Zach Braff has been many things over the past decade: star of television’s Scrubs, indie-rock kingmaker (see: the Shins), a Twitter sensation with 1.4 million followers and, currently, a Broadway lead in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway. One thing he hasn’t been? A filmmaker. Braff the director/screenwriter hasn’t been heard from since 2004’s Garden State, an odd silence given the acclaim and cult following his film debut generated. While there certainly will be no shortage of attention given to Wish I Was Here, his first release in a generation, it’s the project’s origin story that has piqued interests in Hollywood. Last April, Braff took to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter and asked fans to help back the film financially, so that he could retain creative control of the production. He asked for $2-million (U.S.); the goal was reached in three days and topped out at $3.1-million. Braff spoke to The Globe ahead of an advance screening for Kickstarter supporters in Toronto earlier this year.
Your Kickstarter fundraising ostensibly gave you the creative control to make the movie you wanted. Was this the most authentic –
– Braff –
– that you could present because of how you financed it?
Yes, without a doubt. For better or worse, it was exactly what I wanted to say. No one edited it, other than obviously me and my editors and my producers. That’s not to say I’m surrounded by yes-men: There were plenty of debates and discussions and intense passions. But this is a clear articulation of the script that I wanted to make, and with the cast that I wanted to make it with. And that was really freeing.
So no regrets.
Not at all.
Well, when you’ve given yourself these means to make exactly what you want, does the artist get exactly what they want in the end?
The artist in this case has. My goal is to entertain and tell good stories to people that like my style. I’m not trying to be for the masses. The movies I write aren’t going to have $15-million weekends. And it seems there’s a healthy enough audience across the globe that’s interested in my style, and I want to make stories for them.
So why has it taken 10 years to make another film?
I’ve tried adapting things. I almost directed a giant studio movie a couple times over. If you want to put your name on something you stand behind, it’s very hard. You can acquiesce all day long and get a movie made. But if you want to say “No, I’m not going to do that script change,” or “Nah, I’m not going to deal with that actor,” or “I want to adapt that Danish film,” you’re going to run into roadblocks. Finally, I just stopped banging my head against the wall and said, “What am I doing? Let me go back to what works and write something original.”
Garden State is such a personal film for you, and so is Wish I Was Here. Are there any stories you wish you were able to tell in the intervening years?
Not every film I make is going to be talking about the tone of people our age. I don’t want every film I make to be like that. It just so happens that I feel my writing is best when I write something that’s really personal. I’m most psyched to direct something when it feels personal and it feels really close to my heart. Then I know I’m going to do a good job.
Would you use Kickstarter again to finance a film?
No, I wouldn’t do this again. It was a fun social experiment, it was fun to light up the Internet, it was fun to be on the cover of Variety, it was fun to get everyone talking and all riled up. And now the real fun part is when I get to go around the Earth, literally, and show this movie to all these people and to do Q&As with them and meet them and show them the art that I created with and for them. It was the right thing for this project. It was a perfect fit. But it’s not going to be the norm.
How has social media helped you as a filmmaker? It’s remarkable that you’ve had a significant personal online presence since 2004.
I first got it from Kevin Smith, who I think is masterful at interaction with his fans; I don’t think there’s anyone better in all of entertainment. I remember him asking me, “You’re not on Myspace? Well, let me teach you about Myspace.” Other actors were like, “What the hell are you doing?”
On your very first blog, you wrote very rawly, very openly.
It was raw, I was honest, I’d get in trouble for [stuff] I wrote, but I just wanted to have a dialogue with my fans. When you start in theatre, you have a reaction from the audience, but when you disappear into a sound stage, you don’t ever have any reaction, so it was kind of cool to have a dialogue.
What’s changed since those early days?
In the past 10 years – when I released Garden State, there was no iTunes. The Virgin Megastore in Union Square in Manhattan is gone. If you asked me in 2004 if the Virgin Megastore would be gone, or Blockbuster would be gone, or Netflix would have the most talked about show on the Internet … things are changing so fast [snaps fingers] and it’s such an exciting time for people who are creating content. I just want to be at the forefront of that.
So what’s next for you?
I’m going to do a Broadway show till December. And then hopefully the beginning of next year, make another film – direct another film.
That’s nice and quick.
I’m going to try, I’m going to try. It’s definitely not going to be 10 years again, I promise.
This interview has been condensed and edited.