I’ve had the privilege of speaking at two Q&A sessions after a screening of ‘Bug Chaser.’ Q&A sessions can be the most rewarding or the most painful experience for a filmmaker. When the audience is engaged and curious, it makes the entire artistic journey have a purpose. If the audience is tired or uninterested, it feels like you’re sitting in front of them in your underwear with a hard-on.
My very first Q&A experience was when I was 17-years-old at the Tower Theater in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had been through the Sundance Youth Documentary Workshop and directed a short 5-minute documentary. The short docs of all the participants were screened one afternoon in July at Salt Lake City’s historic arthouse theater.
The Tower, bless its heart, doesn’t have air conditioning, which makes summer movies there almost unbearable. In the heat of the day, I started sweating when the second film started. By the time we were called up front to answer questions in the packed theater, I could feel the stain on the back of my shirt. I stood there, dizzy from the heat as a series of teenagers babbled on about their films. I looked at the audience, who were also red in the face and ready to rush out the door as soon as this torture ended. The theater staff had thrown open all the doors and were lugging fans into the room, likely to minimize liability for the heatstroke due to hit their patrons any minute.
Someone asked a question about my film. The microphone was passed to me. I asked the person to repeat the question, they did, and I just couldn’t concentrate enough. I felt faint.
I wiped the sweat from my forehead and said, “You know I think it’s too hot in here to keep doing this.”
The audience, laughed, applauded, and leapt out of their chairs to stream back outside into the fresh air.
At FilmOut, the San Diego LGBT Film Festival, the audience was curious about the film’s intended meanings and our process. It’s incredibly rewarding when someone who has seen your film connects the dots just the way you’d intended (and it seems this is the constant goal throughout the development of your craft, that more people and more people are able to connect the dots you’ve placed). A gentleman who looked to be in his 50s told me that the experience of watching the film filled him with dread, which was very much the overriding emotion for gay men of his generation about HIV, AIDS, and sex.
At Philadelphia QFest, another older gentleman raised his hand during the Q&A to make a very different comment about the film.
“I’m having a difficult time with your film,” he started, “I just don’t understand how you could make a film like this that mocks the issue of HIV and AIDS. When people of your generation see this film, do they really think it’s okay to laugh at something like this?”
Usually, people ask either a really easy question (“How did you find your actors?” “What did you shoot on?” “How much did it cost?”) or a completely insane, unanswerable question (“Tell us about how marshmallows’ long-term effects on water purification were a part of your process.” “Do you think the film would work if it were made in 1920s Syria?”). I had never been asked a question that was, essentially, asking me to respond to a condemnation of my film’s tone and content. I had no idea what to say and ‘Ummed’ and ‘Uhhed’ for a moment.
Derek, my buddy and co-producer, was standing beside me during the Q&A, thank God, and responded, “There are certainly parts of the film that are meant to be funny, but, overall the movie is about dread and anxiety about sex and disease. Ian wrote it about a nightmare he had, so, I don’t think its mocking anything, it’s actually very serious.”
Later, I received an e-mail from someone else in the audience that night. He wrote, “Just wanted to let you know that I saw the film last week at Philly Qfest… and totally loved it. I can see the concern some of the older generation had thinking it made fun of a bad time in our history… and maybe I just love campy horror films… but this film is totally needed to speak to the current generation about safe sex in a fun way.”
Everyone reacts differently to any film. I’m grateful people have been compelled to feel one way or another. The best compliment I received was from a documentary filmmaker who told me after the screening, “I can’t say I enjoyed seeing your movie, but I can see what you’re doing, so, congratulations.”
It makes it easier to take feedback when you know that what one person hates another loves, and what works for some people fails miserably for others. I’m not sure what this means for the quality or effectiveness of a film, but it seems to me it must be tied to expanding the pool of people who can connect the dots.
I’m very excited ‘Bug Chaser’ will screen at four more film festivals in September and October: the Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival, the Atlanta Horror Film Festival, Festival Chéries-Chéris in Paris, and the Portland Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. You can sign up for updates and info on our website; if it hasn’t screened near you, please sign up to be notified when we post ‘Bug Chaser’ online.