Kern: Like I mentioned in our previous In Conversation, I think between the two of us, we’ve been to a fair number of Q&As, so I wanted to really talk about some of the more interesting ones we’ve seen. So many of them are utterly forgettable. For instance the one we saw after The Report which I honestly don’t even remember who the Q&A was with. Pretty sure we left before the Q&A for The Two Popes, but if we stayed for that and I forgot about it, it must have been as memorable as the film itself! Anyway, there are a few that standout as great conversations or insightful discussions with filmmakers/actors, often strengthened by a great moderator who knows how to keep the conversation on track, but as always, I like to start with the worst. So are there any Q&As that you’ve been to that are so bad, they’re seared into your memory?
Henry: The one after The Report had the dude it was based on which would’ve been more interesting if they had focused on him instead of the film but I guess they cater to the audience and most of the people there wouldn’t have really cared about anything he did if Adam Driver didn’t show him doing it. That is one I’ve brought up a few times though because I have friends that work in or studied those types of things and a few of them liked the film a fair bit even though I didn’t think it was any great shakes. I’ve seen it three times now because of that though. The Two Popes I think we stayed for like two minutes of before we had to leave. I know that was with the screenwriter, Anthony McCarten, who I actually would’ve been somewhat interested to hear from because I’d like to know how one guy can be responsible for all those films. What drives him to keep doing this? It’s those ones you have to skip because of other showings that always irk me because whatever choice you make, it’s always the worst. I think we saw Just Mercy next so it was a definite failure. Along those same lines, the worst one I can recall has to be the one with Nadav Lapid following Synonyms at NYFF last year. I didn’t like that film at all then (though I’ve since come around) and that always disadvantages a Q&A, plus this was right before a showing of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which I’d already seen at Cannes and TIFF but I was eager to see again and I was barely able to make that one because I needed to catch a bus basically as soon as it was done. So when this dude just kept going on and on and never saying anything new, I was about ready to hop up on the stage and take the damn microphone away from him. What really set me off though was when it was already way overtime and they called for one more question and the jackass that had been assigned to our showing (for those of you unfamiliar with these sorts of situations, there’s always one) and he knows it’s last call but still went on to ask a question that had about ten parts and took him more than two minutes to ask. So then I ended up not having time to stay for the Sciamma Q&A. It’s been nearly a year and a half but I still get heated about that dude in the audience. When NYFF is back in person, if I see him again, he better be walking the other way. I’ve had a whole bunch of great experiences with these too but I’ll defer to you for a second here to talk about your own so I don’t drone on and on about them without giving you a chance to hop in. I will say first though, I was there at Cannes when Tarantino made his comment saying, “I reject your hypothesis” and that’s probably my favorite moment from one of these even though the rest of it wasn’t the most insightful and I hadn’t even seen his movie yet.
Kern: That Synonyms Q&A was so dull. And honestly I don’t entirely blame Lapid, because the moderator was throwing out woefully generic questions and just letting him ramble on and on about the same points. The Sciamma Q&A after that you had to leave for was good, but most of the stuff they talked about was pretty common knowledge or stuff you could gather from other interviews, etc. so I know you’ll never let it go, but I wouldn’t beat yourself (or that dude) up about it. The First Cow Q&A with Reichardt was far and away the best of the bunch, mostly because it started out so painfully awkward with her seemingly not wanting to answer the generic “what inspired you to make this film” type questions, but when she made the joke(??) “probably wasn’t a good idea to take mushrooms before this,” immediately the mood lightened up and the rest of the Q&A was pretty fun. I wish we’d stuck around to meet her, but there were so many people and it was late 😦 The worst one I’ve seen–and I totally qualify this by saying I haven’t really seen a *nightmare* Q&A–is the Sorry to Bother You Q&A with Boots Riley. After watching the movie, which I already didn’t like, it just cemented all the issues I had with it. To be fair to Riley, again, the issue was the moderator who had no clue how to direct a Q&A and kinda just let Riley ramble and repeat the same points, allowed awkward silences, and didn’t know how to transition at all. But one question really summed up my issues with the film: the moderator asked “do you think the humor maybe detracts from the thematic material and message that you’re trying to get across” and Riley responded “honestly, I didn’t really think about it, so no, I don’t think so.” To me, that lack of thought and consideration for the thematic content is the film’s major downfall. At the Damsel Q&A with David Zellner, I asked a similar question about how he chose to balance the comedy while tackling more serious themes, and it kinda caught him off guard to the point where he couldn’t really answer it. What are some other memorable moments from Q&As you’ve been to? Any good TIFF moments?
