NEW YORK – By now, Zach Braff is admittedly a little weary of defending his decision to partially finance his sophomore movie venture, “Wish I Was Here,” the offbeat, highly personal follow-up to his 2004 indie hit “Garden State,” through a crowd-sourced Kickstarter campaign.
But with the finished film now working its way out to the nation’s theaters, all the sniping and Internet criticism that Braff endured for hitting up fans for $3.1 million in small donations to help finance his $5.5 million film have come rushing back, and during press interviews hosted by Focus Features at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel that was a topic that the affable Braff – try as he might to be upbeat – inevitably faced.
“There was just an incredible amount of Internet insanity (about that),” Braff said. “Everyone and their mother weighed in, and there was a lot of misinformation. Such as, ‘Hey, you’re a rich Hollywood actor. You have money. Go make it yourself.’ Well, I do have money, but I don’t have $5.5 million to spend on a movie.”
Still, some vocal critics argued that Braff had the clout and credentials to get studio backing, and that Kickstarter and other such crowd-sourcing programs should be reserved for starving artists with no other resources for finding financing. Nevermind that the recent “Veronica Mars” TV-to-film production and even Spike Lee have used Kickstarter to kick start their film projects.
Braff, however, maintains that despite his bankable status as an actor (based largely on his long-running “Scrubs” TV series) and the loyal following created by the breakout success of “Garden State,” he still found himself at the mercy of studio bean counters when he pitched his idea for the quirky film about a struggling L.A. actor at a critical crossroads in both his career and family life.
“I simply could not get the money without a lot of strings attached,” he said. “Maybe I could have if I’d been ready with this right after ‘Garden State,’ because I was so hot right then. But that hotness fades pretty quickly, six months or so.”
Studios were indeed receptive to his pitches, he said, but with loads of stifling caveats.
“This is how it works – you shop your script around, and the financial people say, ‘OK, we’ll give you this much … if you’ll do this,” he said. “They have a long list of conditions. Hire certain big name actors, whether they’re right for the parts or not. Shoot in Vancouver for the financial incentives. Give up the final cut. Those were the deals we were presented with, and I just wasn’t going to make all those concessions.”
To his mind, Braff said, the system is rigged to produce generic, star-driven movies that hew safely to formula, rather than to foster risky, eccentric, personal films such as he aspires to make.
“Oh, I guess I could have gone and made a big studio romantic comedy,” Braff said. “Instead, I was trying to make a personal story about my family. It’s a unique story and an independent movie. It’s got spirituality and religion and surreal fantasies. It’s not a story that has some studio executive shouting, ‘We’ll open this in thousands of theaters. Here’s your money!’
“The same thing happened with ‘Garden State.” Everyone passed on ‘Garden State,’” he said. “When I write these movies, I try to make them unique, but that’s not really something that the money guys and studio heads are looking for.”
Originally, Braff was shooting to raise $2 million of the budget from the Kickstarter campaign, but he reached that goal in just a matter of days. Eventually, the contributions of more than 20,000 investors reached $3.1 million, and Braff said he has gone to great pains to make every contributor feel invested in the project.
And despite the firestorm of personal attacks he’s endured, Braff said he believes his utilizing Kickstarter has had wide-ranging benefits beyond his own movie.
“We drew a lot of new visitors to the (Kickstarter) site, who helped fund other projects,” he said. “And it wasn’t like I was trying to make ‘Garden State II,’ or ‘Scrubs: The Movie.’ I was trying to do something a little different. So we took a different approach to financing it and got to make the movie we wanted to make.”
Through the hubbub, Braff said, he hopes one clear message comes through.
“Audiences should know that there’s a reason they’re not seeing more movies they like, movies that have a personal touch and that tell unique stories about people’s lives,” he said. “The studios are just not willing to take chances and pay for them. These small personal films where a director wants to retain final cut and tell his or her own story without a bunch of interference, no one will say yes to that without a lot of strings attached.”
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