"Veronica Mars" ended its run on TV with the title character walking away into a pouring rain. It was a bleak finale with a tiny cliffhanger: Veronica (Kristen Bell) had basically destroyed her father's chances at being reelected sheriff and their relationship was fractured.
Now, six years later, the character will return in a blaze of glory, thanks to a movie Kickstarter campaign from "Veronica Mars" creator Rob Thomas backed by Bell. The Kickstarter campaign promised a movie reunion would happen if it raised $2 million in 30 days, but fans made that happen in approximately 11 hours, ensuring new life for "Mars."
"It's like nothing else I have ever experienced really," Thomas said in a phone interview with The Huffington Post. "Waking up to 500, 600 emails in my box and then just the phone constantly ringing ... It's great for everything we've been working towards and I just wasn't quite prepared for it."
Since "Veronica Mars" ended in 2007, fans have been clamoring for some kind of continuation. The series was never a ratings winner -- it pulled in around 2 or 3 million viewers during its three-year run -- and was always on the brink of cancellation. When the axe finally dropped, discussion of movies, comic books and all sorts of resolution popped up. Throughout the years, Thomas and Bell were vocal about their desire to do a film, but it was never a sure thing. Fast forward to March 2013 and now "Veronica Mars" is back and its return getting more attention than the show ever received. The "Veronica Mars" movie is scheduled to shoot during the summer of 2013 with an early 2014 release date. Warner Bros. will distribute the movie and pay for certain aspects of the film, but the money raised on Kickstarter -- now over $3.5 million -- will be the film's budget.
Read on for more from Thomas on the whirlwind return of his neo-noir world of Neptune, California, what fans can expect from the film, the hype and fears it brings and more.
It's really happening! Was there ever a point where you gave up hope?
I can't say there were any points where I completely gave up hope. I probably -- in my lowest points -- felt like there was a five percent chance to make it. I never completely lost faith, but there were some bleak moments.
And frankly some bleak ones in the last year. We thought we had set this up for Kristen's hiatus last year for this very same time and Warner Bros., who we had taken it to, had put the brakes on it. I really thought it had died on the vine. I thought that Warner Bros. had decided, "No, it's too risky. We're not going to do it." That's as low as I've ever been and I think it's because we came so close a year ago.
That year turned out to be the best thing that could've ever happened to this project. If we had launched last year, we were not nearly ready for what this is. If I went back and looked at my original rewards chart, knowing what I know now, it would've been very dumb -- some priced too high, some things priced too low; fulfillment costs that would've been over the cost of the product. The year of research, the year of dealing with all the legalities of it have made for a much more professional launch than it would've been a year ago. In hindsight, I'm glad it happened. In hindsight, it was crushing.
Yeah, you guys are pretty good at keeping a secret.
You know what's funny about that? I can't even tell you how close I came to ruining everything because when Warner Bros. put the brakes on it last year. I was so down, I was so low. I thought, "You know what? It seems like we're dead anyway, I'm going to release this video on the Internet and see if there's just enough buzz to make them change their mind." If I had released it out into the world, I do think there would've been some buzz, but I think at the end of the day, it would've pissed people off. Rather than being our happy partners, [Warner Bros.] would've been upset that we tried to embarrass them. I think it would've been a huge mistake. A year ago when I thought all was lost, I came close to pulling the trigger on that.
There have been critics of the campaign because it seems like Warner Bros. is making profit from something they didn't completely fund. Have you been getting any flack or hearing any of that?
Oh yeah, I hear that. First of all, I hope Warner Bros. makes profit on this. If Warner Bros. doesn't make profit, there's never another "Veronica Mars" movie, there's never another movie funded by fans and there aren't anymore of these $3 million, $4 million movies. Don't we all want those? If I could pay to have a "Freaks and Geeks" movie, if I could prove to a studio that they should make it by donating, I would sign up to do that.
