‘Veronica Mars’ creator Rob Thomas talks from the movie set

Senior Television Writer
02.21.14 2 Comments

Warner Bros.

Day 3 of the “Veronica Mars” movie shoot found Rob Thomas battling mixed emotions. On the one hand, he was directing this improbable project, which had been funded by a groundbreaking Kickstarter campaign that brought his detective character back to life six years after the CW canceled the TV series, and on this day in June was going to be filming Kristen Bell in a variety of iconic Veronica shots as she took surveillance photos of the apartment of Gia Goodman (Krysten Ritter, one of many alums of the series to return for the movie). On the other hand, he was still reeling from the previous night”s NBA Finals Game 6, where his beloved San Antonio Spurs blew a championship-winning game in the closing moments(*).
(*) Despite my reassuring words to Thomas below, the Spurs would go on to lose Game 7 as well, and the title.
As I sat down with Thomas in his production trailer to discuss what it felt like now that the movie was a reality (it will be released on March 14), he was first distracted by thoughts of Spurs-Heat.
So third day, how are you feeling?
Rob Thomas: Great, with the exception that my life ended last night when the Spurs lost.
I’m sorry.
Rob Thomas: We were at lunch, which for this production wound up being 8:00 last night, and going down the elevator back to base camp, the Spurs took the lead. We were up five inside of a minute. I was already allowing myself to celebrate. There’s never been a more painful loss that I have witnessed. Literally I just kept hitting refresh on my phone. I was obliterated. I had to leave lunch. I had to go back and just sit in the empty set and try to gather myself to direct the second half of the night. I live and die with the Spurs. And to be seconds away from an improbable championship – I’m wrecked.
One, it’s not over yet; the entire series has gone back and forth. No one has won two in a row. And two, you’re filming the “Veronica Mars” movie, man.
Rob Thomas: I know. And I am thrilled about that. And yesterday was a great day. It was a great day. The first day was the usual first day; everyone meeting each other and you’re thrown right into battle and it’s always a little challenging. And then yesterday we wrapped early; I was thrilled with material.   Yesterday was a pretty seamless so I’m hoping that we roll off a few more of those days. When you build a schedule, I think it”s always good for the director to line up a bunch of the easy days first. For me and what I’m used to and where my comfort zone is, it’s like, ‘Let’s have dialogue scenes with Veronica and Keith. Let’s have our go-to actors and two people talking scenes. That I can do.” But we shoot the climax of the movie tomorrow night and that’s complicated. And then we shoot the reunion scenes, which are long and complicated and fight scenes and it gets outside of my comfort zone on directing and what I’ve done before and understanding special effects.
What was the first shot on Monday?
Rob Thomas: The first shot on Monday was drunk Canadians singing the Canadian National Anthem at karaoke. Because initially it was supposed to be “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks, but that would cost us half the budget of the movie. So we went with the public domain song “O Canada.” And then it became actually funny to me. It allowed me to make a Terrance and Phillip joke. If I’m going to save some money, the karaoke intro to that scene was a good place to do it.
 
I suppose you could have reopened the Kickstarter to pay for the song.
Rob Thomas: I know. I spoke at the new ATX Festival, and a lot of questions were on “What were you able to do?” and “Where did you have to make compromises?” And I said one of the things that I just lost that I’d been hoping to do was I really wanted it raining when Veronica returned to Neptune. And she arrived in sort of a municipal airport thing, soft of like a Palm Springsie style airport. And it would play off of the last shot of the series, with Veronica in the rain, and I wanted her to step back into it, and at a certain point try to make budget work. We saved $35,000 by not having the rain shots that I wanted.   And the moderator at the panel was like, “Would you like us to pass a hat?,” which was a pretty funny moment.
At this point it’s this great story, but is there any way in which it becomes a burden? Like everyone’s thinking, “You raised all this money from the people, we expect so much”?
Rob Thomas: There’s some of that. The example that I’ve used so much in talking about the movie, just because it gets into the specifics about shooting hours and cost, is this reunion brawl. I jokingly said if we just climb over the $2 million mark, it will be terse words are exchanged at the reunion. And if we go over that, we’ll actually have a brawl. And we are going to have a brawl, but at the same time, you know, when they shoot fight scenes in “The Matrix,” they’re shooting those over weeks. They’re shooting a half page a day on those. We are going to shoot a brawl in about five/six hours. So it will look more like – the prototype I’m using is like the brawl from “Mean Streets.” There will be a lot of grappling and people jumping in and wild punches, but it won’t look like ballet. It won’t have that sort of every punch choreographed.

