Monday, March 21, 2011

A Q&A with Michael Mann, or, what not to ask at a Q&A

Saturday night the Beefcake and I headed down to the Egyptian to watch a 25th anniversary screening of Manhunter, followed by a Q&A with Michael Mann.

So first, interesting things he said:

-He worked on the script for Heat for quite a while before he realized the final image of a dying man holding the hand of the man who shot him. Then he reverse engineered the script to make that happen.

-If there was one world he'd go back to, it would be Last of the Mohicans. He would never go back to something as dark as Manhunter if he can help it.

-During the final shootout in Manhunter, they had no money and no time, so Michael Mann held the camera himself, shot a sequence of the gunfight, then cut, burned a hole into Tom Noonan's shirt, then called action again. And that's how he shot it - like a low budget indie with himself as camera operator.

-Tom Noonan is a weird dude. Michael Mann said this: "Well, you know, he's from North Carolina, so...." What the fuck, Michael Mann?

So now, the real point to this post.

I have been to a lot of Q&As in my time since moving to Los Angeles, and I have heard some stupid fucking questions, but I have never heard questions as idiotic as the ones I heard at this screening. They were so bad, the entire audience was groaning, and we even joked with some guys on the way down Hollywood Boulevard as we made up additional stupid questions people could have asked.

And yet, for every stupid question, Mann answered with class and honesty. Often he just answered whatever good question he could create out of the stupid shit he was asked.

So now I present to you, my paraphrase of stupid questions asked of Michael Mann at the screening:

-You worked with Gong Li on a movie. How come people don't work with her more often? She's great. Also, I heard lots of the actors were afraid of shooting in real locations on that movie. Why?

The movie she's talking about is Miami Vice, but she didn't seem to know that. Michael Mann said Gong Li speaks no English, and the actors weren't afraid of the location shooting.

-I didn't understand that whole part of the movie when he figures out the label on the film canister and matched it with the label on the other canister. Can you explain that, because I didn't understand it. How did he make that conclusion?

The interviewer explained the scene to the guy. You had one opportunity to ask Michael Mann a question, and you ask him a clarifying question about a scene that made perfect sense to every other person in the room? Really, old man?

-The ending of this movie I've always found to be so cheesy. And the freeze frame - ugh. It's just so cheesy and bad. Have you ever thought that?

Michael Mann responded that he's frequently retooled his films and rereleased them in different versions because he's never satisfied.

-Yesterday I overheard you talking once to Madeleine Stowe about a project. Was that a real conversation?

Yes it was a real conversation.

-Are you bitter about the success of Silence of the Lambs?

No.


So here's what we can learn from this. When you go to a Q&A and you have a question, think about the following things: Are you the only person in the room who would have this question? Are you only talking so that you can let everybody in the room know something about you? Are you about to insult the person you're asking? Do you just have a bunch of statements that you are going to somehow remix into a question after you give a fucking speech about some bullshit? If you answered yes to any of the questions, shut the fuck up and let the grown ups talk.

16 comments:

  1. Ahh, Comi-Con syndrome...

    Which inspires me to simply beat my head against the back of the seat in front of me for the entire Q&A period.

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  2. Oh my dear god Emily,

    Went to a Q&A with Guillermo del Toro awhile back.

    The questions weren't bad, it was the rambling speach demonstrating their deep knowledge of his films that preceeded every question that made me want to murder everyone in the room.

    One of those moments where my wife gently lays her hand across my arm diffusing the tide of rage preventing mass murder.

    I love my wife. Again, Guillermo was obsolutely gracious and signed each and every article with a drawing and a signature. Very nice man.

    -Jim

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  3. I didn't go to this--truthfully, I respect MANHUNTER more than I like the film and didn't feel like seeing it again right now--but I know some people who did go including one guy who's about as big a MANHUNTER fan as you'll find. I'm sure he had questions he wanted to ask but I'm pretty sure none of the ones you listed were among them.

    This sounds like one of those Q&A sessons where you wind up wondering what the point of these things really are anyway. Too bad.

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  4. look, i love the austin film festival, but in my experience this is what happens in nearly EVERY panel. it's maddening as hell.

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  5. Cela V.12:09 PM

    Disapointment indeed. Too bad the questions were squandered on stupidity. The man has genuis moments.

    My friend worked on Gong Li's last Hollywood movie filmed in Thailand as a extra. Said she speaks pretty good converstaional English. Mann is mistaken.

