Creator Rob Thomas Calls The Veronica Mars Kickstarter Campaign A Guinea Pig For Cult TV Shows

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After the initial success of the Kickstarter campaign for a movie based on the TV show Veronica Mars (with a goal of $2 million, it has currently raised $3.9 million, and there are still 17 days to go), I had a chance to interview the show’s creator Rob Thomas and his agent Julien Thuan about what’s next for the movie, as well as what the campaign’s success means for other TV shows and films.

There’s been some speculation about whether this could change the funding model in Hollywood. Thomas said the campaign should make things easier for people who want to do something similar, but they’re “guinea pigs” for just “a specialized subset of projects” — namely, cult TV shows with a fan base that wants to bring them back.

“Is Veronica Mars destroying the Hollywood business model?” Thomas said. “I don’t think so.”

I’m a fan of Thomas’ work, particularly Veronica Mars and Party Down, both of which were prematurely canceled. When I asked whether Thomas could see himself running a similar campaign for a Party Down movie, he replied that he’s still pursuing a “traditional path” on that front.

“I will say this about the path that we took [on Veronica Mars] – it is labor intensive,” he said. “It took me a year and a half to get to this point. … To pitch a movie to a studio that buys it is clearly the simpler way.”

Thuan told a similar story, saying that Thomas called him up a 18 months ago, reported that he’d heard about crowdfunding, and asked, “Do you think that’s crazy?” Thuan didn’t think it was crazy, and in fact he said the United Talent Agency (where he’s a partner) had been looking for ways to experiment with marrying crowdfunding and “a branded, preexisting property.”

Of course, once they actually decided to put pursue the campaign, they had to put a plan together, get people on-board, figure out the prizes and how to fulfill them, and get approvals from the various departments in Warner Bros. (which owns Veronica Mars).

As for whether Thomas was nervous about the campaign’s success, he said he was “ridiculously confident” until the night before it launched, when he and star Kristen Bell tweeted at each other with hints about their plans. That didn’t seem to start much discussion, prompting Thomas to wonder, “What if it has just been the same 20 fans talking about it all these years, and I’ve allowed them to talk me into this?” (Thuan compared the experience to taking a “a trust fall” into the arms of the show’s fans.)

Naturally, Thomas is relieved that the movie campaign didn’t just reach its goal, but is already exceeding it by a healthy margin. Apparently he outlined the script based on a budget in the $3 to $5 million range, so if he had only raised $2 million, he would have had to cut back.

And yes, there’s been some criticism of the campaign, much of it boiling down to the fact that fans are being asked to bankroll a studio movie – the Kickstarter funding is supposed to cover the production budget, while Warner Bros. handles the marketing and distribution. For example, Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress wrote that she would have been more excited if Thomas was was looking for funding to buy the Veronica Mars rights from Warner Bros.

“It’s not on the table,” Thomas said when I asked if he’d considered that. However, he said that before he reached the current deal, he had initially proposed a more independent production, where the studio would grant him a one-picture license to make the movie on his own. He also noted that without the Kickstarter campaign, the film would not happen, because Warner Bros. doesn’t normally make movies for this small a budget. (My two cents: A certain amount of skepticism is healthy when it comes to the movie studios, but I’m also part of fan communities that have been asking for years to get opportunities like this to support work that they care about, so it’s hard for me not to get excited. And yes, I did back the campaign.)

Finally, I asked Thomas if the movie could lead to sequels. He said he’s trying to have it both ways, writing the script so that it’s a satisfying conclusion to the story, but also leaving the door open for more movies or another TV show: “Spoiler alert: Veronica survives the movie.”