Many of you have probably been to a film festival at some point, and there's a good chance you've either been a part of, or witnessed, a Q&A after the screening. I myself have done both -- though I've been to more than I've actually been involved in -- and they tend to range from fantastic to cringe-worthy. It's not easy doing one well, and even more importantly the success of that Q&A may actually affect the future of your film. That's why Scott Macaulay over at Filmmaker Magazine has put together a list of 12 things that directors can do to "ensure that their festival Q&As are as charming, thoughtful and inspiring as possible."
One of the more recent Q&As I attended that I thought does some of the things Scott is talking about was for Mike Cahill's Another Earth. I thought the filmmakers did a particularly fabulous job for a film that's a really tough sell based on description alone. This isn't the exact one I attended, but many of the same questions and anecdotes came up (some possible spoilers for the film):
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vAHQCbkT8I
From the post at Filmmaker, here is True/False Film Festival Co-Director and Co-Founder David Wilson:
A great Q&A can really guide your audience, making them feel better about your film and have a clearer understanding of your intentions in making it. And a bad one can hurt that initial buzz that all films depend on at festivals.
With that in mind, here are two things from the list that I think can be particularly important, and if you have the foresight, the second could really help with marketing materials or with the release of the movie:
1. Take it seriously. You may be a modest sort, and maybe the bright lights make you freeze up, but “aw, shucks” and giggles are not attractive qualities on stage in front of several hundred people. Pierson says one of the biggest mistakes you sees filmmakers make involves their demeanor. “They can be beyond self-effacing,” she says. “They act embarrassed, or they make little jokes, or they say they don’t know what their film means.” So remember when you are standing on stage that if you want people to take your film seriously, then you have to act like you take it seriously too. “Own your creativity,” Pierson says.
12. Treat your Q&As as future assets. “We live in an age where we can capture the magic moments,” Groth says. “Forward-thinking producers and filmmakers should think about capturing their first Q&As for their DVD release or for their Kickstarter. All of that material [generated] at a festival can be a powerful tool.” This advice is especially important, Groth says, “if the film is a doc and the subject is there. I was at the Q&A for Searching for Sugarman, and when Rodriguez came onstage to swelling applause, that was one of those magical moments. I even captured it on my iPhone.” Adds Groth, “Work out with the festival organizers what you can and can’t do” with regards to recording while there.
I've been to many where the filmmakers are extremely nervous or overly humble, and frankly, it gets hard to sit through after a while. You can certainly come across as arrogant, but for the most part, being confident about the film can go a long way, and being confident in yourself being in front of people can also be important -- though as Scott mentions, if you have trouble doing that, it might be better to have someone else do the talking for you. I've also been in situations where they've extended way past their usefulness, and in those times, a quick anecdote or a joke could certainly help bring the crowd back and engaged again.
It's interesting to me that a festival could actually help or hurt the future of your film's release. Certainly in the world of social media, "word of mouth" spreads much faster and further than it ever has before -- and that includes whether people are excited about your film or bummed about it. I think we will start seeing more and more films forego any sort of distribution deal and use the festival as a launching off point. If you've made a small independent film, the most buzz your movie will have is most likely going to be right after it premieres somewhere, so a good Q&A could definitely add to that buzz and possibly help your film grow legs.
Have any of you had any notable experiences either being a part of, or being an audience member for, a film festival Q&A? If so, did your impression of the film change at all after listening to the filmmakers talk? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.