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Zach Braff has 47,000 bosses

By PIERS MARCHANT Special to the Democrat-Gazette

This article was originally published August 8, 2014 at 2:11 a.m. Updated August 7, 2014 at 4:01 a.m.


Image 1 WIWH_04699_R: (L to R) Kate Hudson and Zach Braff star in his new comedy WISH I WAS HERE, the follow-up to his indie breakout hit “Garden State.”

Like many actors, especially those of his generation, Zach Braff has his fans and his detractors. In his case, however, the detractors are more vociferous and scathing (Slate once published a piece titled, "Why I hate Zach Braff"), and his fans more fanatical and supportive, than most -- hence his ability to have his newest film, Wish I Was Here (according to Braff, the grammar mistake is intentional), a dramedy about a father in his mid-30s whose career and marriage are on the rocks and whose own father is dying of cancer, successfully use crowdsource funding for a significant amount of the budget.

Naturally, that bit got tied into controversy -- a considerable contingency of critics felt a name as well known as Braff's, whose 2004 directing debut, Garden State, was a low-cost indie stalwart, and who seems to be more than financially secure himself, shouldn't Hoover up money that might otherwise go to truly destitute filmmakers -- but the carping does not seem to faze the writer/director, whose disarming charm and still youthful vigor were serving him in good stead: At the same time he was doing press for Wish, he was also on Broadway, performing in Woody Allen's musical adaptation of Bullets Over Broadway. ("It's insane!" he playfully says, when asked about his schedule. "What the hell am I doing?")

For his part, Braff counters the Kickstarter criticism with a simple, significant point: Because he avoided studio financing, he was allowed to retain creative control of his film, a point of no small importance to him. "This whole exercise," he explains from a Chicago hotel, "including the crowdfunding aspect of it, was for me and my brother [Adam J. Braff, the film's co-writer] to write what was truly in our hearts."

Braff is convinced the success of Garden State came because he had similar control due to having a single investor, a wealthy Detroit businessman who agreed to finance the entire production, provided Braff could make the film for half of what he was initially asking. Made for a paltry $2.5 million, the film garnered a fair amount of attention -- and critical praise -- which helped it earn nearly $27 million domestically.

For this film, with a budget of $6 million, and several big-name actors, including Mandy Patinkin, Kate Hudson and Josh Gad, Braff had to conjure up a new method of meeting his budget while retaining total control. Enter Kickstarter, where ultimately some 46,520 backers contributed $3.1 million, more than half the film's budget, a subject he warms to very quickly. "This time it was my fans who said, 'OK, yeah, we'll buy a T-shirt, we'll come to an early Q and A, we'll do a set visit,'" he says. "I came up with all these ways that were essentially saying, if you pre-buy merch you might have bought anyway, we can make the movie. The hunger for that, the desire for that was so strong we were able to say, 'OK, good, and we don't have to acquiesce to bankers and studio folk.'"

It also allowed him to interact more vigorously with his notoriously loyal fan base (many of whom make up Braff's 1.43 million Twitter followers): Giving them a chance to have a small part in the creation of the film, a process that Braff finds both "incredibly gratifying and a lot of work" because "whereas last time I only had to make sure one businessman from Detroit was happy, now I have to make sure to take care of 47,000 people."

The film concerns a 30-something journeyman actor named Aidan (Braff), a frustrated father of two, and the husband of a hard-driving matriarch, Sarah (Hudson), who shows him little in the way of physical affection. When Aidan's father, Gabe (Patinkin), develops terminal cancer, Aidan and his ne'er-do-well brother (Gad), are finally forced to face their own fears and mortality, but not before Sarah has a memorable face-off with Gabe about reaching out to his sons before it's too late, a scene Braff is rightfully very proud of, with the help of two fine actors really letting it rip.

"You set up this chess match, almost like a showdown in the Old West," he says. "And it builds to these two people having it out. And I liked that who's controlling the scene changes a couple times in a short span of time. What I love about that scene is, it's just two people sitting static, talking. The camera is barely moving. It's my favorite scene in the movie and it's so simple in that it's about their performance."

That moment aside, whether or not the rest of the film scores as well with critics -- currently it has drooped to a 40 percent mark at, a 46 percentage-point drop from its predecessor, Garden State -- it has already got a sizable built-in audience, the Braff-loving community that made the whole thing possible in the first place. "Listen, if you're not a fan of mine, this probably isn't for you," he says. "But if you like Scrubs and Garden State, and if you've seen the other things I've done, this movie was made for you. So, if you're the center of the fan base, and you've enjoyed the other stuff, there's a pretty darn good chance you're going to like this."

MovieStyle on 08/08/2014

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