The other thing I find when I look at the people who are critical of it, I think they have this perception that Warner Bros. is asking as if they were a charity to donate in order to get this movie made. If you look at what people get for their pledges, they get very fair deals. All we're doing is pre-selling the movie. People get at $35 a copy of the script, a T-shirt and a download of the movie ... I don't feel like it's charity. Warner Bros., first of all, they're going to end up investing a lot of money. They're going to market it, they're going to distribute and, God willing, they're going to make some money on it so we can see some more of these. By the way, the back-end of this movie, it's the same sort of back-end deals that you'd see on any other movie. Kristen and I -- our upfront money -- we're working on the cheap, we're working for scale wages, but we get a piece of the back-end of it. It's not just Warner Bros. taking all the money at the end of it -- they're making the same sort of deals we'd see on any other movie.
I was just going to ask: Are you and Kristen contributing anything or is all the money coming from Kickstarter?
Well, I would say that I spent 1,000 hours in the last year and a half trying to get this made. Hours that I could've been making money elsewhere. I'm directing it for the [Directors] Guild [Of America] minimum, I am writing it for the [Writers] Guild [Of America] minimum, so I feel like I'm pulling my weight on it.
That's something people probably don't realize.
I have a mortgage like anyone else. I have to make some money as well.
You mentioned you hope this leads to another movie ... or possibly a TV revival?
Yeah, I mean I don't think we'd be allowed to do a TV show with "House of Lies" on the air. I think contractually, Kristen Bell could not do two TV shows ... Am I thinking if we do well could there be another "Veronica Mars" movie? Absolutely.
What's Veronica been up to since we last saw her walking into a rainstorm?
And that is the last case that she worked. In the nine years that have taken place in her life since then, she has not worked a case. In fact, she transferred from Hearst College to Stanford and then from Stanford to Columbia Law School and, as we see her again, she's starting to interview for jobs at big law firms in New York. She just got out of Columbia. We learn that not only has she not worked a case since then, she's not seen Logan since then. She's certainly kept up with Wallace [Percy Daggs III] and Mac [Tina Majorino] and she sees her dad [Keith played by Enrico Colantoni] as much as she can, but for the most part, she's put Neptune in the rear view mirror. There's something around page 10 of the movie that's going to bring her back to Neptune. It's like a "Godfather 3" story: No matter how much she thinks she's out, she's going to get pulled back in.
How many stories did you go through before getting to this one with the 10-year reunion storyline?
In terms of fully fleshed out, I've had three different versions of this. There was a version when Joel [Silver, "Veronica Mars" executive producer] first thought there might be an opening at Warner Bros. for a movie done the normal route. It was a couple years after the show went off the air.
There's one which is around Hearst College graduation and I had Keith in prison and Veronica trying to get her dad exonerated for something and a murder happens in Neptune along the lines of the Natalee Holloway style case. It was sort of Natalee Holloway/"Jaws" case because the idea is it happens in Neptune on spring break. At that time -- when it would've been a normal Warner Bros. twentysomething, Joel Silver-backed movie -- I was trying to make it very commercial. You know, twentysomethings on spring break in Neptune and a murder happens.
As we all continued to age, particularly Kristen -- she's the most important one -- I did start fleshing out an idea with Veronica going down that FBI path. As I was breaking that, it became very complicated to have an FBI case back in Neptune and to involve all of our characters. I started feeling like it all strained credulity.
Then this idea that Veronica had walked away from her calling really began to gestate and that's the one I started focusing on and that's the one we're doing. Having Veronica drawn back around the same time as her 10-year high school reunion allowed me a graceful way to include as many of the cast members as possible.
Have you heard from the various co-stars like Tina and Percy?
Oh yeah. I reached out to all of them before we launched. Four of them were in the video, but before we launched, I talked to Francis Capra [Eli "Weevil" Navarro], Percy Daggs, Tina Majorino and Chris Lowell [Stosh "Piz" Piznarski] and told them what we're doing and that I hoped they would be available and excited about it. They certainly all are, but we don't have them in deals yet. We've tried to be very careful on the website not to promise anything we can't deliver, but I have said I want them in there, it's just I can't promise it because contractually no one else is officially in besides Kristen. But I have a lot of confidence that we're going to get them, we're just not there yet.
Right. There seems to be so much goodwill around the project, which is amazing.
Yes, people are coming out of the woodwork and it's been great. There are a lot of people who I've heard from saying, "Hey ... Is there a chance my character is going to be in there?" I've been happy to say yes to the very small of those -- like the very small characters like Corny [Jonathan Chesner], our resident stoner. I plan on putting Corny in the movie. Our Madison Sinclair [Amanda Noret] -- how can we have a 10-year reunion where she wasn't there? So yeah, a lot of the smaller characters will make an appearance.
