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Zach Braff Explains Why He Turned to Kickstarter for New Indie Film

Zach Braff
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

Braff tells THR that he turned to Kickstarter over financiers because, "When you’re trying to make these smaller personal art films, the idea of giving final cut away to someone else, it doesn’t make any sense for me."

Zach Braff is hoping the internet will kickstart his writing/directing career back to life.

The long-time Scrubs actor, who scored a cult classic hit with his 2004 writing/directing debut Garden State, has launched a Kickstarter fundraising page in search of $2 million to power his next film, Wish I Was Here. Oscar-nominated power players Stacey Sher and Michael Shamburg will produce the project, which Braff co-wrote with his brother Adam.

Already, Jim Parsons has been revealed as a co-star in the film, while Braff tells THR that he hopes to work with many of the same people that he has teamed with in the past. The movie, about a struggling actor who agrees to homeschool his young son, will be set in Hollywood but -- as a nod to Braff's roots -- feature characters originally from New Jersey. 

This is the latest A-List powered project to turn to the internet for cash. Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell launched a campaign to fund a film version of their cult hit CW show Veronica Mars in the middle of March. Seeking $2 million, that project captured the imagination of fervent fans and Hollywood observers, earning a cool $5.7 million by the end of the campaign. That success inspired Braff, who says he struggled putting together financing for various other films since Garden State.

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"I tried to make a couple of films within the studio system and also with traditional independent financing," he explained to THR in an early morning phone call. "I always hit roadblocks, whether it was having to cast a certain person or having to retain final cut with the success of Garden State. With this movie, I’m so passionate about this movie I was really about to sign on the dotted line with a traditional financing arrangement, and it’s been ten years, God I want to make a movie more than anything. I’ll do whatever you want, I’ll give away final cut, I’ll put your brother in it, whatever."

Once Thomas' success became apparent, Braff decided to test the waters himself. He recalls a conversation he had with Gary Gilbert, the businessman who financed Garden State. He was initially brought in as an equity partner for a mini major studio that was going to back the film, but told Braff the idea that they would receive so little money based on any success left him scratching his head. Instead, he offered to make that film for $2.5 million, which Braff accepted.

"And now this many years later, I’m saying again to myself, God, the current model I'm being asked to sign just doesn’t sit right in my stomach," Braff explained. "I don’t want to cast those people, I don’t want to do those many things on that list required of me to get that money, including giving up final cut, because I’ve been in test screenings and I’ve seen the way one person’s commentary can steer the whole way that a financier wants a movie to go. I’m not going to do that with this film, because it’s too important to me, it’s too close to my heart. Now financiers are fine for lots of projects and it works out perfectly for many movies, but when you’re trying to make these smaller personal art films, the idea of giving final cut away to someone else, it doesn’t make any sense for me."

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After Thomas raised all that money for the Veronica Mars movie, some suggested that big projects could cannibalize Kickstarter, which has been used by entrepreneurs and filmmakers with little to none of their own capital. Braff, like Thomas before him, disagreed.

"We’re bringing a lot of people to Kickstarter, and hopefully they click on ours and then they say 'Wait a minute, what’s that gadget? What’s that lamp? What’s that documentary?’" he said. "I think there’s room for everybody on there, I don’t think it detracts at all."

The project offers varying levels of rewards for contributions, with a $10,000 gift earning a role with a line in the film. For $8,000, fans can see an early screening and give suggestions for the final cut, and $1,000 earns a premiere and after party invitation.

Not all celebrity-backed projects have worked.

Less successful was Extreme Realities, an environmental documentary featuring Matt Damon. It raised pledges for only $45,000 of the $75,000 it sought, meaning that it received none of the money.

More recently, James Franco sought $10,000 to fund a performance art piece in New York City.

Braff was most recently seen in Oz the Great and Powerful, the massive Disney film that has pulled in nearly $478 million worldwide.