Interview with Zach Braff for WISH I WAS HERE

We catch up with the director, star and writer of WISH I WAS HERE…

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 18 months, you will know that Zach Braff partially funded his latest film through a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign. WISH I WAS HERE is released in Irish cinemas this week, and we caught up with Braff for a chat ahead of the film’s release. After a quick discussion on the Scottish Independence referendum, we found out more about the challenges of making his second film, how he feels now it’s done, and what lies ahead for him…

WISH I WAS HERE was a long, and public, time in the making. How do you feel now it’s done?
Zach Braff: Yes ma’am! I’m almost at the finish line! I feel like someone at a marathon; they can see the tape, and they can see their friend holding one of those weird tin foil blankets ready for them to cross the finish line! I’m very proud of it and I hope that the 46,520 people who participated in this two-year experiment enjoyed it. I feel pretty confident that they did, because we did about 15 times what we promised, and I have been travelling the world meeting backers at screenings and it’s been really thrilling. It’s been an extraordinary amount of work and I was doing it all while making my Broadway debut in Woody Allen’s first Broadway musical, so it’s been exhausting!

Did you feel an extra sense of responsibility because you had 46,520 people watching your every move on this film?
ZB: Of course! In a normal scenario you feel this great pressure because you have a couple of financiers and maybe a studio. If it’s a studio, it’s not even their money, it’s a corporation… You obviously feel responsibility, but this is 47,000 people… The epicentre of my fanbase, and the last thing I wanted to do was let any of them down.

Where did the story for WISH I WAS HERE come from?
ZB: Parts of it are largely a memoir. I wrote it with my brother Adam, and we kind of combined aspects of both of our lives into the character Aidan, and then we weaved in lots of fiction with that. A lot of it is based on true aspects of our lives.

Did you feel nervous then to be so open and honest in such a public forum?
ZB: Of course! I knew that there was going to be extra scrutiny because of the way it was funded, and I knew that there was going to be extra scrutiny because it was my second film, but I just wanted to be honest and put myself out there and be vulnerable. Obviously, it’s more vulnerable than a normal situation, because I’m not writing about a race car driver, I’m writing about a version of myself.

Aidan goes through so much in the film – money woes, illness of a parent, having to home school his kids and find a way to reconnect with his brother – did you ever feel like you were being too hard on him?
ZB: No, because I think audiences are so much smarter than they often get credit for. I think that… Obviously you don’t want the person to be too much of a dick, but you do want to see an arc. I like seeing a flawed protagonist come around, but not come around in such a huge way that all of a sudden he’s this angel; he’s a human being like all of us, who can be selfish and narcissistic and insecure, but through the film we see him grow and we like him enough to root for him. That’s the idea… You can’t take him so far that the audience isn’t rooting for him, but you take him to a place where they want him to be better. I like films like that.

The scenes with the Rabbi in the school really reminded me of The Coen Brothers. Were you inspired by any other filmmakers?
ZB: I know you’re talking about A SERIOUS MAN in particular, because there’s also a scene with someone who’s not religious going to an old Rabbi… Yeah, of course. I love The Coen Brothers, and I am sure there was a bit of a nod to them in that. RAISING ARIZONA is one of my favourite films and there are so many of their films that I truly love.

The film uses songs, score and the absence of music really well, how did you find the balance for that?
ZB: A lot has happened in 10 years to the music industry. [The GARDEN STATE soundtrack] was lightning in a bottle, the fact that that caught in the zeitgeist and introduced a new generation of people to singer songwriters… I never thought that could be duplicated because it was back when people bought albums, and it kind of hit at the perfect time in the world. With this one I knew that people don’t really buy albums any more, so I really tried hard to come up with some original music. I went to bands that I really love like Coldplay, Bon Iver, Cat Power and The Shins and asked them to write original music after seeing the film, and they all said yes. We had those three original songs that were inspired by the film and I really tried to use more score this time because I found an amazing composer, who just released the score of the film on iTunes. It’s a very challenging part of the process, it’s not easy… Another thing that happened in the last 10 years is that every TV show in the world now uses music, so you can fall in love with a song and be like ‘Oh my god, it’s perfect for this moment’ and then you go on Wikipedia, and it’s been licensed 400 times! That really wasn’t the case 10 years ago.

You have obviously changed a lot, as a person, in 10 years, but so has the industry and your audience… Do you feel WISH I WAS HERE would have been very different if you had made the film immediately after GARDEN STATE?
ZB: I think I had more growing to do. Don’t forget GARDEN STATE was my first film… I find it really funny when people who didn’t like it criticise it so harshly, I’m like ‘I agree with you, it was my first film’. I never said it was a masterpiece, I am thrilled that people liked it like they did; I certainly wasn’t expecting it. It was my very first feature… So I do feel that I grew a lot. I feel that this is a more mature film and a better made film, so I am glad I didn’t get a chance to make it straight after.

What do you hope audiences take from the film?
ZB: You know, my favourite form of going to the movies is I laugh a lot, I feel some emotion and I come away with something. I come away with a feeling. I don’t forget about what I saw by the time I get back to my apartment. So I hope that people go and laugh a lot, and hopefully are moved, and it makes them feel something the next day when they think about it, and ruminate on seeing themselves in the characters. That’s what I hope for, because that’s my favourite kind of film, and I hope people like this film like that.

I read somewhere that you said you became a filmmaker because of Woody Allen, and you mentioned you worked with him recently on BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, how did it feel to be involved with that project?
ZB: It was pretty awesome. To have him choose me to lead in his first big Broadway musical was a real thrill, because bizarrely my first movie… I had a small part in MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY when I was 18 years old. It was really cool; when you not only meet, but then work with your heroes it’s so gratifying, and it feels like you’re on the right track.

You’ve written for theatre – ALL NEW PEOPLE ran in the US and the UK in 2012 – and obviously for film; do you have a favourite?
ZB: They are both so different! It’s like asking if you prefer steak or fish; it depends what mood you’re in! [laughs] Theatre is so gratifying because the audience is there and you have the response, but I did 189 shows in a row… It’s so exhausting, especially a big musical. They all fulfil different parts of me, and I hope I get the chance to keep doing them all.

After just finishing 189 shows on Broadway, I’m sure you’re exhausted, but do you have anything in the pipeline?
ZB: No, I am going to collapse in a heap and weep in the foetal position for the month of October, and then I’m gonna stand up and make something else! [laughs] I dunno what it is yet!

WISH I WAS HERE is released in Irish cinemas on September 19th 2014

Words: Brogen Hayes