    Can't wait to see his next project.

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  6. I'm from North Carolina, and I'd like you to meet my wife and sister.

    Bu there's only one person standing there.

    (apologies to the late great Bill Hicks.)

    North Carolina - we call it North Cackalacky - jokes. What Marylanders tell when we've run out of West Virginia jokes.

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  7. I refuse to call it Cackalacky. And I am not my own sister. Odicoileus, you are not helping the stereotype.

    He's lying, everyone. North Carolina is a lovely state with plenty of smart people, although most of them are grouped around Research Triangle Park and are Asian.

    Down with West Virginia!

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  8. "Is there a Michael WoMann in your life?"

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  9. This cracked me up! I've been to Q&A's where people asked really stupid questions, too.

    Don't worry about that North Carolina crack. According to the Daily Show, all the weird people come from SOUTH Carolina, not counting Stephen Colbert.

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  10. YouSaidIt4:34 AM

    I think panel discussions have degenerated to the point to the point where your comments should be printed on a big sign at the entrance in bold-faced all-caps. We could generally refer to the meeting/panel as being governed by the “Blake Guidelines” (you'd be famous or at least merit a wikipedia entry). I'm sure it would work for a while. Who wouldn't be intimidated by sign that said:


    ARE YOU THE ONLY PERSON IN THE ROOM WHO WOULD HAVE THIS QUESTION? ARE YOU ONLY TALKING SO THAT YOU CAN LET EVERYBODY IN THE ROOM KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT YOU? ARE YOU ABOUT TO INSULT THE PERSON YOU'RE ASKING? DO YOU JUST HAVE A BUNCH OF STATEMENTS THAT YOU ARE GOING TO SOMEHOW REMIX INTO A QUESTION AFTER YOU GIVE A FUCKING SPEECH ABOUT SOME BULLSHIT? IF YOU ANSWERED YES TO ANY OF THE QUESTIONS, SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LET THE GROWN UPS TALK.

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  11. I was there. It was pretty bad. My fiancee and I finally left at about the 45 minute mark. I just couldn't take it anymore. Sorry I missed the question abut THE KEEP, but after I heard the fourth or fifth guy praise Mann for being a genius and talking up MIAMI VICE, my body couldn't cringe anymore.

    Still, the two worst Q&As I've been to were Ray Harryhausen at the Academy, where one guy asked him if he was involved in Willis O'Brien's suicide (which, fortunately, Harryhausen's deafness allowed moderator Leonard Maltin to totally rephrase the question) and, yes, someone ask John Landis at one of those comic-memorabllia things at the Shrine -- back in '92, when I first moved to LA -- about the death of Vic Morrow on THE TWILIGHT ZONE movie. You've never heard such collective gasping in your life.

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  12. It's why I can't hang with most Q&A's, and having done a few, I think the moderators need to know when to step in -- it's not hard to do. The best responder is Harlan Ellison, who will call out any stupid question as such and break down why it's a dumb question. The smart folks are usually too shy to speak up.

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  13. My personal pet peeves are the "What's it like working with " questions (Comic-Con syndrome, as mpjedi2 points out) and the "Here, let me talk ad nauseum about MY project" guy. I also refuse to attend any discussion about legal issues, for reasons already stated.

    @Alex, I've found that in the larger panels at AFF, the moderators are pretty good about asking questions that steer the conversation in a useful direction. More and more so, the smaller panels in the side rooms occur as a complete waste of time, and the parties are where the real discussions occur. Maybe it's just a sign of my growth as an artist (and conference-goer).

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  14. Oh man I HATE that "Let me talk about my project" Guy. No, asshole, he is not going to read your screenplay.

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  15. Only solution to the stupid question issue is to have questions be moderated. That is, there is a person who walks around, and asks people what their question is, then gives them directions on how to ask it succinctly and only chooses people with the best questions.

    Or questions are submitted in writing on a card with the seat number, and someone chooses the best questions and calls on people to ask them.

    You still get some folks going off-script, but it improves the dialogue overall.

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  16. I have to say, I met Tom Noonan some years back when I was a casting assistant and he is definitely one weird dude ... weird doesn't even cover it, really. I don't know if it's because he's from NC or not, but he's out there, man, really friggin' out there.

    Scott Myers lives in NC, btw, and loves it. But he's not from there.

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