UTG INTERVIEW: Zach Braff Talks ‘Wish I Was Here’

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A little over a year ago, Scrubs star Zach Braff made international headlines when he turned to the world of Kickstarter to fund his latest film. Fans of Braff and his previous cinematic creation (Garden State) funded the project in less than 48 hours, which brought delight to some and rage to others. Some were excited to know other people believed in Braff as much as they did, while others thought the alleged millionaire was abusing a platform meant to help struggling artists get projects they cannot afford to create themselves off the ground. I did not fund the project myself, but I was happy to know it did reach its goal, and having seen the film I think it’s safe to say those who supported Braff all these years will feel the same.

Earlier this month, Zach Braff made a stop in Boston while promoting the release of that Kickstarter project, which has since been titled Wish I Was Here. UTG had the opportunity to meet Braff and speak with him about the project, as well as several other topics, and we have chosen the best moments of our thirty-minute conversation to share with all of you. You can read a transcription of the interview’s highlights below.

Wish I Was Here begins rolling out in theaters nationwide tomorrow, July 18.

How he and his brother Adam wrote the script together:

We got together and hammered out the overall spine of the story. Then we broke it down into an outline, and we spent that time together. He lives in Honolulu and I was living in L.A. So we would we sort of write like, “Okay, I’m going to take a stab at this Astin Martin scene, why don’t you take a stab at the scene with the young rabbi.” And we’d sort of little by little switch it with each other, give each other notes, tweak, change things and little by little filling out the whole script until we had this giant thing. Then we started shaping it.

How he created Josh Gad’s character in the film:

There’s three brothers in my family, and Gad’s character was sort of an amalgamation of different aspects of our personalities. That was the idea: To write about a brother dynamic that was inspired by aspects of all three of our personalities. There’s a lot of personal stuff in the film, but then there’s some stuff we just totally made up.

Talking relationships between fathers and sons in both the film and real life:

My father is like the president of my non-existent fan club. He is the most supportive person ever of my creative endeavors. Like all fathers and sons, we all have issues with our parents and we want to impress them, and no matter what we do, sometimes we feel like we can’t live up to their expectations of us. I just felt that was universal for the men I knew.

His experience with Kickstarter and independent film financing:

Naively, I didn’t understand that the onus would fall upon me to explain the perils of independent film financing in 2014. You know, Rob Thomas had done it successfully and everyone sort of cheered it on. Then when I went out to do it, the first wave was “Oh, that will never work.” Then when it worked in 48 hours, everyone had to rethink their think pieces and those who were detractors were making a lot of talking points that weren’t really true, so that caught me off guard. I had to explain that my life is trying to make movies. I dedicated my life to trying to get projects financed. So I know it really well and stupidly thought, “Oh, everyone knows how this works, everyone knows how hard it is.” So, I then had to go on a campaign if you will and explain all the different reasons why I had finally decided to try to do the crowd funding.

How crowd funding worked for Wish I Was Here:

It’s worked phenomenally well. We had to take care of forty-seven thousand people while making the movie. We shot the movie in twenty-six days. And if that isn’t hard enough, you had to make sure that every one of those forty-seven thousand people felt taken care of. We had them visiting the set, we had them being extras, we had them doing cameos, we created a whole online video blog of behind the scenes content. I don’t know if you guys watched Project Green Light back in the day, but they’re actually bringing it back. It’s a show that I really loved. That’s kind of like the idea that I have. I was like, “Well, people’s attention spans are like two and a half minutes, so I’m going to make a two and a half minute Project Green Light behind the scenes videos of the making of the movie.” So, I try to do all this stuff to make it worth their while.

His favorite part of the Wish I Was Here fan experience:

The most fun of all are these Q&As. I show the movie early, I travel the country. The tonight will be my second to last one (in Boston), and then in New York City. I show the movie early and then do a Q&A with them. That’s awesome. It’s an experience that a lot of people haven’t had before. You know, the movie gets done and the guy who stars in it is there and talks to you about it. I hope that everyone who participated thought it was worth it.

How the internet brings about misinformation:

Like a lot of things on the interwebs, it starts with the seed of misinformation. That’s the internet, man. We’ve all seen it time and time again. Twitter can be terrifying with how quickly someone can be tried and accused. Thank God mine is only crowd funding. I mean you can be accused of horrible things on the internet. And it is actually very scary until someone clears it up. Perfect example for me, here’s one that I was guilty of: We all heard about the McDonald’s woman who spilled coffee on herself, burned herself and sued. We all went “What a f*cking idiot!” I don’t know if you saw that documentary, but then you go, “Oh my God!” This woman was almost mortally wounded by coffee that was twenty degrees too hot. The tidbit we saw on the internet was wrong. Now that’s an extreme level of someone being hurt, but that’s the way sh*t happens in our society today. So I think when you hear “Rich guy from Scrubs wants fans’ money” gets sent out there without any information it needs some explaining.