Henry: The importance of a good moderator cannot be overstated. At the local screenings it makes sense but I’m often confused by how they end up being so bland at some of these major festivals when there’s such a wealth of people to choose from that could do a great job. I know you saw Kent Jones and Martin Scorsese with me but I’ve seen a few others that Jones has done and I think he always does an excellent job as the moderator. Scorsese is always able to deliver good stuff, even when I’ve seen him with lesser moderators, but Jones has pulled some out of people that are sometimes less forthcoming. The deep knowledge of cinema is absolutely essential to making it work because they can end up just having a conversation and everyone else gets caught up in it. Most of the best ones I’ve seen have been at NYFF because they do so often have people like Kent Jones as moderators but my favorite there is probably the Q&A that following The Other Side of the Wind and was moderated by Scorsese, who fits perfectly into that idea of someone so knowledgeable they can always pick up any slack, and featured a incredible lineup with Peter Bogdanovich, Filip Jan Rymsza, Frank Marshall, Kent Jones, Bob Murawski, and Morgan Neville. All these guys are geniuses and I would’ve happily listened to them talk for hours. Some worked on the film and others had just seen it for the first time with my audience so it was an interesting back and forth across generations of filmmaking, rediscovering work from an old master and sharing stories about knowing Welles or the influence he had on them. Some of those guys are legends in their own rights but the best part was it really made this giant of cinema seem like a regular guy who, like me, would eat an industrial sized bag of chips then ask what’s for dinner, as they talked about hanging out with him back in the day while also deconstructing the experience of making or watching the film. I think it’s available online now but another great one is Soderbergh and Coppola discussing the newest cut of Apocalypse Now. I don’t want to see the audience questions, I just want filmmakers gushing about each other’s work. Really TIFF didn’t have any that particularly stood out to me. I didn’t get to see any of the big movies there, though ones like Collective and Sound of Metal became notable a year later, so there weren’t often the large audiences or notable people that sometimes lead to humorous situations and a lot of the filmmakers were first timers so they seemed a bit reigned in or afraid to be there in some cases while a couple others were extremely serious. There was one that I later heard was pretty good that I had to run out of because I’d had a few ciders before and during the film and Sciamma had a good one but I’d already seen her and the film at Cannes so there was some repetition. It’s not to say any of them were bad though. It’s always interesting to hear about the lives of the filmmakers and the anecdotes about making the movies, there just wasn’t anything so notable about them to rank them among my favorites like Tarantino going off after that question about Robbie or Reichardt saying she was tripping. I guess I lied earlier, it’s not filmmakers gushing about each other that I want to see most. Give me the wild stuff that you couldn’t see coming. Even with all of those, maybe the most fun I’ve had at one is when a dude was mocking Tommy Wiseau and Tommy challenged him to a pushup contest and won. Now every time I see one, I want Scorsese to start doing situps or Lapid to do jumping jacks. Put those disrespectful audience members in their place.
Kern: I brace for impact the moment the moderator turns to the audience for questions. Rarely does the rest of the Q&A live up to what preceded it. I’d forgotten another terrible Q&A I partially endured was the one for Green Book at Middleburg with Viggo Mortensen and Peter Farrelly. My hate for the film was already compounded by the energetic crowd response, but the minute they started the self-congratulatory “we felt this was a story that had to be told” bs, I legitimately got up and walked out. Having performed with a band some years ago, I make a point of pride to endure most live performances, films, Q&As, etc. when the people involved are present, just out of respect, but I really just couldn’t take anymore. So I guess that tops my Sorry to Bother You Q&A as the worst. I’ve seen plenty of really good ones. I think my first ever was at TIFF 09 when I went to the Lars Von Trier Q&A for Antichrist, even though I hadn’t seen the film yet (caught it a couple days later at an early morning screening!). Since he doesn’t fly, the Q&A was over Skype, but it didn’t detract from it much. He was clearly still in the throes of a deep depression and I remember walking away thinking there’s a good chance I may never see another film from him again, but the best question was surprisingly from an audience member who said “Yesterday was my birthday and I took my girlfriend to go see Antichrist and she got so furious at me that she now refuses to have sex with me, so do you have any advice?” and of course Von Trier laughed and said no. Another really memorable Q&A I caught was for First Reformed with co-star Philip Ettinger (who outshines Hawke imo). It was hilarious seeing him try to bat away the expected “what’s with the final shot,” “what’s the meaning” type questions, essentially saying it’s open to interpretation and even Schrader didn’t give the cast/crew insight like that. But it was also shocking to hear that the lengthy dialogue scene between Hawke and Ettinger was the first take and really the first time the two had met. It’s always great to get some kind of insight that makes you look at a certain scene or moment in a new light the next time you watch it.
