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Movie: 'Garden State'

Zach Braff
Director, Writer, Actor
Monday, July 12, 2004; 12:00 PM

Television viewers know Zach Braff from his starring role on the NBC comedy "Scrubs."

But Braff, 29, has also earned attention for "Garden State," a Sundance Film Festival selection that marks his directorial debut. The movie, which Braff also wrote and stars in, is about a young man who reconnects with friends and himself after returning to his hometown for his mother's funeral.

Zach Braff, director and star of "Garden State."


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View the trailer:"Garden State"

He was online Monday, July 12, at Noon ET, to discuss his movie.

"Garden State," which recently won the award for best feature film in the Maui Film Festival, opens in New York and Los Angeles on July 28 and in select cities, including Washington, on Aug. 6.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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washingtonpost.com: Zach is ready to get started, so let's go.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: This is your directoral debut. How did you prepare to direct? Have you been observing your directors and taking mental notes as an actor? Did you study directing in school? Have you directed plays or short films? Finally, do you prefer directing or acting and would you wish to do both or do you plan to eventually focus on directing?

Zach Braff: First and foremost, I set out to be a filmmaker. I went to film school at Northwestern University, so that's all I ever really wanted to do was make movies. So this is my first chance after "Scrubs" to finally get back to what I set out to do. And I love to do both, so I'm hoping I'll get a chance to do both in the future.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: How did you obtain the material for your movie? I just recall during a relative's funeral not only how surreal the whole event was, but how bizarre people get. What motivated you to choose this as a topic?

Zach Braff: I've been to maybe a dozen funerals in my life and I was always struck by how there'd be all the people mourning the death at the gravesite and 20 yards away, there'd be two guys on a tractor checking their watch. That was always really upsetting to me. It also showed how different two people can be as far as where they are in their minds. So that was one of the seeds for the idea of the movie.

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Walkersville, Md.: I heard you on the Elliot in the Morning show and I understood that you said you would rather make a movie that was "good" than a movie that made money. Knowing that, I was wondering what your future plans for writing and directing were since making something "good" would theoretically take longer than a generic blockbuster.

Zach Braff: I don't think I'll be one of those directors who just makes a movie every year because someone will let him. In order to put all the energy I put into "Garden State" into something else, it would have to be something I was as passionate as about. I'll act in other people's movies of all types, but in terms of things I write and direct it will be things that are really important to me.

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Northeast Washington, D.C.: Zach ... How was it working with M-E-T-H-O-D MAN? Did he invite you to become the 10th member of the Wu-Tang Clan?

Zach Braff: No, unfortunately he didn't. He was very professional and a very nice guy. My producer had produced "How HIgh," which is a very important film so she was able to convince him to come and do a day on our movie.

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Alexandria, Va.: I was very surprised and happy to hear the Postal Service in the trailer for your movie. How did you choose the music for this movie -- is it mainly what you like and listen to yourself or what went with the mood, or both?

Also, I'd just like to say we (my friends and roommie) ADORE you in "Scrubs." Too bad NBC kept changing the time last season -- we couldn't always find it. But it's one of the best shows on right now -- and one of a few for which we purposefully turn the TV on. Innovative and funny shows like yours' is what keep a few of us tuned into TV. (Otherwise we'd keep just watching the news all the time!)

Zach Braff: The music is pretty much my favorite music. I think of it as the music that's been scoring my life for the last five years, so I put it all in there, never really imagining we'd be able to get all those bands to sign up and say yes since we couldn't pay much money. We showed the bands how their song was used and showed them the movie, and one by one they all said yes. And the soundtrack is coming out on Sony Records in early August.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Hi Zach, "Scrubs" is easily the best comedy on TV, the best written since "Sports Night." It's brilliant, inspired lunacy and I hope NBC does right by the fans and the show's around for a while.
I'm looking forward to "Garden State." How tough or easy was it for you to get this made and attract the likes of Natalie Portman and Peter Sarsgaard? How big an advantage was it for you being already established in the business? With all the rules about unsolicited scripts, could a novice writer with no industry connections have gotten his script to those actors and gotten the film made?

Zach Braff: "Scrubs" was helpful. First of all, thank you for saying all those nice things. "Scrubs" was beneficial indirectly. When I got "Scrubs," I signed with CAA, which is a really powerful agency in Hollywood. And they were really helpful in getting the script out there to people. I had imagined that being the guy on "Scrubs" would have enabled me to get financing more easily than I actually did. I had Danny DeVito producing and Natalie Portman starring and still was unable to secure financing until the very last second. The movie didn't follow a traditional three-act structure. And the people at the studios had lots of notes of things that they wanted to do with the movie that I didn't agree with, and I held strong. I eventually found one guy who said if I could get the budget low enough he would finance the film out of his pocket, and that's what he did.

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Washington, D.C.: Is this screenplay/film based on the Rick Moody book of the same name?

Zach Braff: No. "Garden State" is a nickname for New Jersey and I think we both used that.

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Encinitas, Calif.: Could you give us a sample of some of your all-time favorite movies, films that you can watch over and over again?

