Ever since the phenomenal success of the Veronica Mars movie kickstarter, quite a few people in the film and television industry have been pricking up their ears and paying attention to the possibilities offered by the crowd-funding platform. Bryan Fuller is already putting together plans for a Pushing Daisies Kickstarter, and Scrubs star Zach Braff has cited the success of Thomas and Stewart as the direct inspiration behind his own Kickstarter project.
Wish I Was Here is based on a screenplay by Braff and his brother Adam, and tells the story of a man called Aidan Bloom (played by Braff), "who at 35 is still trying to find his identity; a purpose for his life." Even as he approaches middle age, Bloom continues to engage in his childhood fantasies about being a Space-Knight, but is forced back down to Earth when he is charged with home-schooling his two kids.
Garden State cinematographer Larry Sher and producers Stacy Sher and Michael Shamberg have all agreed to work on the project, which is scheduled to begin shooting this August with plans to premiere at next year's Sundance Film Festival.
The pitch video is pretty fun and Wish I Was Here does sound like a worthy project, especially for people who loved Garden State and want to see more of Braff's work both behind the camera and in front of it. The pitch clearly shows how passionate Braff is about the project, and there's no doubt that his intentions are pure. However, there is also a sense that he is glossing over the issue of crowd-funding vs. studio funding, and the parts where he talks jokingly about "the money people" and their demands feels a little too oversimplified.
One issue that some people have with Braff and other established film producers using Kickstarter to fund their projects is the idea that it redirects funding that could have gone to other, smaller campaigns started by people who are still struggling to break into the film industry and trying to get their first major project off the ground. With that in mind, however, Kickstarter states that the site is designed for projects "big and small" and that anyone can launch their idea on the website. The central idea behind the platform is simply to offer creative independence, so technically famous names and already successful creatives aren't violating the spirit of the site when they use Kickstarter to fund their projects.
Braff states that his main reason for using the site is not simply to obtain financing, since $2 million is a modest amount and Braff acknowledges in his pitch video that he's already had a few offers from investors, but because, "We want to make this film the same way we made 'Garden State,' without a distributor or financier demanding we adapt it to fit their needs."
Of course, minor creative concessions will still be made to Kickstarter investors, since the higher pledge brackets come with perks like a speaking role in the film, appearing onscreen as an extra, being able to name one of the characters, and being invited to offer feedback on the director's cut and help shape the final edit.
Out of those pledge rewards, the offer of a speaking role (this opportunity has already been "sold") and the 50 background performance roles are probably the two most likely to be considered objectionable, especially since one of the requirements for these roles is that the backer not be a member of the acting union SAG-AFTRA. By using backers for these roles, the production not only pulls in an extra $225,000 to spend on production, but they also save the cost of employing professional actors or extras to star in the film. It sounds like a great idea on the face of it, but on the flipside is the fact that these roles probably should have gone to performers working in the film industry, and should have been paid, not paid-for.
The message in Braff's pitch video is clear, and in many ways its emblematic of the spirit behind many Kickstarter projects. Generally speaking, the film industry functions on a system whereby financiers invest in a project that they believe has promise, in the hope of seeing a return on their investment in the form of profit. Kickstarter has a similar system, with the difference being that the return on investment is not a financial one; instead, backers are rewarded by getting the opportunity to see a film that they're interested in, untainted by studio interference, and to be directly involved with its production.
Crowd-funding for films is a complex issue, because even the most creative and independent project is part of a much larger industry, and Kickstarter campaigns like those for Veronica Mars, Pushing Daisies and Wish I Was Here effectively ask for charitable donations to commercial undertakings. But since the phenomenon of fan-financing films from big names within the industry is still finding its feet, we'll simply have to wait and see how these projects pan out, and whether the removal of interference from distributors and financiers really does lead to better films.
At the time of publication, the Wish I Was Here Kickstarter has nearly 10,000 backers and has raised over $700,000. You can make a donation at the link given below.