So you made a thing! Yay! And now you’re presenting it to some form of the public and there is a Q & A afterwards. If you’re used to public speaking and presenting yourself and your work this is no big deal. If you’re not used to it you just threw up in your lap while reading this. You’re disgusting. But I’m here to tell you the way to make everything about a Q & A quick, cool, informative and fun.
Since the Q & A is ubiquitous at film festivals (and if it’s a feature your first festival is your biggest one) you should do a little preparing for your off the cuff chat with the audience. Q & A’s can be fun and informative celebrations of the work you just shared or they can be awkward reminders of everything that is wrong with society. While you can’t control some things, a lot of how a Q & A goes is up to you. So here are some things to think about.
You will always get asked the same questions. This is great at your twenty-fifth festival. You and your partners have worked out all your banter naturally, your jokes are nicely timed, and the embarrassing thing you admitted at festival number two is out of the story. But it’s also helpful at festival number one. Here are your questions. Think of your short, informative answers now.
1) How much did it cost? You don’t want to answer this question unless it’s part of your story because of crowdfunding or a grant. This question lets a distributer low ball you in the buying process. Explain that this is the reason you can’t tell them. They get some insight into how selling a movie works and you don’t have to awkwardly deny their question or make them feel stupid for asking. For low, low budget movies the standard answer is “Under a million.” With enough winking and gestures you can make the audience feel like they’re in on a secret.
2) How did you get this famous person? If you have any kind of name in your project then there will be many questions about them. Think of something funny, or nice or interesting they did on set, or said about the project. They want to know how you got them but what they’re really asking is “tell me a story about the person I already know a little bit about.” I have a ton of lovely stories about how great Barry Bostwick is but the fact that he makes and brings a lot of his personal props to projects is a great story. It’s something personal and interesting about him and his process that is exactly the kind of thing people want to hear.
3) What about the sex scene or the stunt? If you have anything sexual or dirty or violent in your movie there will be questions about that. Again, they’re asking for a story. You might have shot the scene two years ago in a fog of red vines and adrenaline but think of something. If it’s a stunt or an effect you can talk about how it’s done. If it’s a sex scene you can talk about how awkward or not awkward it was.
4) I’m doing a project that- I saw a movie where- My Mom worked at- These are not questions. These are ubiquitous questions. People are excited and just want to share something and sometimes they forget that QUESTIONS start with How, Why, Where, When or How. Sometimes Did or Are. You get what I’m saying. So how do you deal with the non-question? You certainly don’t want to make the person feel like an ass (unless that’s your thing). The way to deal with these questions is to play some word association. “That reminds me-“ or “Interesting you brought up ducks because when we were shooting the scene outside where ducks live this funny thing happened!” This is your opportunity to tell a little story that hasn’t come up yet in that discussion. Or you can use the opportunity to gush about your crew, or compliment the film festival staff. These non-questions are an opportunity. You can get the conversation back on track. Or if you feel like the session has run it’s course (always leave them wanting more) then it can be an opportunity to wrap up. It’s your choice!
5) I have a backhanded compliment or a straight out insult for you personally or your work. Great. Take that backhanded compliment and move on or use it like a non-question to bring up something else. A great response to an insult about your work is “Not everybody likes everything and that’s one of the great things about diversity in storytelling. There’s something for everybody.” Don’t worry, this won’t happen very often and often the people who do it will have no idea how insulting they’re being. The goal for you with these questions is to not make the rest of the audience uncomfortable. If you steamroll right over something derailing like this then the audience can too and they can concentrate on the reason they’re there, to learn something about the making of the piece.
6) Technical questions. Depending on your role in the production you may or may not know the answers to these and believe it or not these are tell me a story questions too. “What camera did you use?” really means “What about this story or your budget or your DP made you choose this tool and why?” Did you use a small DSLR for speed and maneuverability, or did you pull the Super 8 out of storage because doing a found footage movie set in the 70’s on anything else would be crazy?
7) Where do you get your ideas or this idea? Where do my ideas come from? My brain. I don’t know. But again this is a tell me a story question. Maybe you talk about your process or where you got a specific idea. I often get story ideas driving long distances. I have to be the one driving. That is barely interesting but it’s better than “I don’t know.”
Often you will not be hosting your own question and answer session and this can be great if your host is good at it. They will begin and end the session and keep people on track. If they’re terrible at it then you should gently step into running the show if they’ll let you. I once did a Q & A with one microphone where the host didn’t allow me to hold it to answer questions. I had to get right into her personal space, fitting my head awkwardly between her head and the microphone to talk to a very engaged very large audience for a half hour Q & A. Her direct answer to “can I hold it” was “No.” Other than that very weird thing it was a great session. That might happen. Don’t let it phase you.
Be informative. What would you want to hear? People like to get inside information on industries not their own. If they’re at a Q&A they’re interested (the uninterested left when the credits started) so you can talk about technical things, or use jargon or talk about things inside the industry, just remember that you also have to explain them.
Thinking through your answers to these questions should prepare you. Remember to also keep it short. People’s time is valuable and if they just sat through a whole movie they probably have to pee.