Name: Robert Scanlon, D.O., Medical Media Consulting, Savannah, Georgia
Undergraduate: University of Scranton, Scranton, Pennsylvania
Med school: New York College of Osteopathic Medicine, Old Westbury, New York
Residency: NYU Winthrop Hospital, Mineola, New York
Scanlon, a critical care physician, formed Medical Media Consulting (medicalmediaconsulting.com) to provide technical advice based on his clinical knowledge for film and TV. He offers services for preproduction writing and editing and helps acclimate actors to medical settings.
How did you get started as a film and TV technical advisor?
I have both a creative and scientific side to me. I’ve always wanted to contribute to the creative process using what I know. Many medical people would say that some of the films or television shows are not done well enough regarding medical scenes and get frustrated watching those productions. So from a viewer’s standpoint, I have always wanted to formally consult but never knew where to start.
What do you like about the craft?
I think it’s a healthy diversion from my ordinary work life. It’s more of a psychological benefit. As a critical care physician, while we save people, I see a lot of the natural process of dying with patients. It’s a nice contrast to contribute to a creative and enduring process…a project that will last for quite some time.
What’s the most challenging part of the job?
I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like. Medical-themed projects are definitely cyclical. I’ll have enough connections by the time the next cycle comes through to do so as often as I’d like.
Was there anything about doing this that surprised you?
I’m not sure how much the producers and writers recognize the audience’s hunger for technical information. We’re in a time that, thanks to the internet, the average viewer is a high information viewer. They can immediately see the flaws just from their limited experience. Viewers want to learn, digest and be intrigued.
What advice would you give to a physician who wanted to be a technical advisor for media?
First, don’t quite your day job! Secondly, start small and expect to work for no compensation in the beginning. As you acquire opportunities, strike the balance between medical accuracy and the story line. We can’t impose all of the medical facts to take away from the artistic side of the story. For example, “House” was a great series but it wasn’t necessarily about a doctor. Rather, it was about a quirky guy who had an interesting personality, had an even more interesting way of interacting with people, and who happened to be a doctor. You may think, as an advisor, that it isn’t realistic that a doctor who walks around, insults everyone and sees few patients maintains a job. However, advising to throw the story out because it isn’t realistic would be the wrong advice. You need to find out from the director what the expectations are from you. Crossing out half of the script is most likely not going to meet expectations. Approach the project with humility, find out how you can best be of service, and don’t disrupt the artistic storyline.
How can a physician get started?
Start slow. Contact a chairperson of a local film school. Also, connect with a local or state film office. Every state has a list of those that provide certain services. You are starting at the bottom, so you have to start small. If you’re working with a film student pro bono, that’s fine as you’re building up a body of work. Another bonus of working with a film school is the opportunity to work with instructors who are directors, actors, etc., and who know who else is doing production work. Familiarizing yourself with these individuals is not only helpful for students, but also gives you connections. That’s an easier segue into this business.