Webinar or Meeting? — How to conduct a successful film Q&A

Questions and Answers session after a film screening

The instructional part of introducing our platform for virtual film screenings and Q&A to clients is always divided to two: The technical part and the conceptual part.
The technical part is usually the easiest. What is not clarified in a demo, will be better understood with documentation and practice. After some time, everyone will get the hang of it.
The conceptual part is more tricky. Not only because there is no ‘right’ vs. ‘wrong’, but because there are not even Best Practices. It really depends on the personalities involved, the goal of the Q&A, the number of attendees and many other hidden or interrelated factors.
I personally like that part more than the others. Elusive concepts with no clear-cut conclusions are my favourites and are challenging and in the positive way (I still miss the day where “challenge” was just a challenge and not a euphemistic word for “bad”).
Most virtual film festivals screenings today are followed by a Q&A session. Actually, many times, this is the main reason for viewers to participate in them. The question of how to conduct such a session is always a challenge to the event organizers.

I’ll try to layout here the characteristics of each of the two most frequent modes of conducting a Question and Answers session: The meeting and the webinar.

The Difference Between a Meeting and a Webinar

Meeting is more ‘democratic’. The audience is present, seen and heard, at least some of the time. Of course, the audience can be muted and the video turned off. We’ll get to it. But first, the basic definition: We talk together.

Webinar is like a TV broadcast. A One to Many approach. Active vs. passive. Old media vs. modern media: I talk, you listen.

Most virtual meeting platforms offer both options and offer intermediate features which blur the lines between a meeting and a webinar or make it easier for the admin to switch from one mode to another.

For example: A Zoom meeting, whereby all participants are muted and the user is in Speaker view, is practically a webinar, because the participant sees and hears only the moderator / lecturer / film director.
But wait, isn’t the Active Speaker view or Gallery View dependent on the end-user, who can navigate between the two?… — Yes. And this is why we cannot really force a meeting to become a webinar (except if embedded in Movies Everywhere, which I’ll write about later).

In a Zoom webinar on the other side, participants are a passive audience and can only participate through the chat, which is seen by the hosts. That concept exists in other webinar platforms as well, I only bring Zoom as an example.

In addition, participants can go out of the shadow by being promoted to co-hosts by admins and then be sent back to being part of a listening audience. That is another example of moving in a hybrid manner back and forth between a “meeting” and a “webinar”.

Another example, rather extreme, is Jitsi open source platform, which I used to like very much in the past. It allows everyone to mute everyone else. It also allows the first participant to set a password and block the room, even from the person who created it. Well, charming as it may seem, it is in my eyes too much of a democracy -:) It’s good for people who know each other very well or for closed communities, but not to strange people gathering for some accidental Q&A.

Justin Higuchi / flickr

Q&A in film: A Meeting or a Webinar?

As I wrote above, there’s no clear-cut recommendation of what to opt for. When organizers ask me to handle the screening event for them, I try to help in getting to a decision by posing a series of questions, like in a troubleshooter. I try to talk both to the organizer (festival producer) and the guest, which is usually the filmmaker. Those are the questions I pose:

  • Do you prepare a presentation or do you intend to spontaneously talk about the way to made the film? [question to the filmmaker]
  • Are you getting distracted when interrupted? [question to the filmmaker]
  • Do you need to see the people you talk to, or do you feel comfortable in a radio-like environment?
  • Do you need an introduction from a host before the Q&A starts? [question to the filmmaker]
  • Is it important for you to mention in the Q&A the organizing body, the context of the screening and to mention other screenings and sponsors? [question to the organizer]
  • Do you feel more comfortable to have a conversation with a moderator or do you prefer to talk directly to your audience [question to the filmmaker]
  • Is it important for you to hear the question and see the person asking it or do you prefer to have the question written? [question to the filmmaker]
  • Do you like to engage in a free conversation with an audience member or do you prefer it to be controlled and moderated? [question to the filmmaker]
  • Are you afraid of trolls and interruptions based on political opponents? [question both to the filmmaker and organizer]

As can be inferred from the questions, the webinar’s framework is more strict and controlled, so it fits those who prepare a presentation, are afraid or trolls and are distracted by interruptions.
Those who are more spontaneous (I would also suggest that they are more confident) and prefer a free conversation rather than a rule-based Q&A, will opt for meeting.
And there’s always the hybrid approach which I mentioned earlier, the one that allows unmuting, activating video, promoting a user to co-host etc. — all of them navigate between a meeting and a webinar

In Practice

So how does it work?

Let’s take Movies Everywhere platform as an example, because it allows the integration of many platforms and combinations in the screening page. But it might as well work independently on any platform.

Movies Everywhere Interactive section

The meeting approach

We use Zoom SDK to embed Zoom Meetings in Movies Everywhere. Zoom’s SDK imposes some restrictions which in my eyes turn to advantages:
For whoever is in our screening page, the mode is always Speaker view. That means naturally that the filmmaker is seen most of the time. other participants are not seen unless their video and voice are allowed by the admin. They do not even have thumbnails, like on Zoom app. That is much less distracting to the filmmaker and host and that is what meat by a restriction which turns to be an advantage.
However, if the director feels the need to see the participants, he or she can invite the viewers directly to Zoom app by sharing the link with them (in embed mode, the Zoom meeting link is unknown).
The meeting is seen in both places. (Movies Everywhere’s screening page and Zoom app). Any time during the meeting, the admin can unmute the participants and invite them to ope their video.
The admin can disable Zoom chat and that way, have all the questions in the screening page, using our own internal chat. Over the time, we found it less distracting for the filmmaker.
What cases is it good for: spontaneous and dynamic discussions, whereby the audience is engaged.

The webinar approach

Create you own webinar solution for free

Webinar is usually an expensive solution, not economically worthwhile for a one time webinar. But we or our clients don’t have to sign up for Zoom’s expensive webinar plan or add-on. We simply send the Zoom meeting to Facebook Live and embed the Facebook Live in the screening page.
That way, the Zoom becomes a broadcast, which is practically a webinar. That means that the audience is never seen by the filmmaker, only the moderator (if there is one). Questions are posed at our internal chat, inside the screening page and are sent to the filmmaker (which is in a private Zoom) on Whatsapp or any other messaging app.
Variations: Technically, sending a Zoom meeting to an intermediate platform creates a webinar, so any platform can function as a streaming server, not just Facebook Live. Youtube Live, Twitch, LinkedIn, Periscope, Vimeo Livestream (private video)etc., are all excellent solutions to achieve the same goal.
What cases is it good for: That approach is usually used when there is a panel or a discussion between the filmmaker and a moderator, while the audience is passive on purpose.

Summary

There is no sure path or best way to conduct an online Q&A. The approach we recommend is to have a deep discussion with the filmmaker and event organizer, understand their needs, goals, fears and motivations and then to offer the optimal solution, based on the characteristics of each type of a video meeting.

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Digital film distributor and founder of Movie Discovery VOD platform, QuickRights and Movies Everywhere . A former documentary filmmaker.

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Yoram Schaffer

Yoram Schaffer

Digital film distributor and founder of Movie Discovery VOD platform, QuickRights and Movies Everywhere . A former documentary filmmaker.

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