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Q&A: Zach Braff on Kickstarter, indie filmmaking and the skeptics

May 03, 2013|By Steven Zeitchik
  • Zach Braff
Zach Braff (AP Photo / Millennium / Todd…)

Zach Braff made headlines last week when he became one of the first top-tier Hollywood personalities to try -- and succeed in -- financing a movie via Kickstarter. Just a few days after listing his idiosyncratic project “Wish I Was Here,” which he aims to direct and star in, he had raised the Kickstarter target of $2 million to make the movie. The total is now at about $2.3 million and 31,000 backers, with three weeks to go.)

It was a remarkable turnaround. For nearly a year, Braff, 38, had tried to make the dramatic comedy about a thirtysomething Los Angeles man who decides to homeschool his children. It was met with skepticism from many traditional financiers, who told him they'd need to cast a very particular set of stars, and would also need to retain final cut, before they’d consider sinking equity into the project.

The "Garden State” helmer didn’t want to make those compromises. So, working with the veteran producer Stacey Sher and a few legal experts, he spent months building out a Kickstarter plan -- while at the same time taking into account reservations about being the first to jump into the pool. (As Sher said in an interview, “We kept backing off even as we pressed forward,” describing a process that had begun before another Kickstarter film, 'Veronica Mars,' began raising its funds).

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Last week, they launched, and the results were remarkable: Within a few days, a movie Braff dreamed about was suddenly in sight. He and Sher have now hired veteran casting director Avy Kaufman and aim to shoot the movie this summer, possibly in Los Angeles. (Traditional financiers would have required that the film shoot in rebate-rich Vancouver; Braff and Sher hope to use some of the Kickstarter money to keep it local. )

The idea of a movie star going directly to civilians raises some tantalizing possibilities about the future of filmmaking. Will directors, as Braff alludes to in his Kickstarter video, be mostly free of the note-giving process that has accompanied traditional film financing? (And if so, is that an unmitigatedly good thing?)

And will fans, with their enthusiasm and pocketbooks, essentially be able to will even a name-brand movie into existence, as they also did recently with the 'Veronica Mars' film?

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But with all this has come plenty of fallout. Almost as quickly as Braff had raised the money, critics were labeling him a carpetbagger who took advantage of a system meant for scrappy unknowns. Others questioned his playing with other people’s money -- people who would see little in the way of return in the event of the film's success -- when he seemed to have plenty of money of his own.

In a candid conversation, Braff refuted these accusations, saying he’s more like the fans than the A-listers his critics lump him in with. He said that there are misconceptions about the role the Kickstarter money will play in his movie. (Despite the ballyhooed $2-million figure, the budget will actually be in the range of $5 million, he said, with the remaining coming from select foreign sales as well as Braff’s own pocket. He wouldn’t put a number on his investment but described it as a "[butt] ton.”)

And he wondered if, like it or not, we've just entered a new era of filmmaking that will turn the system on its head.

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Here's an excerpt of our conversation.

Movies Now: Let's start with what you've accomplished. You spent a long time knocking on doors to get this quirky little script that few had heard of made. And now within a few days you not only made practically every film fan aware of this project but secured $2 million for it. Did the speed of all this surprise you?

Zach Braff: Well, it has been overwhelming to see how fans come out in support of something that I've cared about. I always hoped that the fans, the people who like what I do, would embrace this. But it actually hasn't been easy. We spent a long time building this, thinking about how to do it, engaging with fans. It wasn't an overnight kind of thing.

MN: Did you have reservations about putting yourself out there this way? You had to know that some people wouldn't like it.

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