Interview: Zach Braff on WISH I WAS HERE and the Kickstarter Backlash
Zach Braff isn’t making Garden State 2. He’s never going to make that film, but his new project, Wish I Was Here — which is being partially funded by an ongoing Kickstarter campaign — will have a similar tone and, according to the former Scrubs star, the film (which is written by him and his brother Adam) will be “an honest story about the things that me and my friends and family are going through”.
In our exclusive interview with Zach Braff, we discuss the pressures that come with making Wish I Was Here, his aversion to making a Garden State sequel, the importance of music to his filmmaking style, building a community around this new film, and if he thinks his Kickstarter campaign is a good or bad thing for crowdfunding and other Kickstarter projects.
Here’s Zach Braff.
Garden State lives on a pedestal as this thing that people both identified with and fell in love with in their 20s, I know I did. A lot of people are expecting the same kind of impact with Wish I Was Here now that they’re in their 30s. Does that, well, does it scare the shit out of you?
Zach Braff: (Laughs) Well, as you can tell by [me] doing this project in front of the earth, I’m not afraid to put myself out there. Of course, its a hard act to follow, that was my first film It would be ludicrous to think that I thought that it would have the impact it had.
I went to film school, I dreamed of making a movie, and I made a movie and it had that reaction. All I can do is try and do what I did again. I don’t know if it can be that same lightning in a bottle that became this cultural, zeitgeist-y thing, but I’m gonna just do what I did the first time, which was tell an honest story about the things that me and my friends and family are going through. A real story, based on real anecdotes and we’ll hire the same crew back and a lot of the same actors, and hopefully people have a response to it like they did.
Now this isn’t, obviously, Garden State 2, but was there ever a thought to do that?
Braff: Never, never, I’ve had every offer in the book to do that and to make a play out of it, to make a musical out of it. No, no, I’m never gonna do that.
Out of curiosity, why are you so against going back to it?
Braff: You know, I don’t like that, as a lover of movies. When something super special and really something… you know, when I’m in the position of, “wow, that was really special to me and that’s something I liked” I like to keep it sorta sacred. I wouldn’t revisit something.
You know, it occasionally works. I liked it a lot when Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke did — I haven’t seen the latest one — but when they did a sequel to Before Sunrise, I really liked Before Sunset.
But, I don’t know, it’s just… it doesn’t sit right with me.
With regard to Garden State, obviously you’ve got a lot of people behind the scenes who worked with you on that movie, but do you think there is going to be an effort to pull away from that film on-screen or with the soundtrack, not try to have some of the same bands. Just to separate the two?
Braff: You know, it’s a fine line. The look and style of Garden State is the look and style that I love, and that one that me and my team created. So I think that it would be… you know, all my favorite filmmakers that I love have a look and a style. You know when you’re watching a Stanley Kubrick movie, you know when you’re watching a Woody Allen movie, you know when you’re watching a Hal Ashby movie. Those are my heroes. But, will it be the exact same thing? No. But I hope if I succeed and we succeed as a team, they’ll see a similar tone.
How important do you think sound is to your style? The soundtrack and the music.
Braff: Huge, huge, I mean the [Garden State] soundtrack continues to sell like crazy, it went platinum, it won a Grammy. People really, really responded to it and we’re gonna do that again. We’re about to announce that we’re goona do a vinyl pressing on that, I’m giving you the exclusive first, we’re gonna do a vinyl pressing of the album and put it on the Kickstarter page. Yeah, that’s the cool thing about this club, I mean, once again, if you join this club, it wont just be for the 12 songs that end up on the album, there’s gonna be a Spotify account and suggestions and huge conversations about music, so it’s expanding on the reaction that fans had to the soundtrack.
I see on the comments, a lot of people are suggesting soundtrack options, is that going to be a part of the way you build that?
Braff: Yeah, I love it! In fact, we’re gonna print those today. We had so many comments on that yesterday and today we’re assembling all the bands and songs that people recommended and we’re gonna make that an update for all the backers so they can see and peruse all the music that other people suggested. These people obviously have — I mean it would be safe to assume — they have some of the same taste in music, and now this community is suggesting music for them. I mean, it’s so exciting, it’s so fun.
It’s hard to imagine the way that films will be financed in a couple of years, this project obviously proves that, but with this success, can you imagine taking a future project into the studio system or financing via more traditional methods?
Braff: If it was a more commercial film, of course. But this isn’t. Here’s the way I see it: I look at what Tyler Perry has done — I think the man is actually a genius — he said, “I’m not trying to make movies for the earth, I wanna make movies for my fan base.” And in this day and age, I can do that. I can target just them and social media allows you to say to your fan base, “look…”. And you have to do it in front of everyone, and the people that don’t like you are going to be detractors, but the people that are fans of your work will hear you, and you can reach directly to them.
