Interview: Zach Braff Talks His New Film ‘Wish I Was Here’

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Multi-hyphenate filmmaker Zach Braff has seen his fair share of adversity after fighting for latest film “Wish I Was Here” to gain studio funding . He turned to Kickstarter  to seek contributions from fans who wanted to see what he had up his sleeve. Donations came through the woodwork and the final tally totaled $3,105,473 in funding. The film has since been purchased by Focus Features for a staggering $2.75 million. 

Braff became the indie movie scene’s new wunderkind in 2004 when his directorial debut “Garden State” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was lauded for its innovative style, character development and soundtrack, that won him a Grammy award. His career as a filmmaker was on the rise, receiving comparisons to those who came before such as Jim Jarmusch and Richard Linklater. However, those days are gone and Braff has yet to helm a project since his freshman effort was released a decade ago. 

Braff visited Austin’s infamous Paramount theater to screen the finished product for 700 of his 46,520 backers. “ This is the fun part, getting to see the look on the audience member’s face and know that my film was able to evoke such strong emotions,” he says. 

“Wish I Was Here” seems like a perfect fit for Braff,  is no longer a wide-eyed television actor and not quite yet long in the tooth. The film follows a failed thirty-something actor,Aiden Bloom who is at a crossroads in his life with an ailing father, a sedentary brother, two kids at home, and his wife is bearing the family’s financial burden by working in a cubicle farm.

“The themes from the film came from everyday problems that everyday people face” he says. “I wrote the screenplay with my brother (Adam) who is ten years my senior and we just wanted to write a story that has universal truths. Overall, it was an introspective process that brought us closer together,” said Braff.

Braff has defined his directing style with just two films. The devices he uses are innovative, distinct and have a tone that could be described as tender. 

“There really isn’t an exact science to getting great performances from actors it all comes down to casting,” he says. “For example, I worked with Joey King on Oz The Great & Powerful and knew she would be a perfect fit and working with Kate Hudson,” said Braff. “I wanted to pull that iconic performance back out that made her a star in Almost Famous.”

The filmmaker tends to draw upon classic films that shaped his taste from a young age. Films that broke convention stirred up his love for the arts and inspired Braff to become the filmmaker he is today. Maybe it was costarring in a film with Woody Allen, or being a shameless movie nerd, Perhaps, it was a little of both.

“I grew up admiring such films as Hal Ashby’s Harold & Maude, it wasn’t your typical cookie cutter story,” he says. “Most films  you forget about  once you finish your popcorn.”  Also, I love Woody Allen’s Annie Hall which is the greatest romantic comedy in the history of film. It was so brilliant the devices he used- like one minute it would cut to an animated sequence and the next he would break the fourth wall, audiences just never knew what they were going to get and I have always been sucked in by that out of the box type of approach,” says Braff.

Braff’s penchant for commanding a scene while having to architect a film  hasn’t come easy for the filmmaker. This is a skill that takes years to perfect and with a decade long gap in between features a lesser filmmaker would be a tad rusty in this department. Braff had to keep himself mentally sharp during the fast paced twenty-five day shoot last summer. “There was no room for error, but my team and I made sure we gave the actors enough time to prepare and make a few adjustments in between takes,” Braff says. “I found it difficult to concentrate during Garden State, but for this film I was able to tap into the scene as an actor/director, having that experience gave me the confidence to know where we needed to make changes and that energy spread across the set,” Braff said.

Braff was adamant about having creative control of his project which is why he sought to find alternative funding for the film, but lately major Hollywood studios have been seeking innovative “independent” directors to helm their major tent-pole films, such as Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” and Marc Webb’s “Amazing Spiderman” franchise. The “Wish I Was Here” director has had his name in the hat of a few projects, even though the title of those projects weren’t revealed ,he expressed that this could be a possibility.

“Yeah, I absolutely would be interested in working on a large project, mainly because when I was observing Sam (Raimi) during the shoot for “Oz The Great and Powerful” I saw the creative possibilities that could arise from such a project,” he says.  “It would have to feel right, there would have to be some level of passion there. I wouldn’t sign on just for the sake of having my name attached to the next big superhero movie.”

“It’s the passion that drives me as a filmmaker, and at this point in my career I am as excited and ready as I have ever been.” 

 

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