Zach Braff: "Annie Hall," "Harold and Maude," "Good Fellas," "Glengarry Glenn Ross," "You Can Count on Me," "American Beauty," "Election." And ... well ... "B.A.P.S."

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San Diego, Calif.: When you wrote the part of Sam (played by Natalie Portman), did you have an idea of who you wanted to cast for that role?

Zach Braff: I daydreamed that it would be Natalie. I just never kidded myself to actually believe that she would say yes. I had never met her. We'd both done Shakespeare in the Park in New York City, I wrote her a letter while we were doing "Twelfth Night." We had coincidentally gone to the same theater camp when we were kids though not at the same time. I knew her manager really loved the script, so it was a combination of those things that got her to read it. She really responded to it. We met and had lunch and she called her agent on the way home from lunch and she said she wanted to do it.

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Washington, D.C.: Your character on "Scrubs" is so adorable! Are you that dorky/ uncoordinated in person? Are you as witty in person?

Zach Braff: I always say that acting is like turning up the volume on different parts of your personality. So playing J.D. is just cranking the silly, goofy, neurotic parts of myself. But witty, yes.

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm looking forward to seeing "Garden State." When you write, direct and act in a movie, do you find it a challenge to remain objective? Is there an "editor" or some other person who can tell you "Hey, this scene just is not working" when you believe it does? Obviously as director in the end it's your vision that counts, just wondered if you sought out objective criticism along the way.

Zach Braff: Anyone who objected to anything I was doing was immediately fired. Not only were they fired, first they were humiliated in front of the crew for having bad ideas.
No, of course, I surrounded myself with really great producers and a stellar crew and I was open to input from all people. Ultimately, you have to be the one who makes the decisions. I had a really solid support team who would always give me their two cents.

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Washington, D.C.: How much of "Garden State" is autobiographical? And of the final cut now onscreen, how closely does it compare with your first drafts from years ago?

And are you using your childhood experiences to help you write "Andrew Henry's Meadow"?

How can I get passes to tonight's screening of "Garden State"?

Zach Braff: As far as tonight's screening, you can just show up and try to get in. But show up early. It's at the Landmark E Street Cinema at 7:30 p.m. I'll be there doing a Q and A afterwards.
There's large pieces of it that are autobiographical. I think more the character is me, then necessarily the exact story points. The movie's a lot shorter. We shot everything I wrote. I cut 45 minutes out of the movie, which makes for a really juicy DVD.

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Rosslyn, Va.: I know it's a bit early -- I haven't even seen the movie yet -- but any idea what extras the DVD will have or when it'll be out?

Zach Braff: The DVD's going to have a lot of deleted scenes. A lot of outtakes, like mess-ups. It will have behind-the-scenes interviews with Natalie and the rest of the cast. It will have two different commentary tracks, one with Natalie, Peter and myself, and the other with the cinematographer, the production designer and the editor.

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Pittsford, N.Y.: My friends and I love "Scrubs." Will your experiences with "Garden State" change how you view the show/play JD?

Zach Braff: No. I mean, it won't change how I view the show. I love doing the show. It shows that I'll be able to do things other than "Scrubs." I'd like to be able to do a range of things. The response to this is showing me I'll have a chance to do other things as well. I'm only on "Scrubs" for two more years.

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Chula Vista, Calif.: How long did it take you to write "Garden State?" Is it the first script that you've ever written, and will you continue to write screenplays? Thanks and I hope your film does really well!

Zach Braff: It is the first script I've ever written. I had collected the stories and written pieces of it over the years. But I really sat down and hardcore wrote it intensively for about four months.

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Rochester, N.Y.: Hi Zach! I'm addicted to "Scrubs" and am wondering if it's going to come out on DVD. Do you know if it will? Also, I read that you want to direct other peoples' work. Would you be interested in directing the fifth, sixth or seventh "Harry Potter" films? I think you'd be great at it! You + JKR = one super-quirky movie.

Zach Braff: Thank you very much for that compliment. The problem right now with "Scrubs" is I have five months off a year, so I can only do movies of a smaller scale. That would be a big challenge, it takes way more time. There will be a "Scrubs" DVD. As I understand it, they're waiting to sell the show into syndication. We're hoping that happens this year. Most people don't realize that "Scrubs" is owned by Touchstone Television, which is Disney, but it's played on NBC. Since ABC passed on "Scrubs," NBC bought it. It just adds a little bit of politics to our show, so that affects things like timeslots and DVDs.

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Arlington, VA: Just wanted to compliment you on your sense of comedic timing - it's the main reason to watch "Scrubs!"; How did you develop this talent? Has it changed since you began the show?

Looking forward to the movie.

Zach Braff: I went to what's called the "Three's Company" school of acting. I just watched every episode of "Three's Company" and every episode of "Gilligan's Island."
So that's it. Please go see the movie. I'm giving everyone reading this a money-back guarantee. If by some crazy, crazy chance you didn't like the movie, write to The Washington Post and tell them Zach said you'd give me my money back.

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washingtonpost.com: Unfortunately, Zach's on a very tight schedule today and couldn't get to everyone's questions. He thanks all of you for participating in the discussion.

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