Production Bios  |  Interview with the Producer

Production Bios

Muffie and Jen with camera crew
Muffie and Jen with camera crew

Muffie Meyer, Producer of The New Medicine
Muffie Meyer was born in New York City and raised in Chicago. A literature and Medieval history student at Grinnell College, she returned to New York to attend graduate school in film at NYU. She moved quickly from her first job mimeographing scripts to film editing. Her early credits include Woodstock, The Lords of Flatbush, starring Sylvester Stallone and Henry Winkler, and Groove Tube, starring Chevy Chase, a film precursor to Saturday Night Live. Meyer directed Grey Gardens with the pioneering cinema verite documentarians David and Albert Maysles, and Ellen Hovde. She also edited the film with Ellen Hovde and Susan Froemke. In 1978, she and Ellen Hovde formed Middlemarch Films, Inc., produced dozens of films, and won scores of major awards including Emmys and a Peabody. Part of her gift for creating gripping cinema such as The Crash of '29, Liberty! The American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin and Saving the National Treasures reflects her own broad-ranging interests. A self-described "intellectual dilettante", she is an avid reader of scientific and medical journals, history books and detective novels. Meyer is married to Ronald Blumer. They live in New York City with their daughter, Emma.

Jennifer Raikes, Producer of The New Medicine
Jennifer Raikes has been a producer, researcher and writer of documentary films for public television for the last decade. She was director of research for the Emmy award-winning TPT/Middlemarch Films series Benjamin Franklin and was associate producer of the Peabody Award-winning series, Liberty! The American Revolution. She produced, directed and wrote the documentary Bad Hair Life, which won Medimedia's Freddie award for best film about psychiatry in 2003. She has worked as associate producer for the American Masters and American Experience series. She graduated from Swarthmore College and lives in Los Angeles.

Ron Blumer, Writer of The New Medicine Documentary and Companion Book
Ronald Blumer has written/produced/or co-produced eighty documentary films, including three series with Bill Moyers, Creativity, A Walk Through the Twentieth Century and the U.S. Constitution. For PBS, he has written & co-produced Liberty! The American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin and American Photography: A Century of Images and he co-wrote an episode of Ric Burns' New York. He has written for series such as The American Experience (PBS), Dancing and Discovering Women (PBS), Nova (PBS), and Portrait of America (Turner Broadcasting), as well as a one-hour dramatic film Empire of Reason and the Audio Cassette version of Iaccoca for Bantam Books.

A U.S. citizen, born in Montreal, Canada, Blumer has a Bachelor of Science from McGill University, a Masters degree in Film Production from Boston University and attended the PhD program in Communications at McGill University where he was John Grierson's assistant. (Grierson coined the word "documentary film"). Blumer's script for the National Film Board's Paperland, The Bureaucrat Observed won the Canadian Film Academy's award for best non-fiction script. His work has received thirty major awards including four Emmy awards and a George Foster Peabody.

Catherine Allan, Executive Producer of The New Medicine
Catherine Allan is senior executive producer for National Productions at Twin Cities Public Television/TPT in St. Paul, Minnesota. A native of San Francisco, Allan attended the University of California, Berkeley where she received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Journalism. Her first film, a documentary about hyperactive children, won a Student Academy Award. Her executive producing credits include the Emmy Award-winning Benjamin Franklin; two Peabody Award-winning productions: Liberty! The American Revolution and the acclaimed documentary film Hoop Dreams; and Cine Golden Eagle winner, Continental Harmony. Other productions include Jane Goodall: Reason for Hope; "Kinsey", a one-hour documentary for American Experience; and A St. Olaf Christmas in Norway featuring the famed St. Olaf Choir.

Interview with the Producer, Muffie Meyer

Camera Crew in Acupuncture Session.
Camera Crew in Acupuncture Session.

How did the concept for this show first come about?
Bill Moyers’, Healing and the Mind, was a groundbreaking series that aired on PBS about 15 years ago. It was a catalyst for what was becoming a groundswell of interest in - and demand for -complementary and alternative medicine. People were paying huge amounts of money out of pocket for these treatments. The medical community began to take an interest and a new type of medicine, called Integrative Medicine, began slowly to be adopted. Integrative Medicine takes from the best of a variety of healing systems to provide what is the best treatment for an individual. It has become a movement that defines health not just as the absence of disease, but also as a state of well-being.

Bill Moyers was approached to do a program about what had happened in medicine in the almost 15 years since Healing & the Mind. He recommended Middlemarch Films to make the program.

Were you at all skeptical about mind-body medicine when you first started this project? What do you think now?
I was highly skeptical. At first, I was worried about taking on the project. But I have always been interested in science and medicine, and thought that if we could approach the potentially ‘woo-woo’ subject through the eyes of a skeptic, we might be able to make an interesting and useful film.

