Glaxo gets into film biz with documentary

Glaxo goes to Hollywood. The company is producing a "hard-hitting" documentary to educate folks about obesity--and increase awareness of its weight-loss drug Alli, the New York Times reports. An as-yet unknown Academy Award-winning director will handle the project, and his or her identity will be revealed January 25 at the Sundance Film Festival.

If you're thinking this takes product placement to a whole new level, so are we. But Glaxo wants to damper those expectations. The drugmaker has partnered with the Creative Coalition, a social and political advocacy group backed by high-profile actors Alec Baldwin, Tim Daly and Susan Sarandon. These are no slouches at documentary production, either; their most recent project, directed by Barry Levinson, was snapped up by Showtime.

What's more, Creative Coalition and Glaxo say full creative control will be in those Hollywood hands. A signed agreement will cede that control to the director and the Creative Coalition team, they say. And a Glaxo marketing exec tells the Times that the drugmaker has no expectation that Alli would even be mentioned in the film. As Robin Bronk, Creative Coalition's executive director, promises, "This won't be a marketing tool at all."

Some filmmakers aren't so sure. "I'm skeptical that this won't be an infomercial disguised as an independent documentary," says Theodore Braun, the director of the 2007 film Darfur Now. But other industry-watchers are giving Glaxo the benefit of the doubt. "If Glaxo signs an agreement saying that we will pay for it but we won't look at a rough cut," a documentary film analyst tells the NYT, "then I think you have a case where this effort could have some real value."

- read the NYT piece