Zach Braff just became the second most high-profile film project on Kickstarter — and he wasn’t quite expecting all the attention. “I feel like one of those people who you hear the stories about, actors get woken up early because they won some award,” Braff told us this morning on the heels of the announcement of his next directorial project, Wish I Was Here, for which he’s hoping to raise $2 million through Kickstarter.
Fans of either Braff or Kickstarter will be quick to assume two things about the project: That Wish I Was Here is Garden State-y (or Scrubs: The Movie) and that Braff has only jumped onto the platform after seeing the massive, $5.7 million success it gave to Rob Thomas’ Veronica Mars. Both assumptions are both right and wrong.
Braff says that Wish I Was Here is “my aesthetic tone and a tone that I like, which is analogous to Scrubs, even though that’s a broader TV show … It’s about a family struggling to get by and barely surviving financially and the dad’s a bit of a f— up and he’s a struggling actor, played by me. And through a series of circumstances involving where they live and they’re no longer able to pay for private school, the father, because he’s a struggling actor and stay-at-home dad, decides he’s going to try to home-school his two kids, who are 5 and 12.”
Eventually, the dad decides to teach his children “everything he knows about being a good person” — and that “basically it’s a story about a man learning to become a great husband and father and person,” Braff says, although he promises that it isn’t Garden State 2.
The film started as script that Braff wrote with his brother last summer. They’d worked together before — on a failed Fox pilot and a children’s book, still in development, that was set-up at Fox Studios — and Wish I Was Here has “a lot” of biographical overlap with their lives.
But Kickstarter was never Plan A. Equity financing was. “That’s sort of just the standard way these movies are made,” Braff says. “And I met some lovely people but when it came down to looking at the deal, it was insane to me. I’m not crazy concerned about the back-end of it all, having participated in Garden State, which was a huge success and not seeing much meaningful money myself, I know how that goes. You’re not making these sorts of movies to cash in. But I didn’t like some of the other things that were insisted upon me.” Namely: no final cut and a “pretty short” list of actors from which to cast.
Then came Veronica Mars, and an idea: “Rob Thomas had that phenomenal success and a light bulb went off and you go, ‘Oh my god, maybe this could work for smaller, personal art films.'” Braff says that he was almost on the verge of signing a contract to finance the film when Thomas debuted the Mars Kickstarter — and everything changed. “We slammed this together by pulling favors,” he says.
However, Braff is familiar with Kickstarter, and crowd-sourced funding, having donated to artistic projects and even a bike light (“I thought [it] was really crazy innovative and cool”) before. Thomas gave him some additional advice: “He said it’s very time-consuming.” Notably, the list of rewards for various backing amounts include a production diary, a soundtrack, framable prints of concept art and stills, a personalized voice or video message, and tickets to sit with Braff at the film’s premiere and after-party. He wrote about the latter, “If you request it, I will place my hand gently on your leg.”
The ideal situation is a summer production start — Braff has a crew but not a cast — and a slot at next year’s Sundance.
What of the Kickstarter controversy that now attaches itself to any crowd-sourced project: Is it giving consumers more power to produce work they’re passionate about, or is it a cheap way for companies to get equity without a proportional exchange of profit?
“I think having equity is around the corner,” Braff says. (It’s illegal right now.) “I think that the next logical step is being able to invest in films and own a piece of them … In the meantime, what is there to do: nothing? No, I think in the meantime create incentives for people at all different levels. If you’re a student and you like filmmaking, put in $10. You’re definitely going to get your $10 worth in behind-the-scenes, really interesting insider filmmaking videos and information — and you’ll be a part of it. It’s like joining a club.”