Zach Braff has been spending more time behind the camera these days than in front of it. He’s currently preparing to direct the bank heist movie, Going in Style. That comes on the heels of the drama, Wish I Was Here, which raised $3.1 million through Kickstarter. He also served as producer of the recent documentary, Video Games: The Movie, which is now available on DVD.
We caught up with Braff at the E3 video game convention, which he attended in part to check out the latest games from Activision, including Bungie’s Destiny: The Taken King. He’s been a lifelong gamer, dating back to the Atari 2600.
“I was the kid in the mall with all the quarters playing Spy Hunter and 720, the skateboarding game,”
“I remember getting the Atari 2600 and I’ll never stop laughing at the fact that I turned to my brother and couldn’t believe how great the graphics looked,” said Braff. “You walk around E3 now and you play a game like Destiny and you’re like, ‘Holy F’ng Sh#t!’ It’s amazing. I really appreciate the artistry that goes into what these games look like these days.”
Braff had every console growing up. All he ever wanted for the holidays was the latest console, whether it was ColecoVision or the NES.
“I was the kid in the mall with all the quarters playing Spy Hunter and 720, the skateboarding game,” said Braff. “Then I got into Sierra computer games like Police Quest and Space Quest. I loved those. Then it was Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, and eventually Hitman, Grand Theft Auto, and Halo. But Destiny’s my first foray into playing these games where you can play with your friends and go on missions together.”
Braff said on the set of the 2006 film, The Last Kiss, all the actors would meet during down time and play Halo and try to kill each other. They’d play quad-screen Halo on one TV and spend the time just “laughing our butts off killing each other.” As Braff says, Destiny is in many ways the 2015 version of that experience.
“One thing Bungie did that was really smart is you can choose to talk to people or not talk to people online,” said Braff. “So if you’re someone that doesn’t want to deal with how rude some people can be when they talk online … there are so many options in this game. You can go on missions together or you can just play Capture the Flag and really hone your own character. People really appreciate now in gaming making their character an expression of themselves.”
“I can’t believe where the storytelling is…I was playing Destiny and I was on the edge of my seat.”
Braff explored the growth of storytelling and immersion in games like Destiny through Video Games: The Movie, which was directed by Jeremy Snead.
“I can’t believe where the storytelling is,” said Braff. “I was playing Destiny and I was on the edge of my seat. I was nervous because I was hiding behind a rock and this guy is trying to kill me and I genuinely feel my heart racing, and it’s because of the level of the storytelling. You’re so invested in the cause and it’s very impressive.”
That storytelling has opened the door for actors like Kevin Spacey, Sam Worthington, and Bill Paxton to work on Call of Duty games. It’s something Braff is hoping to delve deeper into as well.
“One of the reasons I’m here with Activision is because I want to be in one of these games,” said Braff. “I’ve only been in one video game so far, and it was the Chicken Little video game because I was the voice of Chicken Little in the (Disney) movie. I have really funny memories of my brother telling me, ‘I am going to kill you because my son won’t stop playing that game and all I hear is your voice over and over again saying ‘Come on, guys.’”
“I would love to be in [another] game. I know that Peter Dinklage worked on Destiny, but I would have loved to have done that. I do a lot of voiceover stuff and I would love to be in a cool video game, especially one like Destiny which is the hot game everybody is talking about.”
Braff said he’d even take the time to do full performance capture, which Activision and other publishers are using as the norm for most big games these days.
“I would totally do that,” said Braff. “I think it’s fun. It’s such an art form in and of itself now and I’d love to collaborate with them.”
With many games heading to the big screen, including this summer’s Hitman: Agent 47 and next summer’s Warcraft, Braff put on his director’s hat at E3 as he looked into Destiny.
“There’s no chance that someone’s not going to make (a Destiny) movie,”
“There’s no chance that someone’s not going to make this movie,” said Braff. “It’s not really my forte because you need an amazing sci-fi epic $200 million movie director, maybe Colin Trevorrow, the guy who just did Jurassic World could tackle it because he obviously did a good job with that film. But it’s a bit above my pay grade as a filmmaker, at least for now.”
Braff is looking forward to directing his first big studio movie, Going in Style, which stars Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Alan Arkin.
“It’s a remake of the George Burns movie, but there’s not this level of sci-fi that Destiny would require,” said Braff. “I think I have to practice that.”
He’s also going to spend time “practicing” within Destiny, a game that he is now hooked on. Whether his time with Activision will result in an acting gig in Destiny sequels, or some other game in the future remains to be seen. But with the size of video game casts growing, we could see a virtual Braff in the coming years. And you may even bump into him online playing Destiny — though he may not want to talk to you while he’s doing it.