The ethereal music, relatable characters, and perfectly cast actors were all elements that writer-director-star Zach Braff intended to present in “Wish I Was Here,” and the film’s creator is proud of the final product.
Braff, 39, first delved into writing, directing, and acting in 2004’s “Garden State,” a poetic tale of a 20-something struggling actor named Andrew Largeman who was working through family issues while trying to find himself.
Essences of Andrew Largeman’s character ring through in “Wish,” a “follow-up” (in name only since it has nothing to do with “Garden State”) which focuses on a 30-something man named Aidan Bloom—also a struggling actor who is also working through family issues.
The story, which Braff calls “fiction with some truths,” was scripted by the former “Scrubs” star and his brother Adam with a simple goal: make it something people can relate to.
“When you try and get a movie like this through the studio system and through traditional financing they’ll say, ‘Oh you can’t write about Judaism, they’re only 2 percent of the country, it’s not accessible enough.’ And I say, ‘That’s ridiculous,’” Braff said during an interview with Boston.com. “People are very smart. They insert their own religious experience here.
Rather than choosing to have the film funded through typical means, Braff decided to create a Kickstarter campaign that launched on April 23, 2013 and asked fans and friends to back his project.
The crowdfunding campaign had an ultimate goal of raising $2 million in one month — it was met in two days. The site, which stayed open for its goal duration, ended up raising $3.1 million thanks to the support of 46,520 people.
“I can only use a really cheesy analogy, because I haven’t come up with another one, but it’s that trust exercise when you fall back and go ‘Oh God, please someone catch me,’ and then 47,000 people catch you,” Braff said of the experience. “It was a big risk. Everyone said it wouldn’t work.”
It did work, and Braff was able to handpick the actors that he wanted to be in the film.
“When a corporation or a studio or a financier is pulling the strings, you’ll often get famous people, and they might even be great actors, but they’re a little—they’re not always perfect,” Braff said.
He had a goal of getting Kate Hudson, a friend of Braff’s who typically finds herself in romantic comedy roles, back into a dramatic part.
“She’s pretty and funny, and so she does a lot of these romantic comedies,” Braff said of Hudson, “but I was just so moved by her performance in ‘Almost Famous,’ that I really wanted to get her back to something dramatic and raw.”
The remainder of the cast was chosen in a similar way, like Mandy Patinkin, who plays his ailing father in the film, because he’s “one of [Braff’s] favorite actors ever.”
“I just went with my gut on everyone,” he added.
Braff’s gut directed him not only to choose what he believed were the perfect actors for the film, but also the musicians who would construct the ideal soundtrack.
Rather than using mainstream songs, Braff went directly to Bon Iver and Coldplay to ask for their hand in creating an original musical accompaniment for the film.
“What we tried to do with this one to make it unique, was go to my favorite artists and say ‘Would you watch the movie and then write a song that comes out of you after you watch the movie?’” Braff remembered. “So we had Bon Iver do that, we had the Shins do that, Coldplay did that and wrote a song that Cat Power sings, and then lots of other things that were like covers or unreleased tracks.”
The evolution of iTunes over the past decade had a lot to do with the way that Braff assembled and revealed the tracks from the soundtrack.
“I tried to do all sorts of things to make it even more special than ‘Garden State’ because we wanted it to be a thing that people really get and enjoy as a whole album,” Braff said, “as opposed to just picking off tracks like everyone does these days.”
The NPR stop was one of many for Braff during a summer tour that included Kickstarter screenings for his backers and press events. In the fall, Braff will take the film to Europe before deciding what’s next on his plate.
“I do want to make another film way sooner than a decade,” Braff said. “That’ll be the next thing I do is direct another movie, but what it is I’m not sure.”