Then I met some of the people who were interested in funding the project. They were bright, enthusiastic and level-headed. I was touched by their personal stories of illness that led them to want to change the way medicine was being practiced. Here were people with enough money and connections to obtain the very best that the medical system had to offer, and even so found it sorely lacking. Their objection was not to the technical aspects of their care – in that area, they were sure that they had gotten the very best. Rather, it was that although they were getting the very best, most-up-to-date medicine technologically, they felt dehumanized. Great attention was being paid to their diseased body part and little attention was being paid to them as a whole human being: including effect of the disease on their mind, their spirit and their friends and family. It all made a lot of sense. They raised questions that I had never really thought about.

"What", I finally asked, "do you hope that a film will accomplish…what is your goal?" "To change what people felt they could ask for – indeed should expect - from the medical system."

How did you begin researching this topic?
Jen Raikes and I always begin researching in pretty much the same way. We read as much as possible about our subject. We speak to as many people as we can. An article can lead you to people. Talking to people at a party can lead you to ideas and other people. People in the field suggest other people in the field and/or stories, they in turn suggest other people and ideas….and so the whole thing mushrooms out.

As filmmakers, we come to a topic fresh and kind of naïve. This is a huge advantage: our audience will be roughly at the same level as we are when we begin a project. In some ways, we feel that we always make films for ourselves…for people like we are when we begin a project. The tricky part of our research process is to become mini-‘experts’ in our subject and yet not lose that memory of how much we knew when we began. We wanted to remember and address our skepticism, remember and address our early questions.

How did you decide on the structure of the film?
Structure is key to making films. There are two aspects of structure that we grappled with.

The first was: we have two hours to tell the story, so how do we divide the two hours…what would be the topic for each hour? We thought about having one program on pain and one on stress. We thought about one program that focused on doctors and one on patients. After doing a lot of research and a lot of thinking, Jen and I decided that the first hour should directly address our audience’s potential skepticism about this subject. After all, our goal was not “to preach to the converted”, rather it was to change how people thought about health and medicine. The first hour would look at the science behind the idea that emotions can impact health. The second hour would ask the question: if the mind affects one’s body and one’s health, how must medicine change to take that into account?

The second structural challenge was how to structure each individual hour. Documentary filmmakers know that structure derives from the telling of a story. You need to have a story that unfolds during the course of the film. You need to keep your audience engaged by having them continually wonder, “what’s going to happen?” In each of the two hours, we thread the story of a patient with a serious medical problem. Once you have that thread or “hook”, you can weave in other stories, interviews and other pedagogical points you want to make.

How did you find the patients in these stories?
Most of the time, doctors led us to patients. Occasionally, friends led us to patients.

Were there any particularly compelling stories you had to leave out of the final cut?
Yes, there were many great stories and many great interviews that we had to leave out. Some got left “on the cutting room floor” because there was just not enough space in the two hours. In fact, I think that with every film, each of us who has contributed to the film (the writer, the editor, the director, etc...) has a favorite scene and a favorite interview that got cut out. We argue passionately in the editing room, each of us trying to keep in our favorites. We all win some and lose some. In the case of this film, we were lucky enough to have a companion book. With a book there are no time constraints, so all of our favorites can be found there!

There were also a great many wonderful stories that we couldn’t film at all because we knew we could not fit them in. We visited an amazing public hospital in the Twin Cities Metro area (in Woodbury, MN) called Woodwinds, for example. There, incorporated into the hospital’s setting, was a keen understanding that emotions are important in healing. Woodwinds succeeded in turning what is normally a highly stressful environment – a hospital – into a much less stressful place. How? Some examples: the loudspeakers that are ubiquitous in hospitals (“paging Doctor so and so!” waking you up from your hard-won sleep) were banished and replace with silent, vibrating beepers that all the doctors and nurses wore; a volunteer met you when you entered the hospital and guided you through the maze of the admitting procedures; massages were available….and much more. All sorts of little things that together reduce the unpleasantness – the stress - of the hospital stay.

What was the greatest challenge in making The New Medicine?
Number one: with every film there is the challenge of “exposition”. How do you provide the background information – the stuff the audience needs to know in order to understand the story – in a way that isn’t dull.

Number two: this particular film had the challenge of trying to film the material that we needed for the program while being sensitive to the patients – who were, after all, dealing with difficult personal situations. Remember that we arrive in the patient’s hospital room as three strangers, laden with camera equipment and sound gear. We are asking people to allow us to film them while they are in pain, while they are having personal conversations with their doctors…we are asking to hear and see peoples’ private medical stories. That is a lot to ask!

