Movies

Zach Braff sold his movie, Kickstarter backers await rewards

Jan. 22, 2014 at 6:04 AM ET

Image: Zach Braff, Mandy Patinkin
Jason Kempin / Getty Images
Zach Braff, right, and Mandy Patinkin at the premiere of the Kickstarter-funded movie "Wish I Was Here" at Sundance.

Now that Zach Braff has premiered his crowd-sourced movie at the Sundance Film Festival and sold the distribution rights to Focus Features, the next step is a release date. But for those who invested in “Wish I Was Here” on Kickstarter last year and helped the actor and director raise $3.1 million, there are other issues looming.

“What about all the backers?” said investor Matt Haughey, founder of Metafilter.com. “In those last updates from him, he was all ‘I’m in Sundance!’ and then ‘Focus picked us up!’ There was nothing about the backers. It was all about Zach Braff. Well, that’s awesome for you!"

Haughey, 41, laughed as he pointed out he’d like a little more communication from Braff, now that his dream has come true. Haughey, who lives near Portland, Ore., isn’t expecting much for his $20 or $30 donation (he can’t recall the exact amount).

“It just would be nice to get a message saying, 'Hey, the rewards are coming in the mail' or whatever,” said Haughey, one of Kickstarters earliest investors and backer of 200 projects, including the “Veronica Mars” movie and an upcoming Spike Lee film.

“Kickstarter is a very good thing,” he said. “I like for creativity to get out in the world anyway it can.”

For Web developer Jason Garber, the point is not when he’ll reap his reward for investing in “Wish I Was Here.” As a fan of Braff’s work on “Scrubs” and his indie hit “Garden State,” the 32-year-old supported Braff’s cause for the same reason he’s backed 54 other projects created by friends, bands, filmmakers and photographers on the crowdsourcing site.

“If something resonates with me in a particular way, I’ll back it,” Garber told NBC News in an e-mail exchange. “I’m a fan of Zach Braff’s previous work and appreciated his approach choosing to use Kickstarter to fund his new project. It’s given him some measure of freedom to make the picture he wants to make and at the same time gives him a direct line to his fans.”

“Wish I Was Here” premiered on Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival to a standing ovation and positive reviews. Braff, who co-wrote the film with his brother, Adam Braff, also directed it and stars in it with Mandy Patinkin (“Homeland”), Kate Hudson and Josh Gad. On Sunday, Focus Features picked up the North American distribution rights (and select foreign rights), reportedly for $2.75 million.

Filmed in Los Angeles, “Wish I Was Here” is the emotional story of a struggling actor who decides to home school his children when he can no longer afford their Jewish day school while he’s also dealing with his father’s serious illness. Braff has said he turned to Kickstarter after trying to make the movie for a year with investors who wanted control over the film’s final edit and casting.

The groundbreaking fundraising for the film, which cost $5.5 million to make, took place in April. In four days, its $2 million goal was met, and it went on to raise a total of $3.1 million from 46,520 contributors. Because Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites do not allow investors to earn profits, project leaders offer rewards as incentives for contributions. Braff essentially offered his investors behind-the-scenes or VIP access, including personal copies of the script, roles as unpaid extras, screenings in 11 cities with Q&As with Braff, and on-screen credits.

Now Braff must live up to his promises, which will cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” and is included in the film’s budget, producer Stacey Sher of Double Feature Films (“Get Shorty” and “Pulp Fiction”) told Buzzfeed in an interview. Sher said fulfilling rewards is the project’s first financial obligation.

“It seems like things are taking off in a good way after Sundance, which is encouraging,” Garber said. “I anticipate rewards will be sent out in a reasonable fashion and that Zach will be out in front of any delays or changes. He’s thus far been very open, appreciative, and communicative with backers which is great to see.”

But Haughey received his “Veronica Mars” T-shirt two months after Rob Thomas raised $5.7 million, so he thinks Braff is already behind.

“It’s strange with them being famous Hollywood people and having money and resources and they still ask for help from the fans,” Haughey said. “It’s a little weird. I admit that it’s not a slam dunk. It seems they are using it for more creative control, which has exposed some things about how it all works that I didn’t know. In the end, I support things that I want to see exist. I just think right now he could remember his backers a little more.”

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