Film Festival Series Part 3 – Kill it in Your Q&A


“Great question. The director and I discussed this at length. We felt the music was the back bone of the film and we began making an inspirational mix of local artists before we even finished writing the film. After finding 2 or 3 amazing artists that had the feel of the film’s road trip- we happened to be filming in this restaurant one night and their band that was booked for the night was phenomenal. We asked them to stand in this alley behind the place and record live for us to use in the film. It was a little shady, but they trusted us. It works perfectly in that scene.”

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(Q&A at The International Family Film Festival)

Every interview is fake. Some interviews begin with an electronic press kit sent to the interviewer and a producer or PR person does a quick interview highlights discussion with the interviewer and then the interviewee is told what’s going to come up. The interviewee brushes up on the material, gets dressed up, has a cup of coffee and goes in and has a very well crafted great time.

Question and Answer time is for you AND the audience. This is a valuable experience for both parties. You are promoting AND sharing. You’re a witness to the process and have a responsibility to pay it forward to others who are interested in the craft or want to explore the film’s message in a deeper way. The audience & the festival give you a platform, but this is a mutually beneficial interaction. Festival Director Dan Robinson shares that a Q&A session has deeper value than many artists realize, “At the Fayetteville Film Fest we greatly value the opportunity to allow the audience to interact with the filmmakers.  Once you get past the obvious questions of “How much did it cost” and “What did you shoot with”, we have seen filmmakers really open up about their inspirations, motivations, and aspirations for their work.  Most rewarding of all is to see the audience really connect with the information, seeing people understand that their ideas and dreams are possible, so that through the Q&A we have helped them get one step closer to their goals.” Don’t miss out, this is an important step in everyone’s journey.

If you are touring the film festival circuit, you are now the face of the film (whether you wanted to be or not). Producer, director, actor, sound mixer… you represent the entire film in a Q&A. So, here are some tips & tricks. You need it. Make a great impression. It’s important.

So, call the producer and ask what the focus is of this screening. Are we championing for a best Director Award? Are we hoping to get a best actress nod for our lead? Are we focused on the humanitarian message of the film? Ask. There is probably something to keep in mind or a phrase or story.

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(Q&A with Actress Jennica Schwartzman, Actor Ryan Schwartzman, Actress Cassie Self, Actor Brace Harris, & Director Marc Hampson)

Come up with 2-3 good stories from set. People LOVE seeing behind the curtain and knowing what things were really like. Was it 12 degrees at 2 am when you had to jump out of that trunk wrapped in duct tape onto a pad that was buried in the leaves? Was the blood made with chocolate syrup and it was DELICIOUS every time it dripped into your mouth? Was the Director in the frame when the train was passing by in the background and he yelled action as he dove to the ground out of frame just to get that shot? Remember 2-3 good ones so you can refer to them as they come up. If your job is to boost the Director for award consideration, focus on stories that show his ridiculous dedication, his process, and his relationship with his team. Make sure that NO ONE looks bad in your stories. No joke is worth mentioning a negative quality about your teammate. I worked with an actor that made a joke at my expense that I had not learned my lines after I messed up a few lines- this is not cool. He really did mean it as a joke but it makes me look AWFUL and I may never overcome that reputation when I find my memorization skills as one of my finest assets. …I was in every scene of the movie FYI. Yeah, …I may have needed to brush up on all the daily script changes we made every once in a while. Ya know, he didn’t have his lines memorized upon arrival several times, but did I point that out? No, I didn’t. Did I write about it in an article on an awesome website? Yes, I did. Am I still sore? … maybe.

Come up with a story about something you overcame or an obstacle- people love to ask you about obstacles. Interviewers love giving a ‘learning’ opportunity to the audience so don’t look silly thinking of things that were hard– come up with a good one and stick to it. Maybe even a fun story about what you learned. You can make you look bad if you overcame and learned- makes you humble and likeable. I’ve had to learn to swim underwater without plugging my nose in a water shoot. I needed to practice using wax in my ears and my nose and looking casual… I used the bath and pools, it was difficult and I kept losing the nose plug on set during the shoot including up my nose. It was disgusting. I wrote the scenes this way. So… it’s kinda my fault and I learned to write things a little differently because of that. I never thought “quietly & beautifully sinking underwater” would be such a to-do to make it look right.

