In April 2013, longtime fans of Scrubs had lots to talk about when Zach Braff started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the film Wish I Was Here.
While diehard fans of Braff were excited to help fund the movie — especially one that would reunite him with his on-screen (and real life) best friend Donald Faison — others debated whether an established actor and Hollywood director should take advantage of crowdfunding instead of using traditional funding methods.
Despite heated debates, Braff produced Wish I Was Here, which opens with limited release on Friday, July 18. And in a way, the alternative route Braff sought to fund the movie mirrors its plot.
In the film, Mandy Patinkin plays an aging father who chastises his sons, played by Braff and Josh Gad, for not adhering to the traditional lifestyle of a man being the breadwinner of the family. Playing a 35-year-old father struggling to become an actor, Braff's character has to decide between his dreams or sacrificing them to provide for his wife and kids when money's tight.
Similarly, Braff explains that making the film without sacrificing its soul is what pushed him to seek alternate funding in the first place.
“People said, ‘Yeah, we’ll make it if you do this, but maybe if you change that,’ so I was ready to just throw it on the shelf. But then the Veronica Mars Kickstarter took off and I thought that was interesting. I have an amazing and loyal Internet fanbase, so I thought it might work.”
And it did. Within three days of the campaign launch, fans contributed $2 million, meeting the initial goal. After a full month, the Kickstarter campaign closed with a total of $3 million raised to fund the movie.
Now, pleasing — and thanking — those fans is a primary focus of Braff’s. For the past few months, he's been on tour, screening the film for many of its backers.
“This is the fun part. I get to share it with the people who believed in me,” Braff tells CultureMap. “Making it was extremely hard: editing it, finishing it and getting it ready for the Sundance Film Festival. It was all harrowing, but now is the fun part. I get to travel the country and show it to the people who backed it, do Q&A’s with them and meet them.”
“Everything that he promised he would do in the Kickstarter is in the movie,” echoes Faison, who helped promote the Kickstarter campaign before knowing what his role would be in the film. “I knew that in some way I was going to be in the movie, but I had no clue what the part was going to be,” explains Faison. “When I did the Kickstarter thing, that was just doing my buddy a favor because I didn’t know if the movie was going to get made.”
In Wish I Was Here, Braff and Faison are reunited for the first time since Scrubs ended its run in 2010. While Braff's character attempts to connect with his kids, he takes them to an Aston Martin dealership where Faison plays a salesman reluctant to give them a test drive.
“Working with him is like hanging out with him,” says Faison. “And it’s easy for him to direct me, because he just has to go, ‘Do that thing that you do!’ And that’s it. It’s great to get to work with a friend. I’m one of the luckiest actors in Hollywood because I have a friend who also directs.”
Braff didn’t have trouble attracting the rest of the film's all-star cast, which includes Patinkin, Gad and Kate Hudson. “No studio wants to pay to make this film, but every actor I go to says, 'Yes!' Actors love these films. No one wants to pay to make them, but actors love doing them because you get a chance to act and not just look at a green screen and watch things blow up,” says Braff.
“No one is making these films anymore. If you like personal art films, they’re dying a quick death. If it’s not crowdfunding, we need to quickly come up with a way for some of these stories to be told or they’ll be gone.”
Wish I Was Here opens in limited theater release Friday, July 18. Its wider release is Friday, July 25.