VERONICA MARS Creator and Director Rob Thomas Talks about the Kickstarter Campaign, Studio Involvement, Season 4, and More

     March 14, 2014


After a seven-year absence, private investigator Veronica Mars has returned, and she’s come to the big screen with the help of a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign.  In the film, Veronica (Kristen Bell) has come back to her seedy hometown of Neptune to help her old flame Logan (Jason Dohring), who has become the prime suspect in the homicide of his celebrity girlfriend.  The film also stars Enrico Colantoni, Chris Lowell, Percy Daggs III, Francis Capra, Ryan Hansen, Tina Majorino, Martin Starr, and Krysten Ritter.

At the film’s press junket last week, I got to talk with creator and director Rob Thomas, and even though we spoke for 18 minutes, I wish we had more time since there was so much to discuss.  However, during our conversation, we did get to go in depth on the movie’s Kickstarter campaign, the behind-the-scenes logistics, the studio’s involvement in the process, and more.  We also talked about the actual movie, translating the plans for the fourth season in a feature, and Veronica’s “addiction”.  Hit the jump to check out the Rob Thomas interview.  Veronica Mars is now in theaters and available on VOD and Blu-ray.  Click here to read my review.

veronica-mars-posterI know you’ve been asked about Kickstarter all day, but I have my questions as well.

ROB THOMAS: No, please do.

One of the things that was on my mind when it was first announced was how were you going to deal with things that I don’t think people would normally think of like unions, the rewards and different aspects of production.

THOMAS: It would have been a clusterfuck had I- I guess I could rephrase.

Swear all you fucking want, we don’t give a shit.

THOMAS: [Laughs] Alright, good.  Initially when I went to Warner Brothers we were very close to launching a year earlier than we did and I’d come up with this list of rewards, and we were in a rush, we wanted to be launching by SXSW.  I live in Austin, all the press would be there, it felt like it would be a good time to go, but had we launched at that point, the rewards had not been properly vetted, we had not talked to unions, and I had stupid shit on there.  I mean, things that I was excited about, things that I thought would have been cool rewards, but that would have gotten us into deep trouble.  One of them was offering them Associate Producer credit at a certain price level, and I can’t remember what it was, I think it was a pretty high price level, like three or four thousand dollars, and I was going to limit it to forty, but that’s still a lot of associate producers.  But I thought it would be cool and it wasn’t just an honorary title.  My plan was to have the test screening with all of our associate producers, they would have done the survey, I would have gotten notes from them.  So I was going to take it seriously, but in retrospect the Producers Guild would not have been happy with me for that. 

And then even stuff like the Kickstarter extras, which we did do, but we had to be really educated on that.  I thought we could bring those Kickstarter extras in any day, but the truth is the union rules were that we had to have the first, I want to say fifty-five extras be normal, paid SAG extras and then after that number we could bring in the Kickstarter backers.  So initially I thought they could come on almost any day in production, but it turned out there were only four or five days during our production where we could have them- like the reunion scene, the airport scene, the Santa Monica pier scene where we would have more extras than that.  What else with the union stuff?  There were a bunch of them.  Our ten thousand dollar line, we had to pay a penalty for that, but even still for the promotional value of having that one line- I mean so many people wrote about it.  Then the guy who won it was in Canada and didn’t have a work visa to work down here, so we had to film a piece in Canada.  So I had imagined a restaurant scene where he said “Check, sir?” Have you seen the movie?

veronica-mars-movie-rob-thomas-kristen-bell-ryan-hansenI have, I saw it last night.

THOMAS: So instead he was the guy who introduced James Franco.  Something like, “Let’s get weird” shot on a green screen so we could just throw anything against it, because we had no other way.  And then also, other projects might- like most normal Kickstarter projects if you were going to ship something internationally the person would say “Send $10 extra if you’re international.” Warner Brothers doing it officially- and I could have never done this on my own, every country has a different tax code, every country has a different way of doing that and Warner Brothers was going to follow the rules and report it accurately, so hurdles that other smaller projects might not face, we had to face them.  I could not have done it without Warner Brothers to the scale that we have done it.  I mean, if we were a little guerilla outfit, maybe, but with it being a Warner Brothers property everything was incredibly by the books, so being able to lean on their legal department, their marketing department was great.  Additionally, most Warner Brothers movies go through Warner Theatrical and that’s their big division.  We would have been by far the smallest movie Warner Theatrical ever did, but we weren’t, we  went through Warner Digital and we were the biggest movie that Warner Digital has ever done.  So it was great, we were like the World War Z of Warner Digital. 