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(Q&A at Sundance Film Fest)

Come in with a few questions answered in mind. Sometimes a Q&A will begin with a moderator to get things started with 2-3 great prepared questions and sometimes you’ll stand up there by yourself with no one to even mediate. And sometimes the moderator will ask for questions and no one will raise a hand. Don’t be offended (don’t look annoyed either, it’s normal) – take that opportunity to get the ball rolling. So, introduce yourself, say what you did on the film, and then point out 3 interesting things behind the scenes of the film so the audiences’ interest can be sparked or so that if that’s the end, at least you feel good and people left with interesting information. Some good info to start: We filmed “Before The Lights…” in 2 weeks in Hollywood in my apartment and the surrounding area. Marc wrote the script in 2009 and our team had worked on 2 other features before this.” And then go on from there if there is no other chance someone is going to raise their hand.

A great tip to answering questions well is repeating the question in your answer. It gives you a moment to collect your thoughts, helps you remember the question (very important), and it makes for a great editing enhancement for future use. It’s easier to take a sound bite of you for PR purposes if you repeat the question. Interviewees forget the question halfway through the answer all the time. And the whole audience can hear the question from you if they didn’t hear it the first time from the quiet lady in the first row. If you have a microphone, use it. Always. Even if it stops working- keep holding it as a sound person may be in the process of fixing it. If there is no microphone, speak loudly. People want to hear you. There is also a good balance to the length of your answer. You don’t want to use the whole time on one question or even too short with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Fests have tight schedules, so you may only have 15 minutes for your Q&A, you may want to ask ahead of time just to be sure.

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(Q&A/Panel at Luna Fest)

When answering questions, keep in mind that some questions may be … stupid. Yes, someone will eventually ask you in your career “How did you memorize all those lines?” and you can’t be a jerk. Politely answer honestly and move on to a story (good thing you have some prepared!) so the moderator can have a smile on when going back to the audience for another question. Dumb questions can kill the momentum, so use those stories whenever possible!

Don’t be shy. Answer any question that comes to you unless someone on the team can answer better- nothing wrong with saying, “Our Director, Marc, may have a better answer to that-.” Answer what you can, but do not answer for someone else if you don’t know the correct info. You also don’t want to put yourself in the position to get something like someone’s name wrong. I have done DVD commentary before and gotten some details wrong and it is embarrassing. Trust me.

Be yourself. You don’t have all the answers. You are just a team player that wants to rep the film at this fest. It’s ok if you don’t know everything- BUT people are there to hear you so give them all ya got! Be truthful too, everything you say matters. Look your best, always assume you will be filmed and photographed. Do not assume you will be sitting or standing for the duration, dress accordingly. No short skirts and always comfortable shoes. Make eye contact with the moderator and audience asking questions. Actively listen to your fellow filmmakers answering questions and be aware of staring off at the floor and looking like you don’t want to be there. This is a very public forum and this footage will follow you so prepare properly and give it your all. Don’t take yourself too seriously though, make sure to laugh and be in the moment- because unexpected things can happen and make for a memorable event.

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(Q&A at Bentonville Film Fest)

Monika Skerbelis (Co-author of The Complete Filmmaker’s Guide to Film Festivals: Your All Access Pass to Launching Your Film on the Festival Circuit) is a programming director and moderates many Q&A’s at festivals. She always leads with the question, “What inspired you to make your film?” which helps kickstart conversations with the audience. Recently she moderated a Q&A block with two films and one of the filmmakers was not in attendance but sent a representative who had the director available on his phone. He was able to do the Q&A with the microphone up against the speaker on his phone. It worked great for the audience to hear his motivation for making the film.

This is a celebration of the film you worked on so hard- go to as many Q&As as you can in ANY way you can and give the film a voice. Even if it is difficult for you- do it. People will want to talk to you afterwards and they may want to hire you because of this! Seriously.