Of course, every chance I get to point people over to the brilliance that is Greg Benson and his red carpet antics, I will do so. This vid used to be titled “Excellent Questions,” and one of the reasons I’m crazy about this vid is that it really shows us who can handle *anything* that is flung their way in an interview situation, raising what I call Brandprov to an art form.
Another great source of inspiration in this area is Andy Cohen’s cable-access-like talkshow Watch What Happens Live, which airs on Bravo five nights per week. Basically, any show that is taped before a live studio audience and aired with minimal editing is going to be one worth checking out, when it comes to learning who has had media training, who can handle the absurd, and who should stick to scripted material and avoid press as much as possible.
Jenny McCarthy was a guest on WWHL last week and she was brilliant. She was ballsy, smart, and never let the interview leave her control. When asked questions she didn’t want to answer, she used an incredibly ninja tactic to divert attention, titillate, stall, and then provide an answer close enough to what the audience (and interviewer) may have been expecting that we all laughed and moved along to the next question. All the while, holding close to the vest exactly what it was the interviewer was hoping to extract from her. It was like a master class in being interviewed, this episode, and considering she was a last-minute fill-in for the originally-scheduled guest, I get it. She’s a go-to because she is so dang good at the Q&A.
Now, let’s use this as a jumping off point not for you and your future sessions on the sofa with the next Oprah, but as a chance for us to think about the questions *we* get to ask, when in meetings, in interviews, at networking events, at panel discussions, or in workshops.
I’ve talked before about how the most frequently asked question of those who work in casting tends to be a question almost all of us hate: “What are your pet peeves?”
Think about it. That’s like me asking you: “What do you hate about your acting career?” Why would I want — in our short time together — to send you to a negative place in your brain, where you can dig up stories about how horribly you’ve been treated, how much you’ve been rejected, how misunderstood you are, how you hate nepotism, how unfair this business is, how crappy your last agent was, how much you have spent trying to get in front of people, and how you still have to sling drinks to pay rent while your former roommate just booked a pilot?
Asking people to go to the negative is lazy, frankly. It’s “reality TV style” conversation. It’s TMZ instead of PRI. So, start coming up with better questions — hopefully based on years of research you’ve done and logged in Your Show Bible — that not only give you a glimpse into the world of the person to whom you’re asking the question but also give that person a sense of where you idle, in terms of mindset.
Y’all know I interviewed a few hundred casting directors when I was a columnist for Backstage, years ago. I was built to interview because I’m a fantastic listener, I do a shitton of research about people before I meet them (so we can skip the basic “get to know you” questions), and I have two degrees in journalism (so I’d better be damn good at getting the story, right?). Quickly after the launch of that weekly column, I was tapped to moderate panels discussions — and I still sometimes do this — with casting directors, agents, managers, producers, directors, writers, showrunners, publicists, actors, you name it! I have a very well-developed muscle for asking questions, reading the room, steering the talk, and keeping everyone feeling very well taken care of throughout the process.
But let’s be clear: That’s a muscle that has been developed over decades, through my education, my professional experience, and lots of regular practice.
How can you build a muscle that makes people remember you as a smart, savvy businessperson, without ever coming across as an interviewer (since that’s not your goal, of course)? Start by coming up with some excellent questions.
What do you *actually* want to know about this person from whom you’re sitting across in an agent meeting? Or about this person who has just conducted a CD workshop and who is now asking for Q&A? Or about this higher-tier legend who’s seated on this amazing panel? Start there. Think about Your Show Bible. Think about information that would be great to have about how these folks do their jobs. How do they choose their projects? How do they know a particular actor has “it” when they walk in the room? What keeps them inspired about their creative pursuit? How has the industry changed in the years they’ve been a part of it? What would they go back and tell themselves about how to thrive in this business, if they could go back to themselves at age 20 and give one bit of advice?
Stuff like that.
Use The Actors’ Network formula of “no questions with the words *I* or *ME* in them” to start. (Ooh! That reminds me! I’ll be at TAN on Thursday, giving a free Q&A. See you there? Hope so!)
Questions to throw out, even if you really really really want to ask them (hell, *especially* if you really really really want to ask them): How can I get on your roster? How can I get in on a co-star audition? Will you come see my play? How can I submit my materials to you? Will you accept this screener copy of my short film? Can I add you to my mailing list and send you updates about my career? Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever cast? What’s so-and-so like to work with? What do you do? What have you worked on? (Basically anything you could’ve Googled before this encounter, when asked, makes you look like a giant doofus.) And for the love of all that is holy, never never never: What’s my type? How would you cast me? How do you see me? Will you sign me? Can I audition for you?
Absolutely, when you’re in a one-on-one meeting with a potential agent or manager and it’s clear you’re about to get signed, having a conversation about how you’ll be submitted or about which specific niche will be your first target, when this person is pitching you is totally cool! But when you’re in a group Q&A situation, standing up in front of the group, having been called upon by the moderator to ask a question of the panelists, asking someone to type you, to sign you, to cast you just screams desperate. Don’t be that whactor. Be a pro. Be a colleague! Use this opportunity to let these folks know you *get* this business and want to know more about *their* place in it.
Practice excellent questions so that you’re never caught without one. You’ll be amazed the difference it can make!
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001625.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.