The Perks* of Zach Braff's Kickstarter Model

If Braff movie funding succeeds, who will be next to forgo the studio process?

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Actor and director Zach Braff launched a Kickstarter campaign Wednesday to fund a movie tentatively titled "Wish I Was Here," in which he would star in and direct a story that was written with the help of his brother.

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Braff previously wrote, directed and starred in "Garden State," a film funded largely by a single investor, who allowed Braff full artistic freedom. It took in over ten times its $2.5 million budget, raking in $35.8 million worldwide.With this new project, Braff couched his pleas for donations in terms of creative control, as he had in "Garden State." In the video introduction, he described "money guys" who would claim final say in artistic decisions, a reality whenever a person or studio is asked for millions for funding of a film. By crowd-sourcing the money, Braff gets to skip that step entirely. Instead of convincing a single studio or investor to give him millions and complete creative control (something that Braff more or less admits is impossible), he will try to convince thousands of people to give him a much smaller amount in order to make the movie fit his vision.

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Unlike movie studios or conventional investors, donors to Braff's movie will reap no further profit if the film turns out to be a success. In Kickstarter tradition, Braff does offer a smattering of gifts, ranging from t-shirts to premiere tickets to a credited role for a limited number of investors who hit certain donation amounts. If it hits its $2 million goal by May 24 and is made (Kickstarter is modeled as such as that if project does not meet its financial goal by a stated deadline, it is entirely called off, and the donors retain their pledges), most "investors" will not even get a ticket to the movie.Braff said he was encouraged to take on the project by the high profile success of the "Veronica Mars" Kickstarter campaign – a movie reboot of the television show that was canceled in 2007 – which met its $2 million goal in 10 hours and went onto raise $5.7 million. Championing the project was the series's star, Kristen Bell, and its creator Rob Thomas. They were able to capitalize on the show's cult status, just as Braff is hoping to do with fans of "Garden State."

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The success of the "Veronica Mars" campaign wrought fear in the movie industry and skepticism among critics, who worried it was an exploitation of the crowd-sourcing model. Their concerns were tempered by the argument that "Veronica Mars" was a rare case that could only apply to a smattering of canceled-but-intensely-liked shows, such as "Freaks and Geeks." Thomas reiterated this rationale, and also told Wired:

Warner Bros. owns the title Veronica Mars. I don't… The lowest-priced movie Warner Bros. tends to make is a $30 million, and it goes up from there. They make Lord of the Rings. They don't make the Veronica Mars movie, typically. So trying to convince Warner Bros. to make a $30 million Veronica Mars movie just wasn't going to happen, for understandable reasons. When I took this project in, I didn't take it in through their feature division. I'm making the movie with Warner Bros. Digital; they do a lot of the smaller budget [projects]. I think we're only going to be their second movie with a theatrical release; they typically do things straight to digital and digital download.

Warner Bros. will have to pick up the tab for marketing and distributing "Veronica Mars," be it theatrically or digitally, if they do decide to release it once it's made. The Kickstarter campaign was in some ways a free marketing tool for Warner Bros., as well as a way to gauge interest in the film before taking on such a risk. One could assume that in its production, Warner Bros. will have the final say Braff so desperately wants to himself. "Wish I Was Here" has no attached studio, though there were offers to take it on, but only with the promise of at least some control.