They funded his movie in three days.
Zach Braff wanted creative control of the follow-up to his hit independent film, “Garden State“. According to Zach Braff’s Kickstarter campaign, a traditional financing deal requires compromises on casting, location, and budget. To support his vision, Braff decided to try crowdfunding. “Wish I Was Here” launched April 24. Three days later, funding surpassed the $2 million goal.
We could focus on the intent of Kickstarter and the ethics of a celebrity drawing from that limited pool; the points of interest and controversy related to this story run the spectrum. We’d like to try another focus: What is it about Zach Braff that made this happen?
This campaign did not succeed solely on the strength of Braff’s reputation as the star of Scrubs, as the director of Garden State, nor on the strength of the “Wish I Was Here” script and character design. This campaign relied on the strength of Braff’s reputation with his fans.
Zach Braff developed a comfort with digital media and social networks. The fans backed his movie because he is a real person to them. He never link-dumps promotional material and disappears on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit. He takes an active role soliciting suggestions, joking, and surprising fans with comments in threads that have nothing to do with his work.
Let’s focus on Reddit in particular for a moment. Redditors are a huge, web-savvy group with a history of organizing support if a project or cause catches their attention. Zach Braff participates on Reddit. Funding for his Kickstarter must have been automatic, right? Not exactly. If Braff had shown up for a one-time AMA (here’s one he did) and proposed a major Kickstarter campaign without spending a day as part of the larger community, they would have downvoted, mocked, and showered him with “I am disappoint” image macros. No matter how fondly they remember his role as J.D., Redditors do not care for celebrity opportunism. Ask Morgan Freeman.
Braff spent months posting on Reddit until he picked up the culture, giving the community a few moments to relish along the way, like when he responded to a post that submitted his own name as an asshole celebrity. You can see the same comfort level on the Kickstarter page. The short video, writing, and images are perfect because they’re endearing with a clear goal. Braff knows how to signal his intentions with an air of openness and authenticity through social channels.
Can we put a $2 million price tag on the ability to connect with online communities? We don’t all wield celebrity clout, but this project demonstrates the undeniable power of digital literacy. Could the ability to interact with web communities on their own terms be the latest critical interpersonal skill?