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.
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.
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."
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.
Of course thousands of lower-profile films have been made with the help of Kickstarter, usually without any studio attachment, and often because filmmakers wanted complete control. Some have found success at film festivals and have gone as far as the Academy Awards — "Innocente" being the first to win an Oscar.
Yet usually these films are being made by people the public has never heard of, and often, especially with documentaries, with a bent towards some cause or common good. Most importantly, as Indiewire points out, previous Kickstarter movies made with Braff's "say no to creative control" logic often offered advanced copies in their donation structures, and even the opportunity for some donors to weigh in on the final cut. Not so in Braff's case, who said in his Kickstarter FAQ:
I wish I could give you all everything you want. Unfortunately, giving away the movie could scare off the good distributors for movies like this, because the theater chains insist on having the "first run" of movies before they are available on DVD or digitally. I want all my fans to be able to see this movie in their hometown theaters on the big screen if they want to. I hope you like the rewards I am offering, and if there's something you don't see on the page, please comment and let me know.
Braff says if made, he would like to bring "Wish I Was Here" to Sundance – where "Garden State" was also screened and picked up by a studio – and apparently, he would not like any advanced screeners floating around that would get in the way of selling the film to "good distributors." One would assume that if he didn't plan to make money on the sale or stake out a cut of any profits, he would have made it clear in his Kickstarter pitch. He said he will be using some of his own money and that other investors have expressed interest if the Kickstarter campaign succeeds.
A number of celebrities, with varying degrees of Braff's undeniable filmmaking talent, have expressed support for his project. If Braff raises his $2 milllion, movie fans and industry types alike have to wonder who will be taking to Kickstarter next.