Zach Braff understands critics of his multimillion-dollar Kickstarter campaign for Wish I Was Here, which premieres today at the Sundance Film Festival, but says they’re missing the big picture. “I have money, I’ve made money in my life and I put a great deal of money into this film as it were, but I certainly couldn’t write a check for $5 million to make the film and that’s why I looked to Kickstarter as a way of doing it,” the director and former Scrubs star says. “I understand why people got all upset about it but, when you look at all the data, we drove an insane amount of traffic to the site,” he adds. Weathering a hailstorm of “Why does a rich guy with a sitcom in syndication and lots of famous friends need to hit up the Internet for cash?” critiques, Braff took to the crowdfunding site last spring to raise $2 million for his second directorial feature; in 30 days his comedy-drama about a struggling thirtysomething actor looking for meaning in his life after the death of his father raised $3.1 million towards the $5 million-budgeted pic.
That had a digital spillover effect for less high-profile projects, Braff says. “The analytics show what drove [backers] there, be it my Facebook, my Twitter or an article on Deadline, but then you see what they did. They didn’t just go on my site. They spent a fair amount of time pursuing the site for other movies they might want to fund.” Kickstarter spoke out in early May last year to back up the extraneous merits of Braff’s efforts and a similarly successful campaign for a Veronica Mars movie. The crowdfunding site said that more than $400,000 was pledged to 2,200 other projects thanks to the interest the two movie asks generated. Kickstarter also noted that 40% of that money went to film projects. Kickstarter saw another benefit for Wish I Was Here: The film’s selection last month for a World Premiere in the Sundance section is a first for a crowdfunded feature. Today’s premiere screening is also the debut of a crowdfunded pic by a Tinseltown alum.
That first and the way Wish I Was Here was primarily funded is all part of a larger picture for the industry, says Braff. “People are adverse to change sometimes but we happen to be working in the business at a time when all the models are up for grabs,” he says. “Kevin Reilly says he’s giving up pilot season for Fox. People on Spike Lee’s level are looking to crowdfunding. Netflix is winning awards for their original content. I think that with the Internet Age, all the models are changing.” In seeking out money for his film, Braff also encountered an unexpected twist. “You know, making a movie is hard enough, but simultaneously making sure that all our amazing backers felt taken care of made it almost two projects in one. We had people that were full time making sure that our backers felt like the VIPs they are,” he says. Written by Braff and his brother, Wish I Was Here also stars Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad, Ashley Greene and Joey King. Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg produced through their Double Feature Films, and Worldview Entertainment stepped in to provide gap financing last year.
This year marks Braff’s fourth visit to Sundance overall and, after a decade’s absence, his second as a director. His directorial debut Garden State premiered here in 2004 and was quickly picked up by Fox Searchlight and Miramax jointly for $5 million. No doubt hoping Sundance history repeats itself, Braff is making multiple visits to the festival this year forscreenings. He’s in town this weekend, then heads back to NY for rehearsals for Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway musical, then back to Park City next weekend for two more screenings. “It’s the place I want to be. It’s the club I would love to be in,” Braff says of the Robert Redford-founded festival. “It’s artists sharing their work and their films, and it’s a lot of fun.”
The premiere this morning on the third day of the festival comes after a Friday night that saw L.A.-style traffic jams on Main Street, Joseph Gordon-Levitt showing off his singing skills at the Participant Media party, Mitt Romney unexpectedly showing up in Salt Lake City for the premiere of the docu Mitt, swag suites galore, and Wayne Newton in town. It also saw the audience for the premiere of Frank donning masks like the one worn by Michael Fassbender in the film as it finally got cold here in Park City.