But without the behind the scenes tension.

THOMAS: Yes! They were so good to us.  Yeah, it has been just the best working relationship.  They have made this feel special the whole way through.

That’s one of the things I wanted to ask you about.  If you have this 5.7 million on Kickstarter, percentage wise how much of that went into production?  Because I assume that’s not going into P & A.  What were they handling on that front?  And what were the discussions on “How are we going to advertise this?  How are we going to roll this out?”

THOMAS: To be honest, there are some of those conversations that I’m not privy to in terms of how exactly they allocated the money, the thing that I will say is that we raised 5.7 million and our budget was 5.7 million.  For Warner Brothers, the cost of fulfillment on all of our rewards, I’ll bet it’s 40% of what we raised on Kickstarter.I mean that is a huge number to ship all those-

So they’re putting in an extra 40% of it.

THOMAS: Yeah, so I read in some blogs that Warner Brothers was getting a free movie out of this and that’s not even close to true.  Yes, the Kickstarter deferred a big percentage of it, but Warner Brothers is spending millions on Veronica Mars.

veronica-mars-movie-rob-thomasNow, because you’re sort of this trailblazer in this and everyone kind of looks to Veronica Mars are you worried about abuse in the system?  For Veronica Mars, it’s a scrappy film, you tried so many other ways to get it back, but for let’s say a blockbuster film where they might try to defer cost by saying “We’ll send you a $10 dollar tee-shirt if you send us $30 for a film that we’re going to make for 200 million anyway”.

THOMAS: Right, it’s an interesting thought, like if they were going to do Batman, I mean that’s a really interesting question.  I don’t know if people would revolt if that were the case.  The thing I would say about Kickstarter and the potential for abuse, at the end of the day I feel like we as consumers or backers get to make the call on each project, and each one of them presents its own little- this may be the wrong word, but moral quandary at its core.  Zach Braff got a lot of blowback on his, but looking at it I felt like he was very honest with the way he presented it.  He said, “What I want with this few million dollars is the ability to control casting of this.” I thought the rewards were great, I thought the project page was great, they obviously took it very seriously, and for the people who signed aboard that, that was there choice to make.  So the people grousing about, “These are rich actors”, well you had the ability to factor that in when you either gave or didn’t give to the project.  You made your decision.  Why begrudge others having the choice to either back or don’t, as long as their honest with it?  I would be totally fine, just for another example, if say I was not doing this with Warner Brothers, this was just all me, I was going to adapt my first novel into a script and I needed a couple million dollars, but I needed a fulfillment cost of only ten percent or something, and I went to the fans and I gave little cheap rewards like, a four dollar tote bag for a hundred dollar donation, but it was all on me.  I would see nothing wrong with that if you’re telling the people what they’re going to get and you need that kind of profit margin to get the film made, you’re honest about it.  I don’t think- if Veronica Mars, with the backing of Warner Brothers, offered shitty rewards at high prices, if it had been perceived as Warner Brothers holding Veronica Mars hostage and really sticking it to fans, that would have been uncomfortable, but I can look at thirty-five dollars for a script, tee-shirt and download, I feel like it’s fair.  I feel like it’s a reasonable cost for that.  So I feel like each Kickstarter project has its own little moral decision, your own decision as fan, of does that feel good if I give money to it?  I think by and large if you look at the ones that were successful and the ones that have failed in the wake of Veronica Mars, I feel like the ones that failed were the ones you could kind of tell were bullshit; people who didn’t have it thought out, who didn’t put much energy in it, it felt false in some way.  So yeah, I think its either inherently good or inherently bad.

Okay, we’ve been talking about Kickstarter a lot, I actually do want to talk about the film.

