It’s not like anyone was crossing their fingers and wishing upon a star to talk about Zach Braff and Kickstarter again, but here we go. “Zach Braff’s Kickstarter Film Lands Full Financing,” reads the headline at The Hollywood Reporter, which got all the details of Braff’s Cannes deal with Worldview Entertainment to “fund much of Wish I Was Here,” the Garden State follow-up that Braff already raised $2.6 million for via the crowd-funding site. It’s a deal that seems to confirm the worst grumblings about the project (that it was a publicity stunt, that it was a vanity move, that it was a gross exploitation of crowd funding by a multimillionaire). And though the Reporter has updated its piece with softer language concerning the full extent of Worldview’s participation, the new controversy surrounding the project raises further questions about exactly how these hybrid Kickstarter/Hollywood projects should work — and who will benefit from them.
Let’s look at the original Kickstarter page, which has not (yet) been changed in light of Braff’s big-money deal. A few hours after the Kickstarter launched, questions about why the hell a guy who was pulling down $350K per episode on Scrubs needed his fans to pay for his movie apparently prompted this addition to the page’s FAQ:
So the pitch was that financing would come from a pool of donations, his own contributions, and “sale of some of the film’s foreign rights.” But that’s not what Worldview is doing. After the Reporter story broke yesterday, Braff hastily issued a doth-protest-too-much update to his backers (“I seem to get called a ‘douchebag’ quite often these days. And that’s fine; not everyone’s gonna root for my success”) to contradict their original claim that Worldview was financing “most of” the film. That’s not true, Braff insists, and “I can’t sit by while my fans get wrong facts.” (This is neither here nor there, but the way he’s always mentioning “my fans” has way worn out its welcome.)
“When you pre-sell foreign distribution,” Braff writes, “you don’t get that money for some time. So you need to go to a company to provide something called ‘Gap Financing’. They are essentially a bank. Loaning us the ‘gap’ between what we’ve raised together and what we need to actually make the movie.”
This explanation — which prompted the Reporter‘s update to their original story — softens the blow of the original bombshell. But the fact remains that a major investment from a third party company, “gap financing” or not, wasn’t part of the financing structure he laid out on Kickstarter. What’s more, it amounts to Braff getting into bed with the big bad “money people,” and that’s supposed to be precisely what this project was about. “There are money guys willing to finance the project,” Braff says in his Kickstarter plea video, “but in order to protect their investment, they’re insisting on having final cut. Also, they want to control how the film is cast… I’ll have the final cut of what ends up in the movie, and I get to only cast the actors I think are perfect for the roles.”
So the fact that he’s now made a deal for “money guys” to put up the bulk of the financing must mean that he found some that were willing to go along with his crazy editing and casting notions. After all, Braff had previously told the Los Angeles Times that, after the success of the Kickstarter campaign, he wouldn’t take money from industry types: “I think that would be in bad taste for all the people who are backing this. It wouldn’t be in the spirit of the thing.” So if Braff the purist violated the “spirit of the thing,” he must have discovered a company that was totally on board with the vision he had sold to his fans, right?
The Reporter may have overstated the deal, but Braff’s explanation of exactly what Worldview is providing smells fishy, too. They are not “a bank” — according to their website, they are “a leading independent motion picture production and investment company” that “provides equity and mezzanine capital for the independent film market, and invests a film’s capital structure and throughout its life cycle.” These are “money people,” and they aren’t just providing a loan; they’re making an investment. When Wish I Was Here is released, they’re going to make money. So is Braff. But his “fans” won’t; they (unlike, say, the Veronica Mars backers) don’t even get a copy of the movie they invested in.
“Let’s be frank,” Braff writes, in full-on martyr mode. “There are people out there who don’t want this to work. There are people out there rooting for me and you (if you’re a backer) to fail. There are bloggers writing hateful things about me. I can take it. I’m kind of used to it. I hope you can. But if you feel misinformed or you no longer like this, you can cancel your support anytime in the next 8 days.”
He’s right. Now that he’s found someone to write the check that finances the movie until those foreign sales come through (and if he thinks this got attention, wait until all of us evil movie bloggers start tallying up the totals of those deals), he really doesn’t need the Kickstarter funds. And let’s face it, he probably never did–he ended up funding the film via standard practice. So yes, there’s another week for his supporters to back out before the Kickstarter finishes. When the Reporter story broke yesterday, Braff had 38,386 backers. As of this writing, he has 38,847 — a net gain of 461 new backers since he inked the Worldview deal. This guy could give Harold Hill a run for his money. Enjoy your marching band, fans.