6 Simple Rules to Not Ruin a Screening Q&A (Guest Blog)

“I know our business has a few eccentrics, but can we please try to keep it together for a mere hour or two, and not freak anyone out?”

Last Updated: December 18, 2014 @ 4:23 PM

‘Tis Awards Season, our own little Hollywood Holiday! This special time of year brings all of the industry boys and girls their eagerly anticipated gifts of screenings and Q&A’s, where the year’s most lauded filmmakers take the time to show their films and discuss their work with the community in hopes that we will cast our votes in support of their efforts.

It is a cherished tradition, as much as I love these screenings and appreciate the filmmakers for participating in the Q&A’s … every single time a moderator so generously opens up the floor to questions, I cringe and hold my breath.

See, unfortunately, a few of our fellow attendees have a tendency to abuse this seasonal gift. You know who you are. You’re sitting there thinking, “This is my only shot,” so you pitch an idea, or ramble off your resume, or try to connect because you were an extra in a film of theirs 15 years ago and this is your only chance to be discovered. It’s not. This is not your shot! This is not about you!

Then there’s the person who feels obligated to say something … anything. Even though you haven’t been paying attention to the film, nor the discussion, you raise your hand and say something so far off the mark, inappropriate — and oftentimes awkward and offensive — to unnerve an entire theatre. Guess what, it’s OK to sit this one out.

You say you don’t know what I’m talking about? Let me take you back several years to a Q&A of “All Good Things,” a tragic tale starring Kirsten Dunst. Dunst kindly appeared before us on stage, everything was going fine until some jackass decided it was perfectly OK to ask the actress about her nudity in the film. Kirsten uncomfortably laughed and mumbled something, unsure quite how to answer a question so clearly inappropriate.

Or how about just the other week at a screening of the Coen brothers’ wonderfully heartbreaking and charming new film “Inside Llewyn Davis,” where one guy not only managed to insult John Goodman, but doubled down on the offense by trying to enlist the audience to agree with him. At the same screening a women blathered on about her friend who supposedly knew Mr. Goodman from an acting class decades ago, and kept pushing him to say whether he indeed remembered the person.

In 2009 someone from the vegan council, or some other such nonsense, climbed up on their soapbox to blather on about the merits of veganism at a screening of “Brothers,” a devastating film staring Natalie Portman. After several excruciating minutes the person finally got around to asking the actress, “Natalie, would you come to our vegan Thanksgiving?” Um, if you don’t mind Natalie, I’d like to take this one for you. “NO! No, Natalie would not like to abandon her family and friends this holiday season to spend it with you.” Seriously!

Pull it together, people. Look, I know our business has a few eccentrics, to put it mildly, but can we please try to keep it together for a mere hour or two, and not freak anyone out in the process? Of course, Natalie was way more gracious, and politely laughed it off. She’s a bigger woman than I am, mainly because I’m a man, and I don’t have to suffer fools in public.

On the other hand, I’ve seen some wonderful filmmakers talk about their craft and their filmmaking experiences.

It was just last year, during a screening of “Silver Linings Playbook” that Bradley Cooper gushed about his fellow actors and filmmakers, charming the audience with his gracious humility, and self-deprecating stories. Or the panel of “This Is 40,” with Judd Apatow and his spectacular cast, which devolved into a raucous and hysterical display of one-upmanship. And just two years ago, when I was lucky enough to get the last seat for a screening of “Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy,” where one of the most immersive and gifted actors in the business, Gary Oldman, actually talked about his character Drexl from “True Romance,” an epic performance, and how he found his way into the character by listening to a lot of gangster rap.

These moments are priceless, and we are fortunate to experience them every season.

With that in mind, here are a few rules to make it through the Q&A’s without embarrassing yourself, offending the panel, unnerving the moderator, and upsetting an entire theater. Remember, this is not a free-for-all people!

1. If you do not have a pertinent question, then do not raise your hand. It’s as simple as that. Sit there quietly practicing your listening skills.

2. For the aspiring writers and producers, do not pitch a film or TV idea. This is not the venue. If you do not already know this, you may need to reassess more than just your attendance at this screening.

3. Do not talk about yourself, your resume, your pets, your family, or your current political and social views. “This is not about me,” should be your mantra. Anything that conflicts with your new mantra should be kept to yourself.

4. Keep it short and sweet, then sit down!

5. For the actors: “How do I break into the business,” or some variation of this abused question, will never actually be answered. If it’s your passion to act, then work really hard, and if that doesn’t work, try being born into Hollywood royalty. FYI, this Q&A is not your moment to be discovered.

6. Finally, ask a question relevant to the film you’ve just seen. This is not the time to bring up that one time the panelist worked with Angelina, kissed Gosling, or partied with Tarantino. They are here to talk about this film, this project, and this campaign. Keep it on topic!

That’s it. This is not rocket science, which is why most of us are in this business — because there was never a chance we’d ever become rocket scientists. I’m sure many of you have amazing horror stories from screenings you’ve attended, and if you don’t, you’re probably culpable. (Eds note: In this case, sharing is a good thing — leave them in the comments below.)

Enjoy your Awards Season, be respectful, and may your favorite films win!

BIO Ari Sturm
Ari Sturm is a development producer, creative consultant, and segment producer/director in Los Angeles, working in unscripted television, film, and branded content. He has lead creative development teams in-house, and consulted for independent producers and production companies, as the driving force creating new and entertaining stories and formats. Over the years Ari has learned from and worked with industry leaders in film, television, and new media, and continues to seek out opportunities to work with creative visionaries.