Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" picked up the Oscar last night for best documentary. Like all documentaries, it's a PR piece. But don't expect the film "Innerstate" produced by PR folks at Centocor Inc. to even be nominated for the 80th iteration of the Oscars.
For those of you just awakening from your winter hibernation and who haven't been reading the comments in The Pharma Blogosphere lately, Innerstate is a "new kind of documentary" that tells the "heart-wrenching real stories of three people suffering from immune diseases - rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and Crohn's disease..." (see "Taking pharma to the big screen" in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer).
Unfortunately, I -- like many other bloggers commenting on this film -- missed the media screening held in NYC on 21 February 2007. So I guess I'll have to wait for the showing in my area on Saturday morning, 28 April 2007. Unless, of course, I receive a special invitation from Centocor's PR people, which I don't expect will happen after they read the following.
I'm not going to be one of those who review this film without having seen it, because you can find that here:
- "Centocor - Remicade - no Oscar for Innerstate" (PharmaGossip) This is not really a review -- it's really a retelling of the Phila Inquirer story
- "The 60-Minute Documentary as DTC Ad" (Pharmalot).
But they should have reached out to bloggers like me and pharma advertising critics like Alexander Sugerman-Brozan, director of the Boston-based Prescription Access Litigation Project. Sugerman-Brozan, you might remember, was a guest on my podcast about disease mongering (listen to the audio archive here).
Sugerman-Brozan measured his criticism carfeully:
"We need to be skeptical of disease-awareness campaigns that come from a company with a vested interest," said Sugerman-Brozan, who has not yet seen the film. "The first out of the gate is not necessarily the problematic one."Maybe if SB was invited to the screening and declined to go, but I suspect, like me, he was not invited. Perhaps he would have been less skeptical and more positive about the film if he had seen it. Hey! It could happen!
So, what's my point other than sour grapes because I wasn't invited to the February 21 screening?
First, if you wish to get fair treatment by bloggers, you need to keep us in the loop. Otherwise, you'll get comments like this:
"Okay, we know DTC ads are under attack for flouting side effects and pushing consumers to ask their docs for meds they don't need. So J&J is being clever. Let's give them that. But let's not pretend a 'documentary' isn't an ad when the producer has such a vested interest. What's next? A Broadway musical featuring children with ADHD who sing and dance their way to a happy ending after taking Concerta?"This was written by journalist blogger Ed Silverman (Pharmalot, op cit) who may or may NOT have seen the film (I suspect not, otherwise he would have mentioned it in his blog post).
Ed's free to have an opinion, informed or otherwise, but wouldn't it be better if he had actually seen the film?
Second, is producing a documentary the right way to do disease education?
Centocor is taking a "hands-on" approach with Innertsate. According to the Inquirer article, "Centocor's director of public relations, Michael Parks, actually served as executive producer and personally sifted through the stories of 40 patients to pick the three for the documentary." He is also overseeing the film's theatrical release.
Other pharmaceutical companies have provided educational grants to independent producers to support disease education documentaries. GSK, for example, provided funding for the PBS show "Fat: What No One is Telling You." GSK, you recall, is marketing the over-the-counter weight loss product Alli (see "Alli Oops! I Just Pooped Myself!").
But even this "hands-off" approach has drawn criticism (see "PBS obesity program under fire"). In this case, however, the criticism was leveled at PBS for accepting the money, not at GSK for providing it!
So, even without seeing Innerstate, I have to say that because Centocor has taken such a hands-on approach in producing it, I cannot trust that the words and stories told by the people in the film were not carefully scripted by the Centocor PR flacks.
In this day and age when user-generated content is ascending and even being used in major brand advertising, it is anachronistic to produce a closely-held film like Innerstate and hope that it will resonate with anyone except marketing/PR insiders who often give awards to one another -- sort of like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
P.S. For the record, this year I believe all the right people and all the right films won an Oscar!