Get to know WTDY's Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau

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Posted by on August 02, 2008 at 21:24:00:

From film to radio, Slattery-Moschkau walks her own path

When the feature film "Side Effects" debuted in 2005, writer-director Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau became a voice articulating problems in the pharmaceutical industry in this country. These days, her voice is being heard on a slew of other topics, too.

"The Kathleen Show," which debuted on WTDY/AM 1670 two years ago, has been picked up by three other stations nationally and is also gaining listeners via the Internet ( It's part inspirational, part entertainment, all to spark people to grab life and have fun with it. It airs here Sundays at 10 a.m.

Slattery-Moschkau, a UW-Madison graduate who lives near Mount Horeb with her husband and two children, took 10 years of working as a sales rep for an unnamed drug company and turned it into a romantic comedy with a message. Rather than make rewrites to "Side Effects" that would have diluted the message, but make it more palatable to potential investors, she raised the film's financing herself. She also landed a lead actress who was mostly unknown at the time: Katherine Heigl, who then shot to superstardom with ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" and the film "Knocked Up."

Slattery-Moschkau, 39, followed that with the documentary "Money Talks: Profits Before Patient Safety" and has been involved in other film projects with her production company, Hummingbird Pictures.

You've got such variety in your career. Is a radio show a good way to bring it all together?

The radio show, I feel, serves as a platform for everything we've done to date and everything we want to continue to do. Our whole goal has been, on the film things, to raise awareness on critical issues but do it in a fun, light, entertaining sort of way. And the radio show is just a way to expand on that because we can bring on all these fantastic experts.

A lot of what we've done in the past, with "Side Effects" and the documentary "Money Talks" that were obviously pharmaceutical-related, was all really about your health. With the radio show and all the different guests talking about obesity or pesticides, it just allows people to look at that side of things. That's where the health segment came from.

But what else happened is when "Side Effects" went out and the press went crazy and I was interviewed right and left. No matter who I was interviewing with, invariably other questions would start to emerge. People were wondering, "If you were in the pharmaceutical industry for 10 years, how the heck did you go make a film?" So many people were stuck in their current career and looking to make a change and didn't know how to do it. So that's where the life segment comes in.

And then, no matter how serious the interview or audience, invariably, people wanted to know, "What was it like to work with Katherine Heigl?" Everywhere I went there was a recurring pattern of life, health and entertainment. So I thought, "Wouldn't it be fun to put this together all in one place?"

Being a writer is kind of solitary, being a producer is more behind the scenes. Radio, you are out there. Is that nerve-wracking?

Every week I wrestle with that a little. I kind of got hit with the press with "Side Effects." When that happened I thought if there was press, they'd want to talk to Katherine. But people wanted to know about the pharmaceutical industry so I learned quickly to try to be comfortable in that role.

But I love to go hole up in my little basement office and just write. When I feel off-balance, it's because I'm not giving enough time to the writing side. I think first and foremost I am a writer.

How do you pitch the show to people? Certainly it's more than, "I have an AM radio show in Madison, Wisconsin, do you want to be a guest?"

We were so fortunate right out of the gates. Claudia Wallis, the editor-at-large at Time magazine, was one of our guests, so then other people could go to the Web site and say, "Oh, Claudia Wallis of Time magazine was on." So it kind of spiraled from there. We've been very fortunate. I don't know if to this day Claudia Wallis knows how much I will forever thank her. Honestly, she gave almost instant credibility to the show.

Now, they see who's on the list. And I really try to do justice to my guests. I do read all their books. I do watch their movies. I do all my homework ahead of time. I try to maybe ask questions other interviewers wouldn't have asked because they didn't get that far in to their work.

I get so genuinely into my guests. I ask them on the show because I love their work in some way shape or form to start with or I love something they stand for. I'm already a huge fan of theirs before they come on the show. I just want to bring out whatever they can offer the audience their expertise, humor or warmth.