Do you have any fears? Now that there's so much hype and fans have rallied to make this happen, there must be a whole new level of pressure.
There is and it's terrifying. I will confess that so much of my energy has gone into getting a greenlight on this movie, to getting permission and funding to do this movie that it's taken my attention away from the script and the important creative elements. I've had the outline in place for a long time and I'm working on the script, though I can say not one page got written in this last week.
I think I had to make some critical decisions in how I wanted to make this movie. There would've been versions that may have been hip retellings of "Veronica Mars" that would've been filmically brave and put Veronica in a different world and have, how do I put this, a more grown-up aesthetic. I'm not sure if that's exactly what I want to say. But where I'm landing, particularly with a crowd-sourced, crowd-funded movie, I think what I'm going to do is give the people the what-they-want version. I don't want to say that like I'm not excited about it -- I actually am excited about it. Veronica's going to be in a familiar setting in Neptune and she's going to be around familiar characters and the situations we're developing play on the same comic sensibilities. I do feel a certain amount of responsibility -- because the fans are financing -- that I don't take Veronica Mars in a radically new direction. I don't want to be "Spinal Tap" showing up and doing jazz fusion. [Laughs.] I want to do "Big Bottoms." That's where I landed and I've achieved a comfort level with it and I'm actually pretty excited to do it that way.
Was there any pressure to make it more appealing to the general audience who may not be familiar with the show?
I mean, I am making efforts to bring people quickly up to speed in the movie. I think it's a pretty simple premise. I'm not going to try to introduce the entire mythology. I'm not going to retell the murder of Lily Kane [Amanda Seyfried]. I'm not going to retell Cassidy Casablancas [Kyle Gallner] sending a bus off a cliff. That sort of mythology is going to be unimportant to the movie. I think the important thing to get across quickly in the movie is Veronica Mars was oddly a teenage private eye and now she's grown up. I think for a new audience, that's all they need to know to enjoy the movie as written.
Did you hear from any former CW executives?
I have! I've heard from so many -- I've heard from the Warner Bros. studio execs. When we were originally picked up by UPN, we made it on the air because an executive there, Maggie Murphy, championed it and fought for it. We would not have made it over there if she hadn't put her full weight behind it. I just got the greatest note from her, so unbelievably excited that there was going to be a movie, which was great because the show wouldn't exist without her.
I know I read you heard from Bryan Fuller. Do you think this will help other cult hits find life?
I think that cult hits is exactly what our model works for. I'm not sure how much it works for anything else, but I think it works for, whether it's "Wonderfalls" that he wants to do or if it's "Freaks and Geeks" would be a great example ... although they have so much star power in that movie they could probably get it made without crowd-funding. I think an "Arrested Development" movie could've been done this way without a doubt. I think we're the perfect example of this. I don't think it would work nearly as well with a new product, with something that didn't have a brand identity, something that didn't have built-in fans. I don't think you could start doing this with every movie ...
One of the things I wondered is if a producer optioned a popular property, if there was a book everyone was reading a producer got an option and landed a star and put those two things on the Kickstarter page. You know, "This is the book, this is the star. We want to make this movie and we need to make this much money." I've wondered if people could do that, if that's the next evolution of this. You'd have to have a hook. I could not have launched a Kickstarter project and gotten this money to do something no one had never heard of. "Please finance my new pilot script that you have not read or never seen cast and you don't have an emotional reaction to." That I don't think could have been done.
What do you want to say to the fans?
The first thing I want to say is thank you. You have delivered in a much more massive way than I could have ever imagined. The second thing I'll say about the fans is there was this moment of doubt. Kristen and I both talked about it where, for the last six years, we have felt that the fanbase was out there and still enthusiastic about the show and that we could have success this way, and of course, right before you launch, you have that moment of panic. Like, "Have we just been hearing from the same 20 fans for the last six years? Are there just like 20 of them that are very loud and filling our inboxes and tweeting all the time or is there actually a ground-swell of public support or have we imagined it?" We're so happy that, yeah, it was really there. It did exist, we did not make this up.