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Zach Braff On Why Kickstarter Is “The Next Best Thing” To Actual Investing

Along with his crowdfunding campaign, Braff says he’s “putting some of my own money” into Wish I Was Here. Plus: Expect “silly, funny nudity”!

Actor Zach Braff attends the London premiere of Oz the Great and Powerful on Feb. 28, 2013. Ian Gavan / Getty Images

There are some significant differences between the Kickstarter campaign Zach Braff launched today for his film Wish I Was Here and Braff’s inspiration for his crowdfunding endeavor, the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign that raised $5.7 million last month. For one, Braff’s film is a wholly original project written by him and his brother Adam, rather than a feature film adaptation of a beloved TV show with an established cult fan base. For another, like most indie film projects, Wish I Was Here has zero deals in place for distribution, whereas the Veronica Mars movie already had one in place with Warner Bros. Digital when their campaign launched.

It would appear none of these differences matter. As of this posting, Braff’s Kickstarter campaign has raised just over $850,000, and is well on its way to making its $2 million goal within the next 48 hours (if not much sooner) — almost the exact same astronomic trajectory that Veronica Mars charted in the first few days of its campaign.

Still, there are some lingering questions about Braff’s project, his first as a writer-director-star since his 2004 breakout indie hit Garden State: Will Braff be kicking in his own money? Wouldn’t it be better if fans were true investors? How much nudity will there be in the project? Braff answered these questions and more in a phone interview with BuzzFeed.

When in the midst of the Veronica Mars campaign did you decide, yes, I’ll do this too?

Zach Braff: I really wavered on it, because I was unsure if it was right for us. I’ve supported projects on Kickstarter, I’ve supported projects on Kiva, the micro-financing crowdsourcing for charity. I’m savvy about crowdfunding. But I didn’t really think that it’d work. I did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit, and they asked me how come I haven’t made another movie yet. I said, “It’s the money. I keep waiting for the moment when I can have the money without all these strings attached, because I don’t want to sign away final cut, and I want to cast the people I want to cast.”

I didn’t think [that moment] was possible. But we started talking to some financiers. Frankly, it was a worse deal than I signed as an untested filmmaker when I made Garden State. I don’t care so much about the back-end dough, because you don’t make these movies as get-rich-quick schemes. It’s so rare that one breaks through and actually makes money. It’s a labor of love, and it’s a personal story.

With this new script, I started seeing these deal points about casting essentially from a finite list of actors who had enough foreign box-office success to justify the movie, and not having final cut. So I was really torn. I was so desperate and hungry to make a movie. I haven’t felt as passionate about a script that I’ve been attached to since Garden State. I was really wrestling with it. I was about to be like, fuck it, let’s just do it.

How had the world of indie financing changed in 10 years since you made Garden State?

ZB: Here’s two things that happened while I was finishing my contract on Scrubs. DVDs died a relatively quick death. And foreign [distribution] was the only thing that matters, what you’re foreign pre-sale number was. You’ll get a list of actors with, like, numerical signs next to their name meaning how much they’re worth to your budget, and how much money you’ll get in your movie if you cast x over y.

Also, when I got out of a nine-year contract on Scrubs, I didn’t have any foreign box office [clout]. I was on a TV show, and TV doesn’t count.

So your juice off of Garden State wasn’t what indie financiers are looking for anymore?

ZB: Well, it was a long time ago, and I hadn’t made a film since. I had some that almost happened and then fell apart, but in my defense, I was trying to pull it off whilst being a lead on a TV show for nine years. So it was a tricky thing to juggle.

When Scrubs finally ended, I was fully ready to [make a movie] and excited to do it, but the model had changed a bit. Not only was there less money, but it was completely based on “how many stars can you cram into the roles?” I mean, literally, conversations start with “who are your famous friends?”

It’s important to note I’m putting some of my own money into this endeavor as well. I was prepared to, worst-case scenario, do it at the most minimal budget possible. But the movie my brother and I had written, with some money, could be executed at a really cool, awesome way in the spirit of Garden State.

So what do we have to lose? I’m all right if it doesn’t happen — it will be humbling, whatever, we’ll find another way. But if it works, the upside is so amazing, we own and control the property entirely with no strings attached to anybody.