Who’s worked so far?
Rob Thomas: Kristen and Jason have worked in terms of our series regulars.
Jamie Lee Curtis worked yesterday. She was fantastic. And we”ve had Krysten Ritter and Martin Starr.
That’s nice, you have worlds colliding here from “Party Down.”
Rob Thomas: Yeah, I got an email from Lizzy Caplan saying, “What the fuck, Martin’s in the movie?”
I’m assuming he and Ken (Marino) don’t cross paths as any point?
Rob Thomas: They do not but he and Ryan Hansen do. And they’re right next to each other in a scene, and yet there was no reason for them to say anything to each other, and yet since casting Martin I have wanted to find something in that moment. 
So, is it like riding a bike in terms of A, writing for these characters and B, working with Kristen and Jason and everybody else?
Rob Thomas: Working with Kristen and Jason has been easy and great. But the first shot of both days – as a guy who normally writes, and directing is not the thing I usually do – I have embarrassed myself by calling action before they had done the sticks on it. Just like the most sort of humiliating rube neophyte move. 
Does it feel to you like this is “Veronica Mars” at this point?
Rob Thomas: Oh yeah. We shot a Veronica/Logan scene yesterday, and it just felt very abnormally natural that those seven years just contracted and here we are again making more of “Veronica Mars.”
Have you had to pinch yourself or any other cliché along those lines?
Rob Thomas: Yes. This morning, I was walking to my car, I’m the only one here, other than the transpo guys and the security guys. And I’m walking back out to my car and the security guy says, “Oh man, this is so unprofessional and I hate to ask you this, but there are people standing at the gate who want to meet you.” And I went over there and there were five “Veronica Mars” fans who are scouring the daily film sites. And a couple of them were from I want to say Pennsylvania. And I said, “You didn’t come in just for this?” And they said, “Well, not exactly, but it was part of it.” And that feels very different. And that happened on day one as well. People had scouted out and were there with cameras and wanted to take pictures.
Just of people coming into the parking lot?
Rob Thomas: Yeah, I don’t know, it feels like the thing you read about with movies with stars in them. Like, Gwyneth Paltrow has this happen to her and it feels very weird for me.
How different is it writing for adult versions of these characters? They had already been in the college, and you did the FBI presentation but not this.
Rob Thomas: When I wrote my first novel, “Rats Saw God, it was about an 18-year-old, but I wrote it when I was 28 and I thought the people who will read this are going to be my friends and peers, fellow 28-year-old musician types living in Austin. And so I wrote it without thinking, ‘What does a teen audience want?” I wrote it with my own aesthetic and I was surprised when Simon and Schuster bought it as a young adult novel given the sex and the drugs and the language. I wasn’t sure that’s what I was doing. And so throughout “Veronica Mars,” I just tried to write it with my own aesthetic and never think, “What do the kids like?”  And so writing Veronica at 28, I didn’t even know if it felt different to me then writing her at 17.
But has Dick grown up? Has anyone become significantly different? When I went to my 10-year reunion, some people were the same and some were not at all.
Rob Thomas: Well, I think Logan, more than anyone, has grown up. He has a big problem related to his current girlfriend, which is the reason Veronica comes back to Neptune, but even in that particular relationship that he’s in, Logan is the clean and sober one trying to rescue someone else in that situation. And then Veronica I think we’re playing her as someone who has seemingly got her shit together. She hasn’t worked a case since the last one we saw. After season 3 she transferred away, she put the PI stuff in her rear view mirror. As we meet her in New York, in the opening, Jamie Lee Curtis is interviewing her for a job at this law firm and she is so close to this new life she can taste it. And with the arc of the movie, there’s all sorts of things that I think about in terms of a fan-funded movie and who am I disappointing now in making this choice and that choice? The one thing I am confident about is the big Veronica arc of the movie. If there’s a common thread between “Veronica Mars” fans and even myself, I think we’re all going to be pleased where that journey takes us. Everyone may not agree on the bumps in the road on the way there, but I think where Veronica starts and where she ends, that I have a lot of confidence in.
This makes me think of the finale of the series, which I think is fantastic and I know other people do. But there are a lot of fans who were not happy. They didn’t want the unhappy ending, they did not want the noir ending, even though it was the noir show. So you’ve said once you reached a certain point in the process, ‘I want to make the movie for the fans.” But there are different fans with different expectations of the show. Your own inner guide, as demonstrated in that series finale, often goes wildly away from what they want. So how do you balance that in what you’re doing here?
Rob Thomas: I’m excited about the ending of the movie. And I think it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it is not the “Wayne’s World” total happy ending where they get everything they want. They win the talent show and get the girl. It’s noir and you’re not going to get everything you want. How do I put this? I think that the journey where Veronica is at the end of the movie will make fans happy, and yet she doesn’t get everything. Not everything turns out good for her at the end. There is a bittersweetness to the ending, but it will not be like the end of season 3, which I think leaves you hanging that does have sort of an intentionally unsatisfying quality to it. I am actually trying to satisfy people, but it’s not the big happy Hollywood ending.

