Not too long ago, writer-director Sophie Barthes had a dream in which she found herself one of several patients at a futuristic doctor's office. Everyone was holding a box, Barthes remembers, even fellow patient Woody Allen. Only after an office assistant told the group that these boxes contained their extracted souls did the patients begin to look inside, but Barthes says she woke up before seeing her own soul in the box. She did, however, get to see the spiritual contents of Woody Allen's box, and it's that moment that would go on to become the inspiration for her directorial debut, Cold Souls.

Such a story is only one of many little glimpses into the creative process that Sophie Barthes gave an audience Thursday following a preview screening of Cold Souls hosted at the BAM Cinematek. Barthes joined a panel discussion with her cinematographer husband Andrij Parekh and the film's star Paul Giamatti—playing an actor named Paul Giamatti who has his soul removed while also acting in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya—to answer questions from the audience, a packed house of mostly young, UNIQLO-clad cineastes.

Comparisons flew in the opening moments of the Q&A, often couched cryptically in questions that stretched out into observations. One college student piped up to tell Barthes, "As I was watching, I kept being reminded of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I'm just wondering if, well… I guess there was a similar quirkiness. It was very, I don't know, very cool." Barthes, however, handled this and other, similar moments during the discussion with grace, responding wryly: "It's cool or it's derivative? You can say it."

Paul Giamatti didn't escape audience comparison, either, drawing big laughs when one person asked whether he was riffing on William Shatner during a scene where a hammy, supposedly-soulless Giamatti delivers lines from Uncle Vanya. Giamatti deadpanned, "I love Shatner, so no, I would never do that to Shatner," before continuing: "No, I wasn't thinking Shatner—I was just thinking cheesy; I was thinking musical theater. What's the most effed-up thing we could do to Chekhov? Play it like it was Oklahoma!"

Giamatti's overall performance also earned associations to Woody Allen—after all, he had been cast as the Woody Allen figure from Barthes' dream. Giamatti said the notion that he could be a stand-in for neurotic comedy legend tickled him: "That's usually how it goes—'We can't get Woody Allen.' And, well, I was available."