By Ed Symkus
More Content Now
Sitting across a table from me in a Boston hotel’s small conference room, where we’re both drinking coffee, Zach Braff seems a little nervous. His dark blue eyes are a little dazed; his smile starts to turn slightly downward. He’s got a bit of a frightened deer look. He’s here to talk about his new film, “Wish I Was Here,” which he directed, co-wrote with his brother Adam, and stars in. The apparent unease seems to have come from my first question – not a good way to start an interview. I’d just asked why he’s again written about and is playing a struggling actor, just like he did in the only other feature he’s made, the decade-old “Garden State.” But before anxiety could set in, and before he answered, I added, to his relief, that it was interesting to see another, more mature version of a similar character.
“I’m writing what I know,” he explained, sitting back, relaxing. “I once again made him a struggling actor because I like writing what I know. I could have made him a struggling anything. Most people in the world are not struggling actors, but they are going after a dream – whatever kind of dream it is. So I thought it could be a nice metaphor for how long are you allowed to go after these dreams.”
Q: Is it fair to call this a film about keeping a family together?
A: Oh, yes. Whereas “Garden State” was about the discovery of one’s first romantic true love, and how in a way he was rescued by those feelings being ignited in him for the first time, I think this one is about familial love, and about realizing that, when all is said and done, what else matters other than the love that you shared with your family and the people close to you.
Q: You wrote “Garden State” by yourself, but collaborated with your brother on this one. How did that work?
A: When I write alone, I will very often start having a dialogue [by myself] with the two characters. I think a benefit of being an actor-writer is you can improv the scene with yourself. My brother and I hammered out an outline together, and then we attacked it separately. He lives in Honolulu and I live in L.A. He would work on a section, I’d work on a section, we’d email it to each other, and then we’d give each other notes. And little by little it started to take shape. We finished the script about a year and a half ago.
Q: And then you went the Kickstarter route. Was that your plan from the beginning?
Page 2 of 2 - A: No. I’ve been trying to make a movie for 10 years, but I kept running into obstacles, like financing. I was tired of banging my head against the wall. There are so many ridiculous hurdles, it’s amazing that any film gets made. When I finally was getting close, and we had a script that I felt super passionately about ... I think I went into it with a little bit of ego. You know, like, “Well, I’m writing another small, personal movie in the tone of ‘Garden State.’ Everyone’s gonna want to finance this.” Of course there was interest, but it was interest with all these caveats – no final cut, shooting in Vancouver for L.A. – and I was thinking, “Why would I make a film like THAT?” “Garden State” worked because no one was meddling with it. In that case I had a sugar daddy, Gary Gilbert, who financed the whole thing. When the idea of crowd funding came up this time I was kind of against it. I didn’t think it would work, but I figured, what have I got to lose? Everyone said it wouldn’t work, from talking heads on the Internet to people in my life. But we had a month to do it, and when it worked in 48 hours, everyone’s jaw was on the floor. We combined the Kickstarter money [about $3 million], which reduces substantially after you pay off fees and consider all the filming costs, with some of my own money, and we presold some foreign rights. That brought us to a budget of five and a half million dollars. We made the film, got into Sundance, and we were picked up by Focus Features for North America.
Q: Did you learn any specific lessons on “Garden State” that you put into practice this time?
A: The lesson I learned is get as much as you can. We shot this in only 26 days. “Garden State” was 25 days, so I had an extra day (laughs). But if you have only 25 or 26 days, it’s a scavenger hunt. Go out and get, get, get, collect, collect, everything you possibly can. Then you can exhale and go sit in an editing room, with a cup of coffee, and find your movie. The initial assembly of this film was two hours and 40 minutes. But you want that. You want a giant slab of clay so you can begin to chip away.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.