The past few days, and for the rest of this week, I have been/will be attending LA’s Screamfest, a horror film festival that is now in its 11th year. It’s something I look forward to every October; usually I have to fly to London or Austin for a cool fest, but this one’s a quick drive down a few exits on the 101, and except for the Hollywood & Highland’s expensive parking costs, is worth every penny, IMO. If you’re in LA, join me! Lot of good stuff to come this week, such as Livid from the Inside guys, Ti West’s festival fave The Innkeepers, and (shameless plug!) Infected, a short film starring yours truly as a rampaging monster (!).
You also might get to hear some Q&As with the cast and/or crew of a particular film, which can sometimes be more entertaining than the film itself. I will forever cherish the experience of seeing Train in 2008 – not because it was a great film (it was quite terrible in fact), but because of the Q&A after, where the director was asked if he wrote the movie “before or after you watched Hostel” (reply: “……After.”). Another guy also mistook the director for William Malone for some reason, and went on and on about how much he enjoyed House on Haunted Hill but hated the sequel, to which the Train director just nodded and replied with a very confused “thanks?”
However, such oddball questions are growing increasingly rare, and I’m starting to wonder if folks are just asking questions out of habit, as I hear the same handful, no lie, at EVERY SINGLE Q&A I GO TO. Not only are these questions rather pointless more often than not, but they just seem to suggest that the person asking wasn’t even really interested in the movie, or else they’d have a specific question to ask. There are also too many questions being asked that a good percentage of people in the crowd won’t care about or even comprehend the answer (we also don’t care about your life story, babblers!). So in the time-honored tradition of the internet, here is a list of the 5 questions I never wish to hear again at a Q&A (not just horror, though all of the following is based on horror film Q&As), along with an alternate thing to ask that CAN be useful to everyone else in the audience.
1. “What did you shoot on?”
Unless you are a DP, there is no good reason to ask this in a Q&A populated with a bunch of folks who won’t understand the answer (“The DX1300.” “Oh….”). If you really need to know, just ask the director on the way out. And the reason folks ask is because they did or didn’t like the way the film looked, but the camera model alone is not enough to pinpoint the blame or credit the success. With all of the post production options available nowadays even to budding editors using their own personal computer, not to mention a wide array of lenses and other shooting options, you can have two films shot with the EXACT same camera that still produce wildly different end results. Not to mention, at a film festival, you’re dealing with a variety of formats that can also be weakening the image if the projectionist doesn’t know what he’s doing, or the film was rushed to completion for the festival’s deadline. Ultimately, for the most part, it’s akin to asking a novelist what brand of notepad he used to sketch out his idea.
Alternate question: “Why didn’t you shoot on film?”
The popularity of the original question is due to the fact that you almost never see anything shot on film at a festival anymore, as they are primarily independent films. The generic answer is that they “couldn’t afford” film, even though the difference in cost is only around 20-30k for a 90 minute feature with a normal shooting ratio. Granted, yes, if the budget is under 100k then this IS a big difference, but when I hear this excuse on films that have costly name actors, multiple locations, solid CG effects, etc (i.e. things that cost money) I have to laugh. Plus, more often than not they have to spend time making it LOOK like film (and paying colorists to do so) once it gets picked up, so the savings are even less.
2. “Did the actors do their own stunts?”
Answer: NO. If you’d read the credits (ahem) you’d see a list of a whole bunch of people under STUNTS – that should be your first clue (many films even point out the specific stunt double for main characters). Maybe in some of the more shady Italian horror movies of the 80s they’d put the actors in constant danger, but otherwise they always have stunt men/women to perform anything really dangerous. For one thing, no producer would risk their main actors getting hurt or worse diving out of a window on the 2nd floor as they evade the killer. Some actors also forget that there is still plenty of shooting that goes on without them, and thus they will THINK they did their own stunts because they remember running down a hall or maybe even getting knocked to the floor. However, they were back in their trailer, resting and happily oblivious, while the crew got the shot of their stunt person being tossed over a railing.
Hilarious side note – on the DVD for Resident Evil: Apocalypse, one of the producers (not Paul Anderson) goes on and on about Milla doing all of her own stunts. On the commentary, Milla herself gives plenty of props to her stunt double.
Alternate question: “Did (specific actor) do the (cool dangerous looking part) herself?”
Rather than go with some generic question, why not call out a particular moment from the movie you just watched? If by some miracle the actor DID do their own stunt in that moment, they or someone speaking on their behalf can offer an anecdote. If not, maybe we can get some public recognition for the people who risk their lives for a living in order to make the higher paid actors look good.
3. “Did the actors improv?”
