It can be a long, anxious walk up to the front of the theater after screening your movie to a roomful of people you don’t know. The anxiety doubles for me when conducting the Q&A myself. But I’ve come up with a little game plan and some rules to follow that make it flow a little easier. Perhaps in the comments you can share some ideas of your own.
The first is to know that the audience is not ready to ask questions yet. Not at first. Do not open with “does anyone have any questions?”. Nine times out of ten it will be met with silence.
Instead, have at least two anecdotes to open with. I start with what inspired the movie. Where the creative spark came from.
After that, I occasionally ask if anyone has any questions. But usually I go straight to a second anecdote about making the movie. Something funny. By this time, the audience has warmed up to the idea of talking about the movie and the questions start to come. It’s funny (but very routine) how for the first couple of minutes nobody has anything to ask, and inevitably, there are still half a dozen hands going up when you run out of time ten minutes later.
Have an answer for plot or symbolism questions. Don’t dismiss their questions as obvious. Some people in the audience might also jump in with the answer to “what happened to so-and-so?” I know some filmmakers like to throw these questions back at the audience by saying “well, what do you think happened?” But that’s kind of dismissive, I think. If you want to preserve the mystery, say that. If you have an interesting insight to share, share it.
It’s good practice, I think, to bring the cast and crew up. Not only for them, but also so the audience can see who is there from the movie. At a festival like the Phoenix Film Festival, it’s not uncommon for you and your cast to be asked for autographs immediately after. And that can be a really great feeling for the cast. So help facilitate that by letting the audience know they are present.
If you get someone who starts their question with “this question is for everybody” try to redirect it to one person in your cast and crew to answer it. It can be a little tedious to get answers from a dozen people, especially if everyone has more or less the same thing to say.
That being said, don’t hog the mic. Most questions are something you, as the director, will be able to answer. But if you’ve got someone beside you that can provide just as much insight, let them have the opportunity. From the audience’s point of view, hearing from a variety of voices keeps the discussion lively.
Don’t be afraid to be playful. We are all tired of the “what camera did you shoot on?” question so I’ve been answering that with “we shot on the WD-40” to a round of laughs. I suppose I can’t use that one anymore, now that I’ve published it.
Don’t congratulate yourself. And related to this, don’t tell the audience how they are supposed to feel about your movie. Nothing kills an audience’s good will toward you and the movie than espousing on its importance and deeper meaning.
Wrap up by thanking the audience. The opportunity to screen a movie with them is an amazing thing. Make sure they know how grateful you are for their time and attention. At festivals, I like to make a point of telling an audience they are amongst the first to see the movie.
What about you? Any rules you’ve made for yourself on this subject?