The next step in our post-Veronica Mars world has just been mounted by Zach Braff. The Scrubs actor and Garden State writer/director/musicologist has turned to crowdfunding to attempt to secure $2m for a follow-up called Wish I Was Here, citing an inability to score financing that would offer him final cut and a number of other authorial freedoms. The movie itself will focus on a 30-something man (played by Braff) who is struggling with a non-starter acting career and ends up having to home school his children, leading him to craft a different kind of curriculum for them.

Now, there are some notable differences between this and what Rob Thomas did with Veronica Mars last month:

  1. Braff’s project doesn’t currently have a distributor, whereas Veronica Mars was all set to go with Warners if/when the Kickstarter funding came through.
  2. Since it’s an original project, it’s also not hampered by the rights holder, which is why Mars was tied to Warners in the first place
  3. Braff plans to have the film ready to go by Sundance, but even after a successful festival run, it might never see theaters near anybody

Obviously the second two stem from the first, and there are risks that come with not having a distributor, but it also puts the project in a different class despite having celebrity names behind it. This isn’t an experiment where a mutli-billion dollar corporation is testing to see whether they can mitigate risk; it’s an experiment where an indie filmmaker trying to maintain as much ownership of his story as possible is having to turn to his fans to make it happen.

According to Braff’s entries on the Kickstarter page, his reasons for crowdfunding include the need to have final cut, to cast who he wants and to be able to shoot at the locations that he thinks are best. In fact, that entire segment is a fantastic primer for how financing currently works. The video exaggerates more than a bit for comic effect, but “the money people” tend to have ossified ideas about what actors and scenarios will ensure the biggest return on investment. In short, it’s not beyond belief that they’d rather have Channing Tatum play a sexy pool boy than see Jim Parsons play a best friend without a pool cleaning business on the side.

It would also appear that this isn’t a scenario where a potential audience is being fleeced because “the movie could have been made at any time.” Unlike Veronica Mars, which people rallied around with few exceptions,  Braff doesn’t have one of the largest studios on the planet holding him up with hand-wringing. In this case, there isn’t a behemoth corporation refusing to drop a few million on an adult drama even as they’re shoveling hundreds of millions at tentpoles that don’t always go anywhere; it’s a small group of (recognizable) people trying to get a movie made.

Still, there are legitimate questions that fans have a right to ask. First and foremost is why giving money to Wish I Was Here doesn’t secure a digital download.

Braff’s answer is that, “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.”

For backers who give $30 or more, Braff will be hosting several online screenings of the film , but it would be more magnanimous to offer theater tickets as well. After all, that can be the difference between pre-ordering a product and asking fans to double-dip. Here at least, Braff is offering backers a chance to see the movie for their donation.

The other major question is why independent financing couldn’t be found. Wish I Was Here will see Braff re-team with Oscar-nominated producers Stacy Sher and Michael Shamberg of Double Feature Films, and yet for all the success they found with Garden State, they’re turning to the audience instead. The answer most likely lies with Braff’s insistence on final cut and casting clearance. It seems likely that Sher and Shamberg could have delivered several good financing options for the project that didn’t have those provisions, and Braff turned them down in exchange for more creative freedom.

And that freedom will come with the price of asking the public for his budget. Right now it’s not taking off nearly the way Mars did, raising as of now a little over 7% of the full $2m goal with 30 days remaining, so it’s unclear whether this one will actually go through. If it does, it will be interesting to see whether it sails through Sundance to find distribution from Fox Searchlight — a scenario which exactly zero people will fail to see coming.


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