In my experience, this answer usually depends on whether or not the writer is there. If he/she is, then of course they didn’t! The script was terrific and there was no need for the actors to change a word! If the writer is NOT there, then of course they did! Either way, who cares? Filmmaking is a group effort – there probably aren’t many films (especially nowadays) that follow the script to the letter, because someone will come up with a better way of saying something as they rehearse or whatever. It’s how things like the origin of the Indianapolis speech in Jaws come to be a matter of debate. Not to diminish the importance of the screenwriter, but unless you have a specific line in mind, you can always assume that he/she was not responsible for every word in the movie that you enjoyed.
Alternate question: “Was the credited writer the only one who wrote it?”
Maybe a bit ballsy to ask at a Q&A, but why not? The most recent Final Destination film was rewritten by Gary Dauberman, yet every positive review inadvertently gives the credit to Eric Heisserer, who receives sole credit due to idiotic WGA rules. Probably not as common in the independent world, but if you’re asking about improvisation, you’re probably wondering who was responsible for dialogue you enjoyed – as with the stunts, ask something specific if you’re merely looking to know who to thank for that particular bit of entertainment.
4. “Did you use practical or CG?”
If you can’t tell just by looking at the movie, you’re probably too dim to understand the answer. Unless this particular film festival is showing Jurassic Park or something, if you actually cared enough about the difference, you’d be able to spot it. Of course, there are people who are so stupid that they mistake real for CGI (a review of Frozen lambasted the “CGI wolves” – they were all real wolves, schmuck – you can see them on the DVD extras), so maybe this one isn’t that bad. But if it’s a monster movie of some sort, all you have to do is look at how it interacts with the human beings in closeup. If the monster’s tentacle is just sort of thrashing around near the actor or knocking over inanimate objects around them in a locked down camera shot, it’s not practical! If they had a real tentacle they would wrap that shit around the actor and move the camera around to show off their work. And in those rare films that ARE practical, if you ask if it was CGI you’re just being insulting. Hide your ignorance!
Alternate question: “Why did you use digital blood?”
Of course you’d have to know the difference to ask this one. And we know the answer, but it’s always fun to hear the lame excuse that they didn’t have time to do it right. Yes, because all those Friday the 13th movies were given open-ended shooting schedules and blank check budgets! Maybe in some cases this is the honest truth (especially on a location such as a restaurant that needs to re-open for business), but the sad reality is that filmmakers have got it in their head that anything that CAN be done with CG means it SHOULD be, which is why you see digital blood even when doing it right might even have SAVED time (I saw a digital pool of blood on the floor in a movie yesterday – how can that have possibly taken up time on set? Pour the bottle in the spot and you’re done!). So they use CG, thinking it will be just as good because they “can control it” with their wonderful little CGI tools and maybe even make it better (note – they won’t).
5. “What was the budget?”
And here it is, the granddaddy of all stupid Q&A questions. If you’re at a festival, chances are the film you just watched has not been picked up yet, and thus the director or producer (ideally, that is; I’ve seen an actor get asked when she was the only one in attendance) does not want to reveal that information as it will hurt their bargaining position when it comes time to sell the movie to a distributor. And again, who the hell cares? “I really liked that movie; it must have cost at least 700,000 dollars.” – this is a thought no rational human being has ever had. A good movie is a good movie regardless of how much was spent to make it. On that note, sometimes filmmakers WILL answer, but they’re usually fibbing a bit in order to sound more impressive – possibly only offering the production budget, not counting all the money spent on post-production, reshoots, etc. So even if you get an answer, you haven’t gotten an answer of any use.
Alternate question: N/A
There is no relevant better question to ask. Leave the financial matters about movies to those who have a financial stake in it. Ask about the damn movie itself, or leave. Remember, the movie Deep Impact cost 75 million to tell its tale of several big names dealing with the end of the world, with big effects and multiple locations. That same year, a whopping 90 million was spent on Meet Joe Black, which depicted a half dozen people sitting around trying cake and peanut butter. So even if you know the (claimed) budget, you’ll just be left with more questions anyway.
But really, the main problem with all of these questions is that they’re interchangeable. I mean, asking the actors to talk about something funny that happened on set, while boring (to me anyway), can at least result in an amusing story that the audience can enjoy. It is a lot more interesting for everyone involved to ask about something SPECIFIC to that movie. For example, last night at the Chillerama screening, someone asked about the music in Joe Lynch’s segment, as it reminded them of the Gremlins 2 score. Lynch confirmed the homage and explained that the film was temped with that score, and that he had asked his composer (Bear McCreary) to imagine if “Alan Silvestri and John Carpenter fucked” in order to produce the sort of score he was looking for. Neither that question nor that answer would occur at any other movie showing at the festival, yet I know I’m going to hear “We shot on the Red” five more times before the week is through.
So keep this in mind next time you find yourself at a Q&A! Don’t be the guy that makes me roll my eyes! At this point I’d rather hear a cell phone go off than hear someone asking about a friggin’ budget again. At least the damn ringtone will be unique.