It's hard to know when I personally like a topic or a guest, I wonder are my favorites the audience favorites. A couple of weeks ago when I had Elliot Scheiner on, I love him, LOVE him. He's produced Beck, the Foo Fighters, Faith Hill. I wasn't sure what the audience was thinking, but I loved him.

Besides Elliot, have you had your hero guest on yet?

I'm still working on my hero guests. You know, I like so many of the guests. Part of why I like this show is because it's all over the board and a lot of my guests are all over the board. That makes it hard to have a favorite guest. I loved Claudia Wallis, Gunnar Peterson, who's the personal athletic trainer to Angelina Jolie and others. He was so great because he was so straightforward. Christiane Northrup is just a gem.

That was quite a coup to get her.

We did a show on mother-daughter relationships, the love-hate thing, and she's got a book out about that. I just loved talking to her and even after we got done with the interview we talked for another 15 minutes.

Another good one was Rebecca Walker. She's coming back in a couple weeks. She's the daughter of Alice Walker the goddaughter of Gloria Steinem and we did this show on feminism, on can you wear lipstick, shave your armpits and still be a feminist and what does feminism mean right now. I'll be honest, of everyone I've ever lined up to interview, I was most intimidated by her. I wasn't sure how she'd respond to me and my questions. But oh, she was fantastic.

What else do you have in the hopper?

Several things. We're in very preliminary pre-production for a film on Type 2 diabetes called "Sugar Daddy." Again, it's a huge topic, it's hitting us like an epidemic in this country, but much as we've done in the past, we want to use humor to shed light on what's going on in your body as we're shoveling in our diet these days. We want to use humor to drive the point home, we don't want it to be this preachy documentary.

Any plans for another feature film?

For like two years now, I've been writing a script on marriage. My goal is to get that sucker done by the end of this year. I go through spurts where I set it aside completely because I get wrapped up in producing things for other groups.

I'm excited about the marriage script. My husband is shaking in his shoes.

In terms of the pharmaceutical industry, you've done a feature and you've done a documentary. Do you get a sense of which hit the target better?

We had a lot of response from people about "Side Effects" who said, "I never would have sat down and watched a documentary on this topic, I wasn't even interested in this topic, but I'd watch th is film and now I'm thinking twice about everything I'm doing." That was very rewarding, it showed you can reach people. I even have friends that wouldn't watch a documentary but would watch a movie because it's a romantic comedy or it has Katherine Heigl.

I'm sure you've heard this a million times, but boy, you hit a gold mine with her.

The whole thing was serendipity. She literally flew from our set to her first week with "Grey's Anatomy." At that point, she'd been cast in "Grey's Anatomy," and nobody knew if it was just going to be a pilot that went nowhere or what. Then that exploded and she exploded with "Knocked Up" and we know we were very fortunate.

It was so weird, she was here with her mom, we shot at my house, she was wearing my underwear in one of my scenes because there was this scene where she was ... never mind, I'm not going there. But it's a funny side story.

A lot of people are in search of information to make that leap like you made into filmmaking. What would you tell them?

It literally was a leap of faith. You just have to have faith in yourself and in your passion for what you're going to do and it will be hard and there will be so much uncertainty.

But life is too damn short to be doing something 40, 50, 60 hours a week that you don't feel good about. I can't even imagine going back. And there are times when I so lament that 10 years that I spent selling out and feeling uncomfortable. Obviously, it's good that it happened and it helped me tell the story. But life is way too short to not do things you are really jazzed up about.

You have to learn to become comfortable with the discomfort of it all. We're all so caught up in conventional thinking about what life is supposed to look like, with a house in the 'burbs and the granite counter tops and what it looks like to be a parent and what it looks like to be in a marriage. You have to rethink everything. Then you realize, suddenly, that options are incredible if you can just break free of that.

Do you have granite counter tops in your kitchen?

No. And I shouldn't say that because I don't want to offend people who do have granite counter tops. But people say, "I have to live this way because I've got these bills," but a lot of the bills are because of the choices we make. I think to make the choice to live a zest-filled, passionate life, they'll so not ever regret that.

(Cap Times)

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