Zach Braff Defends His Movie Kickstarter: I'm Not Oprah

Zach Braff poses for a portrait in New York, Wednesday, June 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)
Charles Sykes, AP

Zach Braff, Hollywood rich person, has explained why he set up a Kickstartercampaign to crowdfund his next film-making effort: He's not a billionaire.

"People seem to think I have Oprah Winfrey money," Braff told the LA Times, defending his decision to solicit donations toward the production of his new movie, "Wish I Was Here." "I've done well in my career, but I am not sitting on $22 million" -- a sum that's been circulating online as an estimate of Braff's net worth. Oprah Winfrey's net worth was reported by Forbes to be $2.8 billion as of March 2013.

On Kickstarter, Braff explained his appeal to fans for financing as an attempt to ensure the project's artistic integrity:

I was about to sign a typical financing deal in order to get the money to make "Wish I Was Here," my follow up to "Garden State." It would have involved making a lot of sacrifices I think would have ultimately hurt the film. I've been a backer for several projects on Kickstarter and thought the concept was fascinating and revolutionary for artists and innovators of all kinds. But I didn't imagine it could work on larger-scale projects. I was wrong.

What changed Braff's mind was the recent Kickstarter campaign to fund a film version of "Veronica Mars," the television show starring Kristen Bell as a young private investigator. The show's creator raised more than $5.7 million, drawing on the largest number of backers in Kickstarter history (91,585) and far exceeding expectations.

Normally, those who put up the money for a movie are entitled to make their money back, plus profits, if the project is a financial success. (Granted, in the usual model, investors can't put up a measly $1.) Not so in the case of these Kickstarted films: Braff promises his benefactors a tiered structure of rewards, none of which involves return on investment. They range from the trivial -- contribute $40 and receive a "Wish I Was Here" T-shirt -- to the participatory -- send thousands of dollars towards the realization of Braff's ambitions and he'll allow you to name a character, offer advice after screening the director's cut, or play a walk-on role. The last of these, which was available to one deep-pocketed admirer for a pledge of $10,000, has already been claimed. But eight out of 10 "visual effects made possible by" end credits are still available, for $9,000 a piece.

Braff's Kickstarter is on track to reach its goals rapidly. As of this writing, the campaign has raised more than $1.8 million toward its goal of $2 million, in just two days. But as the Kickstarter method proves its worth for established entertainers like Braff and Bell, a backlash is starting: "A dollar for Braff is a dollar away from an unknown," The Guardian's film blog argues. And Braff's defense -- that he may be rich, but he's not that rich -- is tough to take seriously from an actor who made $350,000 an episode while starring in "Scrubs," as Entertainment Weekly reported in 2007.

If someone has money to burn and wants a chance to hang out on a movie set, and happens to be a big Zach Braff fan, it seems harmless enough. But there's something exploitative about selling low-level access to the movie business, a highly insular industry that many people want desperately to enter. One of Braff's reward packages, for those who give $5,000 or more, promises to make five fans his "personal guests at the premiere and afterparty." This offer is already sold out. One wonders what those donors want to gain from their pledges: Just a good time with an actor they admire, and maybe an extra dimension to their enjoyment of the film? Or are they hoping for a lasting benefit from their investment?