The good news that came from the controversy involving his film:

The good news is, because of the detractors who were spewing a lot of stuff that was wrong, they were driving an insane amount of traffic to the Kickstarter campaign. So the best advice I ever got was “Just shut the f*ck up.” And then, as the people calmed down a little bit, Kickstarter put out a little announcement saying “Here’s why what you’re saying about Kickstarter is wrong. Zach drove more traffic to the site than we ever had.” These high-profile projects drive an insane amount of traffic to the site. And those people, we have the data that shows not only do they stay, but they stay and fund other projects. It’s good for everybody.

The question for the audience he’ll ask at Wish I Were Here screenings:

Anecdotally, when I go to these screenings, I often say, “My project was the first time you came to Kickstarter. How many of you then went on to fund something else?” 70% percent of the hands go up. So I had to go on a campaign of sorts. That’s fine but I was pretty surprised that there was this sort of vitriolic reaction.

Making movies without corporate entities:

Even Veronica Mars has a corporate entity behind it. It’s still Warner Bros. — that’s who’s going to release this on VOD (Video on Demand). The seed of this is artistic integrity. The seed of this is wanting to give my fan base something that isn’t f*cked up by a corporation or a bank. It’s not a get rich quick scheme. If I wanted to get rich, I’d go do another TV show. That’s the only place where an actor can make a lot of money anymore unless you’re one of the ten movie stars. That’s what you do. You don’t go make a movie about sad Jews in California. That’s what drove me the most crazy. It was like this is the opposite of a scam. It’s about artistic integrity. Had everything gone awry and had I not found a distributor, every single aspect of the fulfillment from t-shirts to screenings to travelling across the country to printing limited edition vinyl, you name it, would have been on my financial shoulders.

His impression of actress Joey King:

I just love that kid, man. She makes me want to have babies. I met her on Oz. We spent so much time together on Oz. Sam Raimi (director of Oz, the Great and Powerful) insisted that even though we were animated we were there every f*cking day. At first I was like, “Oh God, I’m going to be in this booth with this thirteen-year-old for six months and she just turned out to be the coolest kid in the world. She was so cool and so talented. She’s just one of those kids that had a lot of talent at thirteen.

On actress Joey King being similar to the teenage version of Natalie Portman:

She is. When she had that wig on, she reminded me of Natalie in Leon The Professional. She’s just that good, that early, that young. She has no idea how good she is. She’s just a natural.

Finding Pierce Gagnon to play the role of his son Tucker in Wish I Was Here:

Pierce, I saw in Looper. I didn’t know how we were going to find this kid, because, as you know better than anyone, bad kid actors were ruining movies. They pull you out of the movie and you go, “Oh my God, bad kid actor alert.” So, I was really nervous about finding this kid, cause it was a tough part for a little boy. And I saw Looper and I never read another kid. I sent him the scene, his mom videotaped it. He lives in Georgia. Mom videotaped him reading one of the scenes on her iPhone, sent it to me and I never read another kid. He was religious though and at first I was like, “Uh, oh, you should read the script.” They came back and the only thing he wasn’t allowed to say was “f*ck.” I was like, “So, you’re telling me that he can say like hairy balls?” and she was like “Sure.” I was like, “She just draws the line at f*ck.”

On Kate Hudson’s career and casting her to play his wife:

When Cameron Crowe discovered Kate (Hudson) in Almost Famous, I was like “Holy sh*t!” Not only is she so pretty, she’s got those “chops.” God doesn’t do that too often; give a girl who looks like that those acting chops. She does a lot of those romantic comedies, because she’s hot and funny and they make a lot of money. Of course, as a fan in my mind I was always saying, “That’s someone that can really handle a really meaty, juicy role. It’s kind of like I said to Natalie (Portman) in Garden State, I said, “Look, you’re always going to be super pretty, but I want you to be the most real person version of you that we can summon. So, as little makeup as possible, your natural hair, ditch all the glam squad and let’s just make a movie.” And they both really did that.

On Garden State’s reception then and now:

It was my first movie. So anyone who’s written like a think piece since and been like, “Why I liked Garden State then and not now” it’s like, “Well, it was my first movie, man. I’m glad that you liked it at all when you liked it, but it was my first attempt. I mean, where’s your first attempt?” I agree it’s flawed and at times didactic and pretentious, but I never thought that many people would see it. So, when it hit this “cultural phenomenon” thing and became this cult film, I was shocked. Everyone told me that I couldn’t even get those artists on the soundtrack, so when it went platinum and it won a Grammy, I was shocked. The whole thing was shocking.

How money worked when making this film:

I’ve made money and I did put a sh*t load of money into the film, but I certainly could have made a mumblecore movie and made it for a million bucks on my own dime. Of course, I could have done that, but what you saw working within the union in L.A. with no tax break, five and a half (million) was about as cheaply as we were going to be able to make it. So, I didn’t need someone’s help to do it with me.

The problems with making films in Los Angeles:

LA is hemorrhaging work, because they have no tax incentive. What they have is a lottery system. It’s kind of a mess. That’s why Massachusetts is booming, that’s why Louisiana is booming, that’s why Georgia’s booming, that’s why Vancouver’s booming. All that work is coming out of LA

Would he had filmed Wish I Was Here anywhere else:

LA is such a character in the movie. If I had not done the crowd funding, of course. That’s why whether you have a fund or a corporation and shareholders, no one is letting you turn down 30% in tax incentives. But, if I’m the CEO of the corporation, I can think outside of that box. I can go, “Here are all the benefits: we’re going to go get the most sick crew in the world.” Look at the credits of all my top designers. They want to stay in town, they want to kiss their kids goodnight. So, they’re willing to take a lower check to be able to stay in town. They can’t believe we’re making a movie in LA All the day players from Jim Parsons to Donald (Faison) to whoever; I can’t fly those people to Georgia. They’re going to come in and do a scene. LA is a character in the movie. All of these things little by little are worth the 30% percent to me. That’s a decision that I can make. That’s a decision that my fans allowed me to make that a corporation or fund could never make, because that’s ludicrous. You’re going to give away 30%?

His opinion on a drastic change in the acting world:

At this point, TV is where all the great sh*t happens. At some point I see myself going back to TV eventually, because there’s just not enough roles. No one’s making five, ten, twenty million dollar movies where the juicy roles are. Everyone’s sort of going big. It used to be just the summer tentpoles. Now they’re all just “all in,” Marvel-esque “blow ‘em ups” and so that’s why Clive Owen is on a TV show, Billy Bob Thorton is on a TV show, Dustin Hoffman’s on a TV show. Even these seasoned actors are going, “Well, this is where the good sh*t is – cable TV.

On if he’ll direct a TV show:

I’ll totally direct TV. The way it works is the pilot director sets the look and then everyone else comes in and executes it. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to execute someone else’s look. I did it on Scrubs, because it was my show. If I got a pilot gig on the right show, I’d be honored to do that.

How he’d approach doing another television show:

My first gut feeling would be to do it with Bill Lawrence again since he’s so good at it and we have the same sense of humor. And he knows how to navigate those TV waters better than anyone, because when people try to cancel a show, he’s like, “Alright, I’ll move it to another network.” TV is so incredibly cutthroat and insane that you need a power hitter like Bill Lawrence to be your partner. If it weren’t with Bill, it would be with another power hitter, otherwise you’ll just get walked all over. I wouldn’t do it on my own.

On if he ever watched the ninth season of Scrubs while it was on ABC:

I have never seen an episode of Scrubs post my exit on season 9. Not for any mean reason. I just couldn’t. It was too bizarre and weird. It would be like me going to the Broadway musical (He’s in Woody Allen’s Bullet’s Over Broadway play) once I’ve left and watching someone else do it. It would be too weird. So, that whole rest of season 9, I’ve never seen.

Message to fans of Scrubs who hated season nine of the show:

Let me say to the people that hated it: A) Sorry and B) It was worth a shot. It rarely happens in comedy where you can keep it going. Where as in dramas, like ER being the ultimate example, they keep it going. You can cycle in a new cast and make it work. I think Bill’s (Lawrence) challenge was could you make it work without me. My ego wanted it to fail, but I was rooting for my friends and for Bill.

His reaction when he sees Scrubs on the guide on television:

I really am at the point where I see it on the guide and I don’t click on it. I flip by Chicken Little, which is always on. You think that you’d just press it for a second and go “Let me see,” but I really don’t click on it anymore. What’s bizarre this far out is that you go out and go “I have no memory of that.” particularly when I’m in some whacky costume or dressed in some bizarre fantasy outfit and I’m like “I have no memory of that.”

Interview conducted by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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  • Tori

    For future reference:
    Actors of fully Jewish background: -Logan Lerman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, Bar Refaeli, James Wolk, Julian Morris, Esti Ginzburg, Kat Dennings, Erin Heatherton, Odeya Rush, Anton Yelchin, Paul Rudd, Scott Mechlowicz, Lizzy Caplan, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Gal Gadot, Robert Kazinsky, Melanie Laurent, Marla Sokoloff, Shiri Appleby, Justin Bartha, Adam Brody, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Gabriel Macht, Halston Sage, Seth Gabel.

    Actors with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers -Jake Gyllenhaal, Dave Franco, Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Radcliffe, Alison Brie, Eva Green, Emmy Rossum, Jennifer Connelly, Eric Dane, Jeremy Jordan, Joel Kinnaman.

    Actors with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, who themselves were either raised as Jews and/or identify as Jews: -Andrew Garfield, Ezra Miller, Alexa Davalos, Nat Wolff, James Maslow, Josh Bowman, Ben Foster, Nikki Reed, Zac Efron.

    Actors with one Jewish-born parent and one parent who converted to Judaism -Dianna Agron, Sara Paxton (whose father converted, not her mother), Alicia Silverstone, Jamie-Lynn Sigler.