Peter Sarsgaard, Natalie Portman, and Zach Braff in 2004’s Garden State Fox Searchlight

How much of your own money are you investing?

ZB: I don’t know. It will depend on how much we raise, and who I do end up casting. Let’s say we raise our goal, which is $2 million. If we only raise that, that’s not enough to make the movie. There will be some element of selling some foreign [distribution rights] to meet the difference, and where that falls is where I will be splitting the difference. I’m going to make this movie in August come hell or high water. Wherever we fall short, I or some element of foreign sales will split the difference.

Part of the reaction today to this campaign has been to bring up some of the same concerns raised during the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign, namely that your fans are giving you money for a project they will also spend money to see, with no return on that investment.

ZB: I totally understand that. Listen, I would love, more than anything, to have it be you get an equity stake. You have 10 bucks, you make your 10 bucks back with the percentage of profit, like a stock. But that’s not legal yet.

I think it’s an exciting idea, that you can go, “Oh, I like x, y, and z, I want to buy a piece of that potential film project.” I think that that’s coming. But we’re not there yet legally.

So what do you do in the meantime? You offer them any and every incentive you can think of. But at the very least, if you pay 10 bucks, you’re joining what I like to think of as this club. You see how active I am on social media. I drive my family, friends, and girlfriend crazy. I get a lot of joy out of it. So turning that into an online behind-the-scenes filmmaking magazine, where there will be videos and content and people who are interested in the behind-the-scenes of the making of a movie will go on this ride alongside me — I think that’s cool for 10 bucks.

You’re right — last year Congress passed the JOBS Act, which does allow for equity-based crowdfunding, but it can’t happen until the SEC issues rules on how to do it. Which they haven’t done yet.

ZB: When people way smarter than I figure that out, I think that will be amazing, and a better scenario for everyone. I would love to do that today. But I can’t do that today. So I’m standing on the shoulders of people who came up with the next best thing.

People who really only know you from Scrubs may think you’ve been quietly counting your syndication money. You had a play you wrote premiere in the West End last year, and you voice a character in Oz the Great and Powerful — but what else have you been up to?

ZB: There are several films since Garden State that I’ve tried to put together, and they’ve fallen apart for one reason or another. I was once on a location scout in Atlanta and lost my A-list actress whilst taking pictures of locations where I was going to shoot her. I’ve had executives that hired me at big studios, then get fired and the project’s fallen apart. It’s classic Hollywood, it’s-really-hard-to-get-a-movie-made stuff. This is the first project since Garden State that I’ve been as excited and passionate about. It was the one I wasn’t going to compromise on.

I love to work more than anything, but I guess if Scrubs gave me anything, it gave me the luxury of not having to do shit. I don’t want to go do crap. I want to do stuff that I would see. I’m not the hottest actor in town. I’m not the top of everyone’s list. I’ve always forged my own path. I’ll continue to do that. So I create my own content.

There’s always going to be detractors. The people who would say, “Fuck him, he should pay for it himself,” I don’t expect those people to be the supporters of this project. I get it. But if you scroll down [on the Kickstarter page], you’ll see the person who’s like, “Garden State meant a lot to me, I’m dying to see what this guy’s up to next, I’m in.” Those are the people I’m making the movie for. It’s not a scam. If I wanted to make dough, I’d go back and be on another TV show.

You were naked so often on Scrubs, so for the sake of your Kickstarter, will there be any nudity in your film?

ZB: I’ll be very naked. (chuckles) Totally naked. Full frontal. No, not full frontal. I don’t want to go into what it is yet, but there’s some silly, funny nudity in the movie.

Also, grammar nerds everywhere want to know what the thought was with your title, Wish I Was Here?

ZB: Yeah, it’s on purpose. The story is about a guy who’s not an academic, and is by no means a candidate to be teaching anyone anything, and then he’s called upon to homeschool his children. And his precocious daughter is actually a lot smarter than he is. So it’s twofold. We like the way it sounds. And it fits into a grammatical error that Aiden, my character, would make.

In the 20 minutes we’ve been talking, your campaign has made another $50,000.

ZB: It’s exciting, man! It’s an exciting thing! I am so passionate about this. It’s something I’m going to dedicate this entire year of my life to.

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