Q&As with filmmakers should be joyous occasions – yet they are, er, not always so.
Listen up, guys. Everyone loves a good Q&A. When they are done right, they can be a once in a lifetime experience, where you get the opportunity to enjoy a productive conversation and learn new information about your favourite films and filmmakers. There is a positive energy in the room, and even the actors seem reluctant to bring it to an end when the moderator says they are out of time. But I have been to a lot of Q&As, and I need to tell you that 80 per cent of people are doing it wrong. Everything I am about to tell you is to help you to avoid being That Guy (you all know the one I am talking about).
Temper Your Expectations
A lot of first-time Q&A attendees go into the experience expecting to be able to engage in a personal one-on-one conversation with their favourite stars. They shouldn’t. They will be disappointed. First of all, there is no guarantee that all the stars of the film will participate in a Q&A or even be in attendance. It varies dramatically from film to film – I have been to major premiere screenings where the main cast came out, waved, then ghosted us all, and I have been to 10am screenings on a weekday where Ryan Gosling somehow turned up and did a Q&A. Especially at festivals, you never know what you are going to get, so it’s better to go in with realistic expectations and be pleasantly surprised than to have your day ruined because you only came to the screening to see Timothee Chalamet but he was a no-show.
In a similar vein, you know how you think you have the perfect question? Everyone else thinks they do too. So many people are going to put their hands up, and there is only so much time set aside for each Q&A. Basically, you are in a passive aggressive battle royale with your fellow audience goers, and only a few will be victorious. You fling your hand up in the air and sigh dramatically every time the moderator squints, points to the crowd, and calls on the guy in the blue T-shirt six rows back. I get it. It’s frustrating. But remember to breathe. Don’t miss out on the experience because you are so annoyed about not getting called on that you are not listening to the questions that were actually asked.
Don’t Make It About You
As much as you are undoubtedly looking forward to this opportunity to speak directly to a Certified Famous Person, it’s best to remember why you are all gathered here today: it’s so they can promote their newest film. That’s it. That does not mean you shouldn’t be able to ask whatever question you like, but you will probably get the best response if you keep that in mind. Now is not the time to try to impress your heroes with esoteric allusions to obscure cinematic gems that are only available on Laserdisc in the original Latvian (no subtitles).
Please do not use this opportunity to showcase your trivia knowledge about their past films or try to stump them: if you do, one of three things will likely happen. One: the information you share is more widely known than you had anticipated, and the audience and filmmakers all silently judge you. No one asks for you to take over as that film’s fan club president, which was your main goal in bringing this whole thing up in the first place, right? Two: the factoid you have chosen to explore is asinine or uninteresting to 95 per cent of everyone, the filmmaker understandably does not remember details, and there is an awkward silence as they try to wrack their brains to figure out why they picked that specific wallpaper pattern 32 years ago. Three: your trivia is actually rather important but it’s from years ago so the actors do not remember and they are a bit embarrassed they do not remember because they probably should. All you have succeeded in doing is harshing the vibe and introducing an element of hostility and/or defensiveness into the room.
As you can see, there are a number of potential minefields – proceed with caution. Now is also not the time to use your brief moment in the spotlight as a platform to pitch your own work. There are few things in life of which I am absolutely certain, but one of them is that no filmmaker is interested in someone giving a brief yet somehow very convoluted synopsis of their half finished screenplay.
You Only Get One
If you have ever wanted to see what it feels like to have a room full of strangers turn on you, utter the words “so I actually have a two-part question” at a Q&A. You will be able to feel a physical shift in the atmosphere of the room, or at least you would if you were socially competent enough to avoid thinking that you and you alone were worthy of getting to ask an irritatingly labyrinthine two-part question. Look, I do not know you, I do not know who hurt you, I do not know what has happened in your life to lead you to this point. But believe me when I say that the minute you make this choice, everyone in the audience now regards you as the enemy, and there is no turning back. See also “this is more of a comment than a question…” No. That’s not what this is entire exercise is for, and no one appreciates it.
Remember That Women Are People
One last thing, and this might seem obvious, but then again it might not, so let’s spell it out and get everyone on the same page. Those female movie stars up there? Please think about what you ask them, and whether or not you would ask their male co-star the same question. For example, if the spirit moves you to ask an actress how she lost so much weight for a role, maybe just like… don’t? I guarantee you are not the first person to pose that singularly fascinating question. You will not be the last. And they are really not going to be appreciative when they get all the diet questions while the dudes get asked deep, philosophical questions about their characters…