Zach Braff's new film Wish I Was Here opened in New Zealand this week. Like his previous work Garden State, Braff directs, writes (with his brother) and stars in the new film.
I had a chat recently with Braff about Wish I Was Here, the furore surrounding it's unique funding model and some other stuff. Here's how it went down:
Dominic Corry: Wish I Was Here is a pretty earnest film. What's the key to being earnest without going over the top?
Zach Braff: Well, I don't know. For me, I just write what's true for me and I don't pretend to have any answers to anything, the first step is I'm not presuming to imply that I have any answers to any of these big life questions. The idea was just to say what's on my mind, and my brother's mind. I wrote this with my brother and so yeah, there's people who I'm sure could say this is too earnest or not for them, but those people probably just aren't people that like my style. I like to wear my heart on my sleeve and talk about love and family and fear of death and existentialism and religion and all those things that we think about when we get into our 30s and 40s. So I just tried to be very honest, and for better or worse, I'm sure there will be people who think that it's not for them, but for people who like my style, it is something that I really like to write about.
DC: Do you think a lot of modern American filmmakers are afraid to be too earnest?
ZB: Well probably, because critics don't seem to like that for the most part. I think American media is very cynical, not just the critics, but the internet has made everybody so cynical so I would imagine people shy away from being too personal.
I'm not writing about an astronaut travelling to Mars, I'm writing about my versions of my family, my beliefs, my loves, my fears. So it's very raw to put yourself out there on a personal level because when you're critiqued about it, it's not just like "Oh I didn't like the story", somebody words it like "I didn't like his thoughts on love and family and religion", so it's very raw to do it so I imagine a lot of [filmmakers] would shy away from being too open in wearing their heart on their sleeves like that".
DC: Yeah the internet has bred a lot of ironic detachment.
ZB: Just today, I'll share this anecdote because this is an example of what you're saying. So Mark Romanek is one of the best music video directors in the world, some of the greatest and biggest and most impressive music videos of all time, he's directed. He just directed Taylor Swift's new video, and I watched that and really liked it and I complimented him on Twitter, I said "Everytime I see a music video and it's good, I know it's Mark Romanek" and then he retweeted about an hour later someone saying "Mark Romanek is garbage, Zach you have no taste, only Michel Gondry can make videos" or something like that. I've got the exact tweet if you're interested.
You just shake your head. I was complimenting an artist that I like, and the internet - some of it, it's obviously trolling, it's like a cancer now - had to come in and say "No, in fact you're horrible". In fact I speak at schools and film schools often, and I almost feel like the onus is on me to talk about this with the artists of tomorrow, it's such a pervasive thing, this energy of the internet that is so cynical and polarising and really quite angry. It saddens me a bit. I guess I've wandered off topic from my movie, but it bums me out.
Pierce Gagnon, Joey King, and Zach Braff in Wish I Was Here. Photo / AP
DC: You're on topic because I imagine your opinion of this sort of thing must've been influenced by the vitriol that flowed after you did your Kickster. Did the reaction shock you?
ZB: It did. It really did. It shocked me multiple ways. First it shocked me because everyone said it wouldn't work, and then it worked in 48 hours. So that was shocking. We were looking to raise two million dollars by selling stuff - T-shirts, tickets to Q&As, posters, outgoing voice messages, anything we could think of.
Our hope was that in month we could raise two million dollars and I could put my own money in and maybe we'd sell some foreign [distribution rights] and we could get to a budget where we could pull of this movie, which as you know is not small. I mean it's small in the general movie scale, but in the indie world, it has a little bit of scope to it.
And so when we reached our goal in 48 hours, that was shocking and exciting and it felt like we were on to something new and exciting and different. And then the backlash against it was really bizarre because it was unexpected. But then coming as a person who's smart and ready to debate an issue, the debate points from the other side weren't really true, and I didn't really understand them, so that was tricky. Sometimes when someone has something they don't like about something you're doing, you go "Okay I see your point and here's why I disagree with that. Let's have a civilised conversation on it". But I had so much data in front of me.
They were saying I was somehow burning Kickstarter, for example. Then the CEO of Kickstarter came out and said the polar opposite was happening. It was driving an insane amount of traffic to Kickstarter. And those people had never been there before and they were going on to fund other projects. So 180 degrees opposite to the talking points is what was happening. But no one really knows that, and in the world of the cynical, snowballing anger mob of the internet, the onus was on me to now not only try and direct a movie in 26 days and take care of 47,000 people who had backed it, but sort of become a politician and explain crowd-funding to the Earth. Explain why it wasn't a bad thing. And why it make be an interesting way to get art out there, because it was not a money-making scheme. The cynics of the internet made out it was like "Oh he's trying to get one over his fans", but it was about artistic integrity.
The whole theme of the experiment was this: Every artist you know and love is somehow compromising for their art for one reason or another. If we made this together - I used my money, and through my fans buying a t-shirt or a ticket to a Q&A, then there'd be no corporate involvement in what we created. That was the impetus for the experiment, so yes, I guess I was a little taken and tested by this vitriol saying it was anything other than that.
