Zach Braff took a risk last April when he asked fans to help him finance his new movie through Kickstarter.
The fund-raising site had just worked for Rob Thomas, creator of the show “Veronica Mars.” Fans of the long-canceled program pledged millions of dollars within days — enough for Thomas to make a feature film based on his series, which had gone off the air in 2007.
Braff, following Thomas’s lead, was also successful with his online campaign. Tens of thousands of his fans pledged a total of $2 million in just two days (a figure that grew to more than $3 million) so that he could make “Wish I Was Here,” a film about a struggling actor (played by Braff) who must contemplate meaning-of-life questions about parenthood, Judaism, marriage, and dreams. The movie opens here on Friday.
Unlike Thomas, whose risky plan to make a feature film out of a long ago canceled TV show arguably wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without crowdsourced support, Braff took heat from critics who said that after having success with 2004’s cult hit “Garden State,” and after starring in the popular sitcom “Scrubs” for almost a decade, Braff shouldn’t need handouts.
But he got them, and he’s thankful, because the money enabled him to make his movie without having to obey a studio. After all, that’s how he made “Garden State,” which he says was largely financed by an angel investor. Now, on days off from starring in the stage adaptation of Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway,” in which he plays a character who wants to make good theater without bowing to investors, Braff is touring the country, showing “Wish I Was Here” to his Kickstarter donors. At the minimum, these donors got a PDF of the script. At the maximum, they got a pass to one of these intimate viewing parties and/or onscreen credit.
During his Boston stop last week, he talked about why he needed help from fans, and why he’ll never make a crowd-funded film again.
Q. What do fans ask you during these private Kickstarter events?
A. Well, they just watched the movie and so they ask about the movie. Then there’ll be random questions about “Garden State” or “Scrubs” or other stuff I’ve done. Mostly I’m surprised because I thought it was going to be all “Scrubs” questions.
Q. Do any of the fans get critical? Do they take ownership because they contributed money to the film?
A. No. I mean, they love it. The film was made for these people. The experiment was, since I have a good sense of what the fan base likes, what if I made something just specifically for them? It would serve two purposes. One, it would please the fan base, and [two], it’s what I like anyway. We obviously like the same stuff. I feel pretty confident as I go to these 47,000 people and bring them the piece of art that they helped make.
Q. Tell me why you chose to tell this story?
A. I’ve been really just stuck on spirituality. I just feel like I’m surrounded by people in my life who were raised with some sort of organized religion. Now that they have children and are in their 30s and 40s, [they’re] sort of tapped out of any real faith. Obviously they’re looking for something as they deal with the inevitable death of their parents and trying to teach their kids something.
Q. This movie is also about a man who doesn’t know whether he’s really an adult — even though he’s a parent.
A. In this film [the main character is] just a struggling actor because that’s my story. I felt like “Garden State” worked because I told my story, but I told it in a way that you could insert aspects of your own life and relate, hopefully. That’s a lesson I learned — write what you know and in an accessible way where people relate. Now, a studio would tell me, “Oh, you can’t make a Jewish movie.” I say to them, people are so much smarter than you give them credit for. They insert their own religious experience.
‘To make this movie, with final cut, with my rules and my cast, in Los Angeles, no one was willing to do that.’
Q. Were you told that? That you shouldn’t make a “Jewish movie”?
A. I was told by financiers that, in so many words, that the Jewishness should be toned down. I always thought, you know, look at “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” It made a hundred million dollars. I don’t know a Greek person. I mean, I probably do, but I don’t know that I know a Greek person. But it’s relatable. People go, “Oh my God, that’s my family. I see my family in that.”
Q. By going independent you could call the shots — and choose your cast. How did you find your costars?
A. Well, actors want to do great roles. There’s a reason everyone’s going, “Why are all these amazing actors going to TV?” It’s because the movies are disappearing, like going extinct. Obviously I love a summer blockbuster like everyone, but there’s just no making $5 million and $10 million movies anymore. I mean, Clive Owen is on a [expletive] TV show [Showtime’s “The Knick”]. I mean, when you go to Mandy Patinkin and go, “Here’s a really juicy role that you can come do in four days,” and he loves it . . . it’s kind of a no brainer. I knew Kate [Hudson], and we were friends. I just think she’s a real talent.
Q. It would seem to a person outside of this industry that if you make a film as successful as “Garden State,” you’d have studio support for whatever you want to do next.
A. I have to tell you that it was quite humbling for me to learn that that was not the case. As I’ve said before, and will say again, I could have, of course, have gone and made a big, stupid, studio romantic comedy. I could have, of course, have gone and made something uber-commercial. I don’t want to mislead people there. But, to make this movie, with final cut, with my rules and my cast, in Los Angeles, no one was willing to do that.
Q. You mention the big stars going to TV. Will you go back to TV?
A. That’s where the jobs are. I’m not going to be in “Fast and Furious 10.”
Q. I would go see you in that.
A. I would love to be [in it]. They’re not going to hire me. Of course I’ll go back to TV now. If you asked me that a year and a half ago, I would have said, “Maybe.” TV’s gotten great, and it’s getting better every day.
Q. Would you do this again? A Kickstarter movie?
A. No. It was always meant to be an experiment. It was never meant to be like, “Oh, this will be the status quo.” It was always meant to be, “What if we did it this way? Would that be a fun experiment?” I didn’t ever imagine the experiment would work in 48 hours, especially when everyone said it wouldn’t. I love that more than anything.Meredith Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.