Comic-Con 2013: ‘Veronica Mars’ movie panel live-blog

“Veronica Mars” made a visit or two to Comic-Con back in its mid-’00s days as a beloved but low-rated TV drama. Today, the cast – including stars Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Enrico Colantoni, Francis Capra, Percy Daggs III, Ryan Hansen, Chris Lowell, Tina Majorino and Krysten Ritter – and creator Rob Thomas will return to the city where the series was shot under very different circumstances. Now “Veronica Mars” is the Kickstarter phenomenon movie (which Thomas and I discussed back in March), and the belief is that the interest in both the movie and the campaign will be enough to fill the convention center’s cavernous Hall H. I’ll be somewhere in the room live-blogging it all (wifi permitting), and trying to capture both the anecdotes and whether the atmosphere in Hall H evokes the passion that raised $5.7 million to pay for the movie (and t-shirts and posters and digital downloads and all the other Kickstarter perks).

11:23 a.m.: Panel starting late because Hall H is packed. Moderator Jeff Jensen from Entertainment Weekly comes out to introduce the panel. (Also, so far the wifi here is horrible, so I may write a lot of updates offline and publish whenever it actually works.)

11:24 a.m.: We’re about to see our first footage of the film. Kristen Bell looks badass in a trench coat, there’s an early beefcake shot of all the male stars, and then the sound of Jason Dohring’s voice saying, “I need your help, Veronica,” followed by Veronica telling Logan, “I don’t really do that anymore.”

11:26 a.m.: The footage is now dealing with the Kickstarter campaign, as Thomas and the stars watch the dollar totals tick up and up. Thus far, of the actors on screen, Ryan Hansen has gotten the biggest response. Dohring: “Everyone will be there. Dick’s still an asshole, I’m still a jackass.” Music to everyone’s ears.

11:28 a.m.: And now actual footage: An incredulous Jamie Lee Curtis rattling off Veronica’s resume at a job interview, Dick douching it up at the high school reunion, Piz improbably being there (he didn’t