What was most surprising part of the experience?
The surprising part of the experience was how much I learned; how much I took away personally from the experience. Like Maeve Kinkead, I, too, put a lot of effort into being the “good patient” and “asking all the right questions”. I thought that “good bedside manner” was a really nice “extra”. I now deeply understand that technical ability in a doctor is not enough. I now understand that it is critical – that it can affect a clinical outcome - to have a doctor who listens, who doesn’t make you feel “passive and dumb”, and who makes an effort to know you as a human being.

Why did you choose to call the show The New Medicine, when much of this medicine has been around for ages?
Titles are really hard. Some people are great at coming up with titles. I am not one of them. “The New Medicine” was a group effort. Quite of number of people involved with the show drew up lists of possible titles. My own list had about 15 (not great) entries. Then we mixed and matched until we found a title that we all rather liked.

Of course, what we are presenting isn’t new. That’s why we chose an old-fashioned doctor bag as the image that would accompany the title. I suppose what is somewhat new is the idea of bringing back some of the things that have been lost from the old medicine - things like attention to emotion, touch, and caring - and giving them a valued place alongside the truly amazing high tech, cutting edge procedures and drugs.

Talk about what the old fashioned doctor bag means.
If you are as old as I am, you can remember the days when doctors routinely made house calls with that black bag. At that time, my family doctor had a solo practice in a two-room office (waiting room and examining room). He (and in those day it usually was a "he") was our family's doctor. That doctor got to know you, got a sense of your whole family and the kinds of lives you led, he knew your community (neighborhood, socio-economic class, ethnicity, religion), and had some understanding of your values.

Gradually, that changed as medicine became much more highly technical. Group practices, clinics, and even emergency rooms became the places where medicine was practiced. And because of that change, a tremendous amount of valuable information about the patient was lost to the physician. The circumstances in which a person lives can have an enormous affect on that person's illness and also on the care that they need to receive. A simple example is asthma. Understanding a patient's physical environment is critical to successfully controlling asthma attacks. In obvious and also subtle ways, this is true of every illness - really knowing a patient can affect care, can affect the clinical outcome, can affect the patient's health and well-being.. There is a lot of medically important information that is no longer available to a physican when he treats a patient in the emergency room. As Dr. Arthur Kleinman describes, this was a huge change. Medicine was becoming industrialized. It was as if the physician went from being an artisan working in an atelier to a factory worker on the shop floor.

Were there any particularly memorable production nightmares or adventures?
Lots… One example. We were filming the story of Tammy Patton, who was pregnant and whose water had broken very early. We filmed her in the hospital, trying to hold her baby in as long as possible, so that he could develop as much as possible. The goal was to get the baby to the point that he could breathe on his own at birth. But Tammy could develop an infection at any time and have to deliver immediately. We could not afford to stay in Durham, NC with a crew for weeks. So we kept in touch with her and flew down every few weeks. Then one night, as I was landing in NY from a shoot in California, my cell phone beeped. It was a message that Tammy was going to have a C-section at midnight...that was in 3 hours! It was a scene that we desperately wanted and needed to film. I checked the flights and dashed to another terminal to try and get on the last plane out. I missed it by five minutes. I remembered that the soundman we worked with in Durham, York Phelps, said that he had done some camera work. I called him (with some trepidation, since I had never seen his camerawork…but had no choice). He was wonderful and raced over to the hospital to film baby Julian being born. His work was extraordinary and Julian’s lungs had developed enough so that he was able to breathe on his own!

How many people did it take to produce The New Medicine?
A huge number. Jen and I used film crews from all over the US. We had doctors, consultants, about 8 other Middlemarchers, patients, and dozens of people who contributed in so many ways. The credits are really long!!! I hope everyone’s parents record the show, so they can slow down the credits and actually see their child’s name.

What do you think the future of medicine will look like? Do you think medicine will continue to become more integrative?
I am very interested to see what the future of medicine will look like. If I had to make a guess and look way into the future, this is what I would predict (and these are not original…lots of the doctors and experts made one or more of the following predictions):

  • That medicine will become so “integrative” that the word “integrative” won’t be necessary…it will all be just “good medicine” (incidently, this was our title for a while).
  • That treatment and particularly drugs will become very individualized –a mix tailored to a particular person’s genetics and body chemistry. People will look back at the early 21st century and regard a lot of what we do as quite primitive. (Grandma, you mean you gave the same aspirin pill to everyone with a headache!)
  • That emotions and their relationship to health will be given serious credence and will be given a lot of weight in the practice of medicine.
  • That there will be an increased emphasis on healthcare, as well as illness care. Prevention will be valued and taught (and reimbursed).
  • That the art and the science of medicine will both be seen as critically important.