So, for a small personal art film like this, this has proven to be a sorta perfect idea. If you’re trying to make Oz the Great and Powerful, it’s not the right idea. So if I had a big studio project — and I do, I’m developing some things that are way more commercial as well — of course I would go [to] the traditional routes.
You spoke about detractors, did you anticipate the backlash…
Braff: Well, now there’s a backlash to the backlash. It’s very entertaining to watch.
Back and forth, it’s like a tennis match. Are you worried though, that that backlash may have some negative effect on the way that people view the film?
Braff: Not at all, well… the people that are not for this are not my fans. You can see that from the rallies of fan support. And anyone who says something nasty to me on twitter is not someone who is following me, they’re not someone who is a fan of mine. But I would say to those people, if someone was going to give you — insert your favorite artist, whether they be a musician or a filmmaker or someone on a TV show — if they were going to give you a year and a half’s worth of content, behind the scenes, interviews, music choices, mix tapes, interviews with other creative types that you like, discussions of film and music — if they were going to give you a year and a half’s worth of content online for ten dollars, I imagine there are a lot of people who would be like, “yeah, I would be totally into that for this person, that person.”
So, the people who aren’t a fan of mine think its crazy, but the second you insert, “what if it was your favorite person who is an entertainer”, they start to go, “oh, well then maybe I would be into that”. The problem is, you have to go out… its like a magazine rack, you have to go out and be in front of everyone and then certain people will choose you. I never imagined that this many people would choose me in four days, but that’s how we were lucky.
Putting aside those people, the people in the comment sections, and turning for a second to people who are kinda trying to do the same thing [make a film]. They’re on Kickstarter with their own campaigns, I know there have been some people who have felt that projects like this, projects like the Veronica Mars campaign are taking money out of the pot or distracting people from less publicized projects. What do you say to those concerns and also, do you think this project is a good thing for Kickstarter and the crowdfunding community as a whole?
Braff: You tell me, they had their highest traffic day [that] they’ve ever had on the day we launched. We brought a whole new bunch of people to the idea of crowdsourcing. You and I are web savvy, a lot of people who are going to read your article are web savvy. The majority of people aren’t, and so a lot of people have never heard of crowdfunding or Kickstarter or the idea that this is going on for art or charity. Kiva.org, amazing website that I’ve been involved with for a long time, crowdsourcing for micro finance loans. So, this is a whole new conversation for a lot of people, and I drove them all to Kickstarter.
When you click on Kickstarter, it’s not a big picture of me smiling, like a headshot. There are hundreds of other amazing projects. I’ve been getting messages through Twitter and Facebook all weekend: “Ive never heard of this”, “Ive already backed 3 more things”, “This is the coolest thing, I cant believe that this is going on”. So, if you are on Kickstarter, I think there is room for both of us — those of us who are known and those of us who are not. There is a whole chunk of new subscribers and believers in Kickstarter who never knew that it existed. I think it’s shortsighted to think that it’s only for unknown people.
Was the quest for final cut and creative control born solely from the experiences that you had while trying to secure initial financing for this, or is that also coming from previous experiences you’ve had on some of the other projects that you’ve worked on that ultimately failed to get off the ground, like Open Hearts or 8 Track?
Braff: Well, 8 Track — that’s something that will haunt my IMDB forever. That was a re-write job that I did and I get asked every year when I’m making 8 Track, and I’m like, “I haven’t seen 8 Track in like 10 years”.
I’ve had plenty of experiences being in test screenings. And, I’ve made a pilot, we did it for my own film. And um… there’s a lot of benefits to test screening, a lot of benefits by the way. If you have jokes in your movie, you see whether the jokes are working or not. If your movie feels slow at a certain point, you can totally feel it while sitting with an audience. Lot of benefits from it. Where it doesn’t get beneficial, is where a studio or a financier could try to change the film to get higher numbers because they want to appeal to a couple of people in the discussion group that didn’t like something.
I’ll give you an example: I directed a pilot once and you know, you do dial testing. Someone has a dial in their hand, when they like something they’re turning it up, when they don’t like something, they turn it down. So we had a scene in the script where something was supposed to be gross. We literally wanted the audience to go “ugh” and look away. You know, not movie gross, TV gross.
And what people naturally did — as you would — was go “ugh”, turn away and turn down the dial, because “ugh, I don’t like that”. That was the point of the beat in this script. It was instantly demanded that it be cut because so many people had turned down their dials. And I said in this meeting, “well they’re turning down their dials because they’re going ‘ugh’ and looking away, because that’s the moment we want”. And that fell on deaf ears and the moment was cut.
[That’s] a tiny example of how some things change from your initial intent, based on test screenings. I just imagine that my fanbase… I gambled and guessed that my fanbase might want something where there was none of that. Where there was not a single moment of interference from any outside source other than the creative people making the movie and I gambled right because they went crazy for it.
You can find the “Wish I Was Here” Kickstarter page here.