This seems like a crazy question to ask except in light of how much money you guys made in a few weeks: Is this going to be the last Veronica story or are you planning for more if this is as successful as you hope it is?
Rob Thomas: Yes, I would love to do more Veronica. The world domination plan goal is that I would love Veronica Mars to become a brand like Sherlock Holmes is a brand, like Nancy Drew in a way is a brand. When people start listing who are the great fictional detectives, I want Veronica Mars to make that list. That would be the dream scenario. There’s going to be a book series of Veronica Mars with her at 28 that sort of picks up where the movie ends.
And this would not have happened if the movie had not come into existence?
Rob Thomas: No, no. I had investigated book series before the Kickstarter drive and did not get a ton of interest; there was a little bit of interest. But once we did that I started getting all these messages from publishers wanting to do it. I have interest from comic book people.
You had talked to a lot of the people involved in the show before this, you shot the Kickstarter video with Kristen and Ryan and the others. Between when the Kickstarter started and now, what kind of communications have you been having with the actors, or has it just been a case of letting the agents figure it out and staying uninvolved?
Rob Thomas: Well, there’s some of both of that. It’s not a high budget movie and so we’re asking everyone largely to work below their rates. And so we felt like during the Kickstarter campaign we cannot promise anyone who has not signed on the dotted line, and when you’re scheduling a movie it is such a jigsaw puzzle and it’s why all these sort of announcements happen late, because agents don’t finalize until you have final dates and when they’re shooting and how you schedule them on the board determines, to some extent, how much people are going to make. So it is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. And certain members of our cast have TV shows and getting them out in time for their TV shows, it was tricky but I have spoken to all of them. I really had only spoken to the four people who were in our Kickstarter video up until the point where I knew we were going to get to launch the Kickstarter video. So there was a year between that where I hadn’t spoken to Tina Majorino or Chris Lowell or Percy Daggs, and told them that this was happening. One, we wanted to keep it secret; we did not want it leaking out. And if we were going to get told no anyway let’s not build any momentum or have any press leaks. But once it looked like we were going to get to launch then I let everyone know so none of those cast members were surprised. And all of them knew that I wanted them in it. Everyone, you know, from the moment we launched I told all the actors that I wanted in the movie that they were going to be doing it.
Was there ever a point in the process between when the Kickstarter closed and when this started where you were beginning to fear you weren”t going to get someone important and had to start writing around them?
Rob Thomas: Yeah. Like Krysten Ritter is in high demand and she has a Tim Burton movie and that’s huge for her. So I had written her in the movie but she had days that were unavailable, and as I told Lizzy Caplan, “You’re still on our speed dial if this Tim Burton movie pushes another week. You will be in the movie.”
This is day 3 of 23. For a movie of this budget is that a short time, or around average?
Rob Thomas: Our director of photography, his last three movies have gone to Sundance and they’ve all been anywhere from 18 to 26-day movies. And so he’s shot a lot of things in this range of days. However, most of those are art pieces with, with a cast of ten and scenes that are very contained things. It’s an incredibly ambitious schedule, and huge tasks and huge set pieces with more than a hundred extras. So there are plenty of movies made in this number of days. I don’t think many movies made in this number of days are quite as ambitious and stuffed with big set pieces and fights and gunshots and special effects. We have to have things go right for us because it’s an aggressive shoot for 23 days.
 
How much is it going to complicate things working in the various Kickstarter rewards related to the movie like the guy with the speaking part and the extras?
Rob Thomas: Yeah, it complicates things. We were going to shoot the reunion on the Queen Mary, the same location that we shot the “Party Down” Sweet 16 episode. And then this nightclub became available that was downtown that is gorgeous that we can get about the same price, it would give us a better vibe, everyone wanted to shoot there, but it was available one day different after we had already notified people. So suddenly it’s letting people know that we need them a day earlier, some of them had made travel plans; it’s certainly a thought. Now people didn’t grouse much and there are other days open to them. I knew there would be some days where we just wouldn’t have extras, like there are no extras when we’re shooting interior at the Mars house. There aren’t random people walking through the background of those shots, and we’re there for three and a half days so having extras those days wouldn’t make any sense. But I did think most days we would have extras and that there would be plenty of possibilities. And one of the things that we learned was that we could only bring in those Kickstarter extras when we already had 57 paid SAG extras working. And so it’s scenes where we have that many people working so it became a little more limiting than I had imagined when we proposed that. No one has backed out. No one has said, “That doesn’t work for me,” most people have made it work, but those things do come across my desk. Those are things that we’re trying to sort out.
Did the guy who bid on the speaking part actually take it? Because I know he said at one point he wasn’t necessarily going to.
Rob Thomas: Yeah, his initial interviews sounded like, “Oh I may give it to a friend; I really just believed in the Kickstarter model.” And then there was a complication that he’s Canadian and we couldn’t get a work visa. So we had to rewrite a bit and now he appears as a potential video dater in it, but has his line that way, which is a little more fun I think, anyway. He’s going to visit the set, which he can do. He can’t work here so we had to do video in Canada so we can cut him into the movie.
This is crazy. I can’t believe that this is happening.
Rob Thomas: I know. There have been plenty of “pinch me” moments. It’s been incredibly cool.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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