Henry: Where would the world be if the story of Green Book hadn’t been told? Actually, I’ll answer that myself in a few weeks in my column. Yeah the skyped Q&A sessions are a weird category because obviously the person isn’t there so it brings up a certain barrier but at least it shows they’re still trying to do something for the audience, unlike Gaspar Noe who had a scheduled Q&A that I went to but he failed to attend. His films suck anyhow so no great loss. The virtual ones have been cool this year though since they’re the only way these happen now and they keep the spirit of festivals going and invite you into the homes of the filmmakers. I know we had a bit of a chat about that last time but I’ll mention it again because the one with Swinton and Almodovar as part of NYFF really was one of those moments where it felt like maybe cinema isn’t as dead as it seems and the community can still come together. That was one that really makes you look at the film differently because it was entirely filmed during the pandemic and they talked about the difficulties of working under the circumstances while also being from different countries and the way they had to strip back the production.
Kern: I think you also mentioned that it adds a layer that we see the personal side of these people we often put on a pedestal. Like you can be like “holy shit I have the same bookshelf as Charlie Kaufman” or something. In a way it’s humbling. Instead of seeing them on a big stage with hundreds of people in the audience, it’s more relaxed and intimate in a sense, even though it’s not in person. I imagine for some artists it makes it even easier to talk about, because most of these filmmakers aren’t actors so they’re maybe not used to being on a stage in front of hundreds. That kind of pressure, having so many eyes on you, can make it hard to think straight and give thoughtful answers. I’m sure it becomes easier after a full festival circuit, even for some more socially awkward people, but I can’t imagine it ever gets easy for some to deal with that pressure of being on stage. I think those virtual Q&As will be more of a thing, even when the festival landscape reverts, so to speak. I think in general, now that festivals have experimented with virtual screenings and such, and seen that it hasn’t really led to rampant piracy in a way they must have feared, that trend of democratizing film festivals for broader audiences will probably remain in some form or another. I’m no expert on the numbers or anything, but that’s just my prediction.
Henry: There were a few like Glasgow that allowed a lot of online participation even before the pandemic so I can definitely see it continuing. Probably not so much for the larger films because there is still that fear and it becomes a major factor when there’s millions and millions of dollars and big names behind a film, as we’ve seen a fair bit of this year with some not even being available to press before release and others being put up for festivals and ending up getting pirated by a fairly large number of people. Even with those fears, online Q&A sessions could definitely become a larger thing in the future and they really should because there’s no other way you can guarantee the audience shuts up. I know filmmakers are busy people but I have to imagine it wouldn’t be too hard to get them to occasionally give an hour of their time from their own home to an event like that that’s open to the public and it gets everyone more involved in the film community and more excited about their work so there’s really no downsides.
Kern: Yeah the only risk is the audience question chat being flooded by trolls or people looking to insult the guest, which unfortunately happened a bit at that Charlie Kaufman Q&A, but it’s not a terrible trade, or honestly just get rid of audience questions in general on the online Q&As, since audience questions are always the worst. But like I mentioned in the other piece, that’s the biggest thing I miss about the festival season: the discussion. I mean, of course, twitter provides an avenue to talk about movies with other people, but from my perspective, most of the festival talk brings out the worst tendencies of film twitter, where every reaction is pure hyperbole. I’m eager to get back to the post-screening Q&As and theater lobby discussions soon.
Henry: Everyone feels special when they get to see something early, especially if the filmmakers were there for it, so I get the festival hype. It also makes some seem much worse because of what you gave up for them. So it’s been odd to not have it this year and not feel like there’s a hundred different movies that are all supposedly the best ever. But I’d much rather have the hype and the experience. Just going to the movies though and existing in that space apart from the world for a bit is the thing I want most though and the lobby discussions and Q&As will be nice bonuses.
In Conversation adam driver anthony mccarten antichrist apocalypse now bob murawski boots riley celine sciamma charlie kaufman collective damsel david zellner ethan hawke filip jan rymsza first cow first reformed francis ford coppola frank marshall gaspar noe green book just mercy kelly reichardt kent jones lars von trier margot robbie martin scorsese morgan neville nadav lapid orson welles paul schrader pedro almodovar peter bogdanovich peter farrelly philip ettinger portrait of a lady on fire quentin tarantino sorry to bother you sound of metal steven soderbergh synonyms the other side of the wind the report the two popes tilda swinton tommy wiseau viggo mortensen