinequest in March of 2005. CNN, USA Today and even from those within the pharmaceutical industry can't get enough of the fictional expose.
“Initially I got a lot of, ‘Oh my God – This is my life's and ‘Amen, sister's,” Slattery-Moschkau recalls. “There were a handful of people who were upset or angry, but that's a natural response if your profession is under attack.”
Although the film is a work of fiction, Slattery-Moschkau hopes viewers who aren't as familiar with the pharmaceutical industry remember that the story is closely based on her own experiences as a drug sales rep – a profession she doesn't plan on returning to any time soon.
“I knew I could reach a broader audience with a fiction film,” she states. “People may come to see Katherine, but I hope that when they're laughing they take away the movie's message. People don't take the time to read headlines or watch documentaries anymore, so my goal is to at least get them thinking on a beginning level. This movie proves that you don't have to tell a story in the traditional way – you can entertain and educate an audience at the same time.”
Regardless of how seriously audiences take Side Effects , Slattery-Moschkau's real-life story should inspire others to remain true to their values, whether they're working in the entertainment industry, the pharmaceutical industry or someplace entirely different.
“If you're unhappy with your job but you settle for the money, then you're no different than the industry you're working for,” Slattery-Moschkau concludes. “I remember rationalizing the reasons to stay-the company car, the big check … and so many people around me were in the same dilemma. They all had great jobs, but they were bored silly. People just need to stop and think about what they're selling themselves for every day. As tired and broke as I am right now, I loved being in control of my own destiny. I didn't wait for anyone when making this film, and hopefully I've shown more filmmakers that they too can make it happen.”
Side Effects will play May 12-18 at Laemmle's Sunset 5, in West Hollywood and will be available May 16 on DVD.