Deadline caught up with Veronica Mars creator and executive producer Rob Thomas tonight at the Dolby Theatre before the opening panel of PaleyFest 2014, which celebrated a reunion of the former CW show’s cast prior to tomorrow’s bow of its Warner Bros feature film spinoff. “There’s language in the cast’s deals about a sequel and Kristen Bell and I have talked about it, but it’s all about hitting that magic [revenue] number with box office and VOD,” said Thomas about the franchise’s long-term prospects. Although Thomas – who leaves for Vancouver in 10 days to start production on his CW pilot iZombie — wouldn’t specify what that magic figure is for Veronica Mars to earn a sequel greenlight, speculation is that Warner Bros has built this project to win. In addition its day-and-date VOD release tomorrow, Warner Bros will bow Veronica Mars in 291 theaters and will be content if it generates $1 million in theater ticket sales by Sunday. The studio’s only exposure is in P&A. But even if Veronica Mars falls short, Thomas said: “I wrote the movie in such a way that if we don’t see Veronica Mars again, the audience will be satisfied in a way that Season 3 did not. I wanted to go down swinging on this series.”
Related: PaleyFest 2014 Schedule
A year ago, Veronica Mars became, and still remains, the mother of independent film crowdfunding projects, surpassing its $2 million goal on Kickstarter and earning $5.7 million from nearly 92,000 donations. But Thomas is undecided as to whether he would crowdfund a Veronica Mars sequel. While it was great experiment in rallying the fans, headaches abounded. Thomas had an idea to give out 40 associate producer credits to some of the largest donors, and then fly them to L.A. to see a rough cut of the film and provide notes. “The Producers Guild did not approve,” he said. Another bane has been the cast and Thomas being required to deliver 5,000 autographed movie posters. “It’s been a three-day assignment for us, with nine boxes at Kristen’s house and 10 boxes at actor Ryan [Hansen’s] house,” said Thomas. “I finished my share of poster signing today.”
As for the panel itself, the sold-out crowd was shown a documentary called By the Fans: The Making of Veronica Mars, which recounted the cast’s journey in rallying fans throughout the Kickstarter campaign. Thomas talked about how his initial plan was to launch a Kickstarter for the film in spring 2012 and even shot the pitch video, but then Warner Bros had second thoughts. However, the video started making its rounds throughout the halls of Warner Bros, earning its internal supporters. “We needed to prove there was an audience and someone to finance the film,” Bell said about Thomas’ idea for a crowdfunding campaign. At the time of the campaign, Bell was the only committed actor, and many of the castmembers wondered if they would be in the film at all. Thomas said his challenge with the film entailed fitting these fan-fave characters from Veronica’s teenage life into her adulthood as an attorney.
It was the same type of writer’s block he faced when he shot the Veronica Mars FBI mini-pilot for CW which also was deep-sixed by execs. “There’s always a network president who likes you, but then you meet someone who is more powerful beyond that,” Thomas said onstage. “They looked at the Veronica Mars ratings and thought, ‘What the hell!?’” Joked actor Chris Lowell, who plays Stosh “Piz” Piznarski: “I came to a place that I wouldn’t be in the feature film, and I was getting the cast’s addresses so that I knew where I could send the anthrax. When I was told that I was in the film, I said, ‘Let me guess – my character gets killed.’”
Thomas also told the crowd that Bell was the first actress he saw over a three- to four-week span when he was first auditioning for the pilot. Her performance stuck with him, and he was lucky that the network finally signed off on her as lead. The creator knew he made the right decision during Day 3 of production, when he shot a scene of Veronica Mars waking up the morning after she is raped. “Tears stared running down Kristen’s face, and I’m like, Holy shit — we have a star!”
In terms of where Thomas finally wants to steer the franchise, he added “I would love to do the R-rated version of Veronica Mars. Hopefully people would line up for that. We also thought we could be a very successful low-budget Bond franchise, releasing a new title every two or three years.”
Also sitting on the PaleyFest panel were Jason Dohring (Logan Echolls), Enrico Colantoni (Keith Mars), Ryan Hansen (Dick Casablancas), Francis Capra (Eli Weevil Navarro), Percy Daggs III (Wallace Fennel) and Tina Majorino (Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie).
More on the Veronica Mars movie. Since the Kickstarter, a slew of filmmakers including Zach Braff (Wish I Was Here) and Spike Lee (Da Sweet Blood of Jesus) have vied to emulate the success of the Veronica Mars model, but with diminishing fundraising results. While Braff and Lee beat their goals, respectively raising $3.1 million and $1.4 million for their films, Veronica Mars remains the champ of indie film crowdfunding. Even Captain Phillips producer Dana Brunetti griped at SXSW — where Veronica Mars had its world premiere Saturday — that indie crowdfunding was being misused by celebrities and is taking the wind out of the sails for those smaller projects that truly need funds. “There is just no way that Kristen Bell or I could have funded a Veronica Mars movie – it’s so far outside our income levels,” Thomas told Deadline before the panel. “I always knew that when I pitched the Kickstarter idea to Warner Bros that it would be the guinea pig that would get the lion’s share of attention for better or worse,” he added. “Veronica Mars received a lot of attention for this, and I’m not sure subsequent projects received as much.”
While Thomas’ obligation with the Kickstarter campaign was to greatly please the fans who financed the film, “somewhere down on my list of priorities was making sure that this was a successful model that more filmmakers could follow,” he told Deadline. “The film industry is shrinking, particularly those films with $5 [million] to $10 million budgets, and I hope we influenced more of these types of films being made.”
The planned digital series spinoff of Veronica Mars focusing on Hansen — who plays Dick Casablancas in the film and TV show — is still going forward, with production starting in July after Thomas has finished the iZombie pilot. Originally, the digital series was planned as a marketing tool for the Veronica Mars film. The Hansen spinoff remains a spoof, with the Veronica Mars actors playing parodies of themselves (a la the Kickstarter pitch video). “We’re still negotiating whether it will be eight or 10 episodes, but in total we’re looking at about 60-70 minutes of content,” said Thomas before the panel.