THOMAS: Ok, yes, nice!

veronica-mars-kristen-bellSo one of the interesting things was that when season four was speculated there was the idea of making her an FBI agent and I was wondering when did the idea come to in fact make her a lawyer for the film?

THOMAS: That was really in the last year.  I knew, and you’ve seen the movie now, I kind of started with the ending of the movie, Veronica sitting in her dad’s desk sort of accepting the mantle of “this is what I was born to do, this is the thing that gives me self-worth”, so working backwards from there what I wanted to give her was the hard choice.  I wanted to give her the “dream job”, and yet I would have felt silly if it were so far away from anything that Veronica had ever shown any interest in, but I could believe her as a lawyer.  She’s a smart girl and that would have been viewed as success in so many ways.  And even in the series she talked about getting the hell out of Neptune, so the ides that she’s in Manhattan, she’s about to be a fancy lawyer and then she’s with nice-guy Piz.  At the end I didn’t want an easy choice.  And even in the Piz breakup scene there were questions from various- even Kristen said Chris Lowell is too good in that scene, he breaks your heart a little too much, but I want that discomfort, because it’s noir I want the ending to be bitter sweet.  I want to feel what she’s giving up.  So lawyer felt like the right thing that would use a lot of Veronica’s smarts and talent and would be a hard job to give up.  You’ve trained for it.  She had to go through a ton of school, wrack up a ton of student debt.  It needed to be painful to give up.  There were versions earlier on where I had her having not been successful and working in a camera repair store.  There were all sorts of weird ideas where she had never found her footing, but then going back to being a detective would have felt like an easier upgrade.  Going back to a cheap office in the wrong side of town in a corrupt town as a PI, I wanted it to feel like she was giving up a better life for that. 

So this is about her addiction, she has this addiction, do you feel like because of this addiction that she’s also pulling away from her maturity in this film?

THOMAS: [Pauses] Huh…that’s an interesting thought.  I do think that Keith would feel that, that Keith would not endorse the decision, and he certainly does not endorse it.  I think that’s one of the hardest things for Veronica to get past.  It’s okay to leave the lawyer game maybe for her, but to disappoint her dad I think is the hardest thing that she has to face.  I’ve never looked at it as an immature decision.  I think where we ended up with the whole addiction throughline was that idea of acceptance, and that fight it as much as she could over the course of the past seven years eventually, like a moth to flame, Veronica can’t shut out this thing that tends to upturn her life, and if we get to do more will continue to upturn her life. 

veronica-mars-kristen-bell-set-imageIs there the thought, because the seeds are there, is there sort of a future?

THOMAS: I hope, in success.  If the movie comes out and fizzles away, then probably not, but if it comes out and does very well- and I’m talking about very well by modest standards, it’s not like we have to do 100 million dollars to be a success with this movie, but if we come out and are deemed a success then we would love to do more.  I know Kristen and I have both said we’re on board if the opportunity presents itself.

Success is so much about perception and one of the issues here is you’re getting a theatrical release, but you’re also getting a VOD release and it’s tough to know those numbers, are people going to have any way to figure out if it’s a VOD success and incorporate that?

THOMAS: Yeah, it will absolutely be incorporated and this movie more than others, I think, because we have both of them happening simultaneously.  I mean there are certainly benchmarks I know in theatrical that I don’t quite know on the VOD side.  But I think people are optimistic that we’ll do well.  In my sense, my hope is that the Veronica Mars fans are the ones who will make it to theaters and who will drag friends and boyfriends and girlfriends, and that those people- sort of the non-fans who just heard all the hype and buzz over the last year, will be intrigued enough to go the VOD route.

If you do a sequel will you go back to Kickstarter for it?

THOMAS: I don’t- and this is a genuine answer, I don’t know.  In my fantasy of going back to Kickstarter I would do with a one dollar goal and just see who shows up.  So there’s no sense that we’re hitting up fans.  It’s more about- because I do think the 91,000 people who were Kickstarter backers, I want to believe and I tend to believe that they enjoyed the experience of being along for the ride, getting the backer updates.  So I would be intrigued by doing it- I think it was also great for us promotionally and I think it could be an interesting test case to see with a one dollar buy in who would show up.  I think we would be fine either way, but that’s the idea that keeps coming back. 

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