DC: I always thought the argument began and ended with the fact that there were obviously people who wanted to back it, so great.
ZB: Yeah well there were many many points that were just ludicrous, it was rough. It would've been a lot, period. But I also had to make a movie and I also had to take care of 47000 people, the logistics of which are just insane.
So it was an awesome experiment, and I'm very very proud of the movie that came out of it, and I really hope that people in New Zealand go and check it out, because it's unlike a lot of things you'll see because I was able to make something that was a true incarnation of what I wanted to make, with the help of my fans, It was win-win, they got something - whether it was me doing their outgoing voicemail message, or a cool t-shirt, or whatever of the zillion things we promised - and in exchange we got to make a movie for them which was fully uncompromised by any corporation who would say "Do it this way, because of XYZ", and that may make it not the most successful box office movie of all time but that's not what we were going for. This is a story my brother and I wanted to tell without compromise, and I'm positive that if people who liked Scrubs and liked Garden State and like my style, I'm positive they'll like this.
Pierce Gagnon, Joey King, and Zach Braff in Wish I Was Here. Photo / AP
DC: You must've been concerned that the Kickstarter thing would overshadow the work?
ZB: Of course and in some ways I would say it has, because it's in every article. And it's okay that it's in every article because it is the test-case, it is the first movie. I mean Veronica Mars was based on a TV show so it's the first movie with a giant international relase where Kickstarter played such a large role, so it's going to be in every article. And I understand that - it's interesting, it's an interesting part of the story. I understand what it all is, I get it all, it's just that I guess it's maybe trying to have your cake and eat it too to want people to just go experience the movie and experience as a film, as opposed to "the Kickstarter movie".
But we're having great success so I think it is a good thing. And it's not just playing well here, it's playing wonderfully, really wonderfully in the countries that we've started rolling out in across the world. France and Russia and Turkey so far. That's what's exciting about it really, is that this little movie that we made with the fans is not just something that's going straight to video and sort of disappearing. It's something that's getting a theatrical release across the earth, and that's extraordinary and rare in this day and age. And I'm really proud of it.
DC: Do you see the film as spiritual sequel to Garden State?
ZB: No I don't. The relation to Garden State is that what I did both times is I wrote versions of my life. So I don't shy away from saying....I mean, it's not a memoir, but there are large chunks that are me and my brother's life, and large chunks of our belief system and what matters to us. So I don't shy away from saying that. There are whole sections that are lifted from my life, then you come around the corner and that whole sup-plot is fiction. And that's true for both films. They are not memoirs, but very closely overlap aspects of who I am as a person. So that's why. And the tone, mixing comedy and drama with a touch of the surreal, is the style that I most enjoy when I'm the director. But other than that I don't think they have anything in common.
DC: It's a really nice Los Angeles film.
ZB: It's funny, one of the things we weren't allowed to do before the crowd funding was actually shoot in LA, because nobody can shoot in LA these days except for the big studios because of the tax incentive, and because people are coming down to your country, LA has been hemmoraging work. It's a big problem. So here I was ready to shoot a movie in LA and none of the potential financiers would let me shoot in LA - and it's not their fault, most filmmakers have either people in a fund that they are beholden to or if it's a corporation, there are shareholders, and so you're not gonna turn down 30 percent off by shooting somewhere else. But with us I was able to trump that, and say "I'm sorry this is a movie about Los Angeles, we're not going to not shoot it in LA".
Kate Hudson and Zach Braff in Wish I Was Here. Photo / AP
DC: What was it like writing the screenplay with your brother?
ZB: We've collaborated on a couple of things - we wrote a big kids movie for a studio that got shelved. He wrote a really good pilot for Fox TV over here that I directed and it didn't get picked up. So we've got a couple of things we misfired that didn't make, and we did like collaborating. So on this one it was really perfect because I did wanna write about family and kids and I don't have kids and he has two young kids and he's a wonderful writer and we were a good yin and yang for each other, it was a good match because it allowed him to bring in the fatherhood aspect - which I see in watching him but have yet to experience myself. We complemented each other well
DC: Years ago there was rumour you might be starring in a Fletch reboot. Would you consider doing an action comedy?
ZB: I'd love to do an action comedy. It defintely wouldn't be Fletch, people love Fletch so much that it's sacrilege to touch a classic like that. But I love action comedy, when I was a kid I saw Beverly Hills Cop and it was one of the films that made me wanna be in films. Just the fact that it was so funny and Eddie Murphy was so funny, but at the same time the action was played real and the bad guys were real and there was a way to have your cake and eat it too.
DC: You and Donald Faison, buddy cop movie, lock it in.
ZB: You have no idea how often I hear that. We might have to give the people what they want one day.
DC: What are you working on now?
ZB: I'm just doing the last couple of performances of Bullets Over Broadway, we're ending on Sunday. Then I'm going to do some touring in Europe for the film.
DC: I have to say, I enjoyed the movie more than I thought I would. It defeated my initial skepticism.
ZB: I hope you put that in your article. So many journalists tell me that and then they don't put it in the article.