TIFF Tips: Q&A DOs and DON’Ts
So you’ve just seen your first movie at TIFF (congratulations)! The lights come up, applause happen, and then the director and some of the actors take the stage. They look out into the crowd and the MC asks if there are any questions. And you have so many! Your hand shoots into the air, and the host points at you and- What do you do?? This is your chance to pick the brain of your favourite director/actor, and everybody is listening. How do you get through this without annoying the crowd, embarrassing yourself, while also getting the answers you are looking for? Well, our guidance doesn’t end once the lights go down – we’ve got your back for this one too, with our Q&A DOs and DON’T!s
Q&As are one of TIFF’s most amazing attributes – this public festival provides the audience a chance to directly engage with the film makers. We get to hear behind-the-scenes stories that we might otherwise have to wait for DVD commentaries to experience. It’s also an exciting time for the cast and crew, because in some cases this the first time a full audience has seen the movie and your feedback is invaluable.
Then again, it has been said that “Hell is other people”, and I would amend that to “Hell is other people ruining the Q&A for the rest of us”. It is so sad when the amazing buzz that came when the credits rolled is slowly replaced by complete frustration. I’ve always wished that someone would issue a DOs and DON’Ts guide to the Q&As, to keep them running smoothly for everyone there. And since no one else seems to have as strong and vocal opinion about it, I am happy to take the job! This guide comes from having witnessed some truly cringe-inducing moments and wanting to save my fellow festival-goers from being That Guy. DOs
- Shout your question loud enough that everyone can hear. There isn’t always a microphone for the audience and while your voice may project to the front it rarely can be heard by everyone. And while your question isn’t directed at the audience, it does help everyone understand the context of an answer. It saves the moderator or the director/actor from having to repeat it back to everyone for you. If there is a mike and you are called upon then please do wait for them to bring it to you.
- Have your question worded properly before you ask it. That may sound simple, but it is amazing how our brains freeze up on us when we’re put on the spot. It is incredibly painful listening to someone stumble their way through an incomplete thought, with the director kindly trying to help them along. If you’re not sure how to phrase your question in one or two short sentences then you are not ready to ask it.
- Ask for behind-the-scenes stories – they always have one or two that they would love to share, and that everyone wants to hear. You may get choice info that will never end up on a commentary track because no one thinks to ask about it.
- Only ask one question at a time, despite how many you may have. There is limited time for Q&As, often only a few minutes. Please be respectful of the other people in the audience who have questions too. This is not your chance to stage a full interview of the cast and crew.
- Only ask questions about the work you’ve just seen. That’s what they are there to talk about, not past projects unless they are relevant to the current film. I know you may never get this chance to talk to them again, but again you need to be fair to everyone else.
- Use the Q&A time as a chance to get amazing celebrity photos! Once the lights come up, have no fear about approaching the stage (but not climbing up on it) with your camera. You may get accidental eye contact from Colin Farrell!
- Do not start your “question” with a statement of how big of a fan you are, and proving it by listing all the work they’ve produced. They know what they’ve made, and probably the rest of the audience does too. Also since you just sat through their film it’s safe to assume that you are a fan, it goes without saying.
- Do not get into an argument with the director regarding artistic choices. I can’t believe I have to say this, but I’ve seen it more than once. It comes off as arrogant, rather than demonstrating your knowledge of the craft. They made the choices that they did, and TIFF is not a test audience environment, it’s the film’s premier. The Q&A is not your time to shine, it’s theirs.
- Do not ask the director to explain the ending to you. If you didn’t ‘get’ it then it may have been intentionally ambiguous. And if it wasn’t and you still didn’t get it? Maybe you don’t want to broadcast that to everyone else.
- Don’t argue with another person’s question. That is what Twitter and blogs are for! Or you can find them in the lobby and continue the conversation if it’s really that important to you.
- Do not be the “It’s more of a comment than a question” guy – it’s Q&A not C&A. Nobody came to listen to you share your opinions on cinema, they want to hear from the director/cast. Again, you’re just showing off.
- Do not ask Rob Zombie why you didn’t get to see his wife naked in his movie. Dude, just not cool. (Yes, that really happened. No, he was not impressed.)
If you can follow all of the rules above, then don’t be afraid to ask questions! That’s what the Q&A is for, and if someone else doesn’t ask what you want to know, then be brave and get that hand in the air! You may ask the very question that other people didn’t know they wanted to hear the answer to. You’ll enrich everyone’s TIFF experience, and sharing TIFF with others is wonderful.
That’s all for now. I’m sure after TIFF 2015 I’ll have many more to add to this. The Q&As, ultimately, are what TIFF is best at – getting film viewers intimate access to the filmmakers. It should be fun and games for all, and hopefully you won’t cause Viggo to make this face: