Interviews · Movies

What Not to Ask at a Film Q&A

By  · Published on October 18th, 2016

Dear FSR

Don’t bite the hand that films.

At some point in your life, you’ve likely been faced with a question that has no solid answer. Some people may take such a puzzle to a trusted confidant, a friendly pastor, or the esteemed annals of Yahoo! Answers. But will they have the expertise needed to solve your most pressing film predicaments?

Think of Dear FSR as an impartial arbiter for all your film concerns. Boyfriend texting while you’re trying to show him your most precious Ozu? What’s the best way to confront the guy who snuck that pungent curry into your cramped theater? This is an advice column for film fans, by a film fan.

Dear FSR,

At my first film screening at a film festival, the director and one of the stars stuck around afterwards to do an audience Q&A. A line immediately formed and people were shuffled to the front and handed a microphone, only to ask, well, terrible questions. This deterred me from going up there because I didn’t want to join the assault. What are some questions you should avoid at these sorts of things and how can I skip them while still being involved in this process?

From,

Considerate Questioner in Calgary

Dear Considerate Questioner,

I’ve said before that film festivals are magic. So many people packed into a theater, all here from a shared love with the earnestness necessary to have an impactful big-screen experience. No jeering teens, no zonked-out geriatrics. But then the lights come up and you have to be face-to-face with your fellow film-lovers. You might not like what you see. Because behind this one shared passion, your audience may not share much more, like tact, critical thinking, or basic hygiene.

Maybe it’s nerves. Maybe the inquirers only see films at festivals. But people never fail to have the absolute dumbest, Googleable, and oftentimes offensive questions for the people whose work they’ve just enjoyed enough to stand in a second line.

My guess is that they’ve never been on a stage before, or have never been the center of attention in what could possibly be an awkward environment. Thanks to the repetition of a few basic, cringe-inducing questions that always seem to come up and make the creators visibly uncomfortable, I usually hurry out before any Q&A open to the public (and some by journalists ‐ we’re not all off the hook either).

Fixing this will take work by the film community at large, and perhaps a shift in our society to recognize that stars are human beings and directors are people doing jobs as much as making art. By respecting their private lives, their professional efforts, and their willingness to put forth as much goodwill as they can muster, then an additional 50% from the marketing team, Q&As could become an enjoyable experience for everyone.

To this end, there’re a few questions and lines of questioning that should never, ever be asked of anyone at a post-screening Q&A ever again:

What inspired you to make this film/take this role?

I’m starting with this one because so will everyone else. Pros do it, interviewers do it ‐ it’ll be done to death. You’ll know that immediately by the static, rehearsed response it’ll garner from the answerer which will kill any sort of post-film buzz in the crowd. Canned answers are never fun, but when repeatedly asked canned questions, can you really blame them?

More of a comment than a question, but…

Sit down. The Q doesn’t stand for “Queasy” which is what these commenters make me. If they wanted to hear your personal manifesto on the film, they’d have bought the free e-book on Amazon.

I had a really personal response to [this part of the film] because….

Again with the comment thing, but this is even worse because you’re making it about YOU.

Did [movie, book, etc] impact your decision to make the movie this way?

Don’t assign people influences or try to reverse-engineer their creative process, they only get annoyed because you’ve inherently lessened their art by comparing it to other (likely more famous) art. Just let it exist on its own without the guessing game.

Don’t seek advice, help, or favors.

These people just gave you a movie and are effectively being held prisoner onstage by this audience. Now is not the time to badger them with requests. It’s like hitting on someone while they’re working (say, at a coffeeshop) and you’re not ‐ if they can’t politely exit the situation, you’ve removed their autonomy.

What kind of struggle did you face getting this film made?

Movies have struggles but anyone in the industry is going to be airtight on anything juicier than talk show fodder because they want to keep working. They have professional tact and won’t divulge dirty laundry in front of hundreds of people. So yes, you’ll hear about casting woes and slight production struggles, but every movie has them.

If you can find something meaningful, relevant, impactful, and possibly timely to ask the artists in front of you, by all means go for it. A cursory internet search couldn’t hurt though, and neither could this general rule of thumb: “If it wasn’t me up there asking my question, would I be interested in hearing the answer?”

May all your Q’s find their A’s,

FSR

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Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).