2ND UPDATE, FRIDAY AM: The prognosticators who’ve been telling me that Kickstarter is a game-changing enterprise for movies, are proving to be so Kreskin-like, I will next challenge them to bend spoons with their brains (dated reference). Just a couple days into his attempt to raise $2 million to finance his film Wish I Was Here, Braff is already up to $1,766,130 and counting, from 25,245 people who’ve committed cash for a variety of tchotchkes. The game plan was to use Kickstarter funding, and foreign sales, to raise the $5 million needed to make the movie. Braff, producers Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg planned to work practically free, upfront. At this rate, Braff will reach his funding goal by the weekend. And with 28 days to go, they’ll likely wind up with enough dough to fund the whole movie without making pre-sales, and maybe enough to pay participants a little bit. This is startling, that so many people are betting on a filmmaker, and not donating because they just want to see a movie version of a favorite TV show like Veronica Mars.
I am intrigued enough by this that I am going to figure out a bigger movie that fans certainly want to see, that isn’t getting enough love from the studio that made the TV series. I will come back with that discussion later today. I still wonder how these donors will feel if this movie turns out to be a big hit that pours off profit, because investors who put up almost half the budget of this film will be on the outside looking in when the profits are carved up. They won’t have points, or any ownership in the negative, which is the way industry insiders make their fortunes. Maybe the next step in this movement will be to protect donors on the back end in case of success. I wish I could fall in line and laud the artistic empowerment part of this. But if you look at this the way Deadline does, as a business, to me this still comes down to money that filmmakers don’t have to pay back, for a movie they will own free and clear, forever.
1ST UPDATE, THURSDAY 3:48 PM: Zach Braff is crushing it with his Kickstarter campaign to raise $2 million for Wish I Was Here, the film he co-wrote and wants to direct. According to his Kickstarter page, Braff has raised $1,045,785 in about half a day. He has 29 days to go to reach his $2 million goal, and at this rate, he might have enough to turn it into a studio-sized tent pole film. The inevitable next question will be whether a branded big-ticket film like that will take the Kickstarter plunge. For today, at least, Kickstarter is proving naysayers like myself to be cynical grouches.
EARLIER, BREAKING, 6:15 AM: After getting a rousing reaction from critics and audiences on his 2004 feature directing debut Garden State (it grossed $27 million domestic on a $2.5 million budget), Zach Braff is ready for a follow-up. He wants to direct Wish I Was Here, a film he wants to star in, and which he wrote with his brother Adam. He’s got top-tier indie producers Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg, the Double Feature Films duo that exec produced Garden State and such films as Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, Get Shorty and Out Of Sight. Despite this, Braff couldn’t get the money he needed for a $5 million film that is personal and doesn’t fit a commercial model. So Braff has launched a Kickstarter campaign he hopes will provide a $2 million budget base that can be bolstered by some foreign pre-sales that will make possible a film they hope to shoot in Los Angeles.
Now, I recently watched Veronica Mars fans not only rise to the $2 million level sought to finance a movie transfer of that popular series, but actually exceed it to provide $5 million-plus in filmmaking resources. I have to be honest, I lamented this growing trend: After years of covering this incredibly fun, decadent business where makers of small-budget movies are left lighting cigars with $50 bills when they make fortunes from audiences who only have to buy tickets, that this game had been reduced to a form of pan-handling. Where donors are promised tchotchkes, but none of the upside in success. Hell, I reached for my wallet when my childhood crush Karen Black and her husband sought funds for a last-chance cancer treatment in France, but for feature film budgets? Really?
Who better to turn my sorry, cynical ass around than Sher? An elegant and respected producer of some of my favorite films, Sher tells me she has donated to Kickstarter campaigns and sees this as a potentially game-changing way to empower artists with followings to realize their creative visions by relying directly on the audiences who respond to their work. “I first saw the potential in this about a year ago with the incredible reaction to Veronica Mars, but also how Amanda Palmer tried to raise $100,000 to support a tour, and ended up raising over $1.1 million,” Sher told me. “Even when you make a movie as popular as Garden State, in this market that doesn’t make it easier the next time out and this is a new way to make a movie, involving directly those fans of Zach who want to see his voice realized in another film.” Sher said they tried to raise money the traditional way, but it just wasn’t going to work unless they made a lot of compromises. The way this works is, if Braff realizes his $2 million funding goal in 30 days, he gets the money. If it overachieves, he has even more money to put on the screen. If he doesn’t reach his goal, he gets zero. From that standpoint, the star of Scrubs and more recently Oz The Great And Powerful risks taking a walk of shame that comes when you reach out to your fans and find they don’t exist, or that they rejected you.
“To me, what Zach is doing is courageous, but who he is at heart is a humble guy who makes small personal independent films,” Sher said. “Nobody has ever taken out this high-profile a film that wasn’t a sequel, so there is a risk here. It’s not my face on that Kickstarter page. You might be cynical, and people might make fun of it, but it celebrates a new way to get a film made, and that what our business has always been about.”
While I still wonder what will happen when one of these Kickstarter films becomes The Blair Witch Project, a $60,000 budget film that grossed nearly $250 million worldwide. I recall a bond trader brother in law of one of the film’s writers who was cajoled into putting up $90,000 in finishing funds, and who walked away with $25 million when that film scared up ridiculous money. That rarely happens, but if it does, will the donors who made it possible be happy with a signed copy of the shooting script? But until that happens, I say godspeed, Zach Braff, and if I can get him to record my voicemail greeting (he can have complete creative freedom and insult me all he likes), I’m in for $100. Here’s his Kickstarter link, and the release with specific information on Braff’s film and his campaign, which just launched this morning:
Actor/writer/director Zach Braff today launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of the feature film “Wish I Was Here”. Braff will direct and star in the film which is based on an original screenplay he wrote with his brother, Adam Braff. Oscar®-nominated producers Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg (“Django Unchained,” “Contagion,” “Garden State,” “Erin Brockovich,” “Pulp Fiction”) will produce the film through their company Double Feature Films.
Best known for his role on the long-running sitcom “Scrubs,” Braff also wrote, directed and starred in the 2004 instant classic, “Garden State.” Most recently he appeared in director Sam Raimi’s enormously successful “Oz The Great And Powerful.”
“Wish I Was Here” is the story of Aidan Bloom (to be played by Braff), a struggling actor, father and husband who at 35, is still trying to find his identity; a purpose for his life. He and his wife are barely getting by financially and Aidan passes his time by fantasizing about being the great futuristic Space-Knight he’d always dreamed he’d be as a little kid.
When his ailing father can no longer afford to pay for private school for his two kids (5 and 12) and the only available public school is on its last legs, Aidan reluctantly agrees to attempt to home-school them. The result is some funny chaos, until Aidan decides to scrap the traditional academic curriculum and come up with his own. Through teaching them about life his way, Aidan gradually discovers some of the parts of himself he couldn’t find.
With a goal of raising $2 million on Kickstarter in 30 days, the producers hope to shoot the film in Los Angeles beginning this summer. Donor incentives range from personal copies of the script to access to weekly behind-the-scenes video to invitations to the premiere and even a speaking role in the film.
Said Braff: “I am often asked by my fans or by the press when I am promoting films in which I’ve acted, ‘Why haven’t you directed another film since Garden State?’ The truth is, it’s very hard to get small, personal films made without sacrificing some aspect of your artistic integrity (final-cut, casting, minuscule budgets). Crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter could be a game-changer for independent films. Already 10% of the films at the most recent Sundance Film Festival had some Kickstarter money and that’s growing exponentially. Social media has begun to give content creators a chance to appeal directly to their fan base and say, ‘I wanna make something for you, but I’m gonna need your help.’ The supporters of mine across the globe who back this film project will not only get to see something that wouldn’t have been made otherwise, but they’ll get to do so knowing they made it happen.”
“Following the amazing experience we had working with Zach on ‘Garden State,’ we’ve always known we wanted to work with him again and couldn’t wait for the stars to realign,” said Sher. “I first became aware of Kickstarter about a year ago as musician Amanda Palmer’s campaign took off. Then, as we watched as the Veronica Mars campaign explode, it became impossible to deny the fact that crowd-funding is an exceptionally strong force in the future of independent filmmaking.”
- Stacey Sher