Interview: ‘Wish I Was Here’ director Zach Braff won’t use Kickstarter again

Zach Braff's latest film is Zach Braff’s latest film is “Wish I Was Here,” the first he’s directed since “Garden State.”
Credit: Getty Images

Zach Braff got a lot of attention when he turned to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to raise money for his second film as a director, “Wish I Was Here,” and not all of it was positive. The campaign was a resounding success, and the film went on to debut at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was acquired by Focus Features, but Braff found himself the focus of more than a little online ire. In our candid chat as the film finally hits theaters, Braff looks back on his “wacky experiment.”

One of my favorite internet mantras is “never read the comments.” Have you taken that to heart?

Oh, I never read comments. If you’re a creator of content and you’re not a masochist, you know where not to go. You don’t go to comments sections on IMDb or Deadline or any of those places because it’s just a place for people to be mean for meanness’ sake. Everyone should be able to take criticism, good and bad, and I can handle that, but mean for meanness’ sake — why would you do that to yourself? When we put the content on YouTube, I disabled the comments because people get racist and horrible and mean. You can opine on your Twitter feed or on Facebook or anywhere else, but I don’t want you to do it there.

When you do a massive online crowdfunding campaign, you open yourself up to people feeling the need to sound off on it.

Of course. The problem with it is when it’s uninformed. And it’s fine if it’s John Q. Citizen uninformed, but it was frustrating for me when it was uninformed bloggers and like, “Dude, you could’ve Googled a couple more things and gotten a little bit more of this right.” That was frustrating for me. I learned a big lesson with that McDonald’s coffee lady — coffee fell on her lap and she sued, and myself and everyone else went, “What an idiot!” And then there’s a documentary where you see the true story, and she was f—ing scalded and their coffee was way too hot, and she suffered the rest of her life. That was a wake-up call for me. We have to be so careful in our snap judgments of things. People said I had no place on Kickstarter, and everyone weighed in on that. Finally the CEO of Kickstarter said, “He drove more traffic to our site than anyone ever has, and those people not only came but they stayed and funded other things.” When I do these screenings across the country, just for fun and to prove a point I’ll go, “Raise your hand if you went to Kickstarter for the first time when I introduced you to it and went on to fund other things.” Seventy percent of the hands go up in every screening. But no one reports that because that’s not clickbaity.

Negativity in general on the internet is pretty rampant.

I think schadenfreude is rampant. The internet is such a baby, in its infant stage, and I think we are in a cycle now where it is just edging toward 80 percent snark. Those sites can’t afford to be in existence without snark. Ever since Arianna Huffington sold the Huffington Post, the Kardashian articles creep further and further up the page because it’s the only thing people click. That’s how they make their money.

And as a bold-face name online, everything you post can become fodder for them.

I no longer put anything even mildly controversial on Facebook, because if you say something mildly opinionated on Twitter, it’s at least like a ticker tape. It just goes. But if you put something mildly opinionated on Facebook, it sits there and it gets ugly quickly. It’s not worth it. I had a friend who’s a much bigger star than I am, and she said, “I only write positive things because even saying, ‘Oh, I don’t like spaghetti,’ I’m going to get 400 tweets being like, ‘Spaghetti helped me get through my mother’s death.’ Why do I want to deal with that?”

Zach Braff looks in the lens on the set of Zach Braff looks in the lens on the set of “Wish I Was Here.”
Credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace/Focus Features

With the initial criticisms of the Kickstarter campaign, it’s interesting how much people felt compelled to tell others what to do with their money.

That really bothered me. It’s not like I was levying a tax. You can attack me, but then they attacked people who were into it? It’s like, if I hate black jelly beans, I pass the black jelly bean kiosk and maybe I make a face to myself like, ‘Ugh, black jelly beans.’ But I don’t stand next to the black jelly bean kiosk, berate the black jelly bean kiosk operator and berate anyone buying black jelly beans. To each their own. When the guy cranking house music pulls up to me at a red light, I may roll up my window and shake my head and go, “Ugh, I can’t stand house music.” But I don’t go online and talk for 48 hours about how much I hate house music. My whole pitch on Kickstarter was like, “Hey! Here’s a wacky, insane idea. What if we — me with my money and you by buying a T-shirt or coming to a screening or whatever — did this, wouldn’t that be a rad experiment?” You’re either into it or you’re not. You can still be my fan and not be into it, I still love you. It’s just a wacky experiment, and it worked in 48 hours. I think because it worked in 48 hours it pissed people off.

That seems to be a common response to success online, the backlash.

Yeah, oh my god. I watch it now with these young actresses that are climbing and climbing, like a Jennifer Lawrence, and I just go, “Five, four, three …” It’s scary! It’s like Icarus! Because like you said, the Web wants to destroy them. I’m 39, I’m an adult, I can handle it, but you watch these young women who are just riding an asteroid to success, and I’m just like, “Oh boy, just wait.”

I think Jennifer Lawrence can handle it.

She’s extraordinarily talented, but they’re going to come after her, watch. Talk to me in a month.

The film is coming out and the campaign is behind you. Looking back, is there anything you’d do differently?

I wouldn’t use Kickstarter again. It wasn’t meant to be like, “Oh, this is how I’m going to fund all my movies.” It was supposed to be a fun experiment with my fans. I don’t want to imply to anyone reading that now I’m going to crowdfund all my movies. I do think in the future the concept of being able to buy stock in a film is cool. I mean, it’s not legal now to give anyone an equity stake in stock form. That was another thing, I had blogger after blogger writing, “Why don’t you give them a stake in the movie?” I can’t. So if you had Googled that, you could have put that in your article.

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter @nedrick

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