Zach Braffs "Wish I Was Here" premieres at Sundance on Saturday. (Todd Williamson / AP )
PARK CITY, Utah--Sundance movies can premiere to varying degrees of scrutiny. Few films, though, come in drawing the kind of attention of Zach Braff’s “Wish I Was Here."
After all, it’s been exactly 10 years since Braff debuted his zeitgeist-defining “Garden State,” with a raucous screening leading to a big sale and one of the quintessential indie movies of the 2000s. Braff hasn’t directed a film since, concentrating on his acting.
Even more pointedly, his new movie, about a 30-something struggling actor and dad who looks for a life reset of sorts, is funded in large part with the help of Kickstarter--about 60% of its $5 million budget comes from a vast network of 47,000 fans. When "Wish I Was Here" world premieres at the festival on Saturday, then, it will become the first-ever showing of a crowdfunded movie made by a well-known Hollywood personality.
In the first interview about the film, Braff explains the strange road getting here, the unique process of making the movie and why he believes this model is far better than the traditional one.
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Movies Now: It's amazing to think it's been a full decade since "Garden State" became a sensation here. How different does it feel this time around, especially given your increased notoriety and the headlines around this film?
Zach Braff: We were such an underdog back then. We had Natalie Portman, but I was someone who had been on a TV show for a year or two. No one knew about us. We were brand new. There are things I look back at now and love and things that makes me cringe and say, "ugh, first-time filmmaker." And this is very different. It took me 10 years to make another movie, and because of the success of the first one and the crowdfunding of it all, I'm coming in with a lot more eyes on me. The good news is that no one knows anything about the movie--just that it was partially crowdfunded and Mandy Patinkin and Kate Hudson are in it, and maybe a logline or two--so in that way it actually does feel similar to "Garden State."
MN: The crowdfunding aspect would seem to fundamentally alter the process in so many ways, not least is that you had thousands of fans who were expecting something along the way. How did that play out?
ZB: Well, the most important thing was to take care of them. I've funded a few things on Kickstarter. With some of them I only gave a little money and I got all these updates and felt like part of the process. And then sometimes I've given a lot of money and didn't hear anything. And I wanted to have this be that first, positive experience. I said, "We're going to break the mold and give people a platinum VIP experience." We hired three people who could respond to everyone. I didn't want an email to go a day without a response. It was like running a concierge business.
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MN: That sounds like a pretty extensive undertaking when you're trying to shoot a film.
ZB: In a normal situation you're attending to financiers. So instead of worrying about three rich people you have to make sure the needs of a lot of fans are met. It does get a little tricky because you have two giant projects at once--you're making an independent movie for a budget and also simultaneously running this company. But we wanted everyone to love the experience.
MN: Are there limits? How much could you, say, have fans on set?
ZB: We actually had a lot of set visitors. There are featured extras in the movie from Kickstarter, and there's one girl who has a line in the film. They were so excited to be there, and we'd set them up at the monitors with earphones and if I had a second I'd come over and explain what we were doing. My brother, who I wrote the film with, had a little more time, so he would talk to them too. Or our producers.
MN: And the crew? Did they feel the same?
ZB: The crew loved having them around because everything's new to these fans. Those of us on set all the time, there's nothing's new about this, but when you have someone who's from Duluth and a dentist, it's cool to be able to talk about it and say "Well, this is why we do it this way or why we shoot it like this." You'd look over and a key grip would be explaining something. It was a lot of fun and never a hassle.
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MN: The big advantage to doing it this way, of course, is the creative freedom. How much more liberating was it without those three rich people? There's final cut, of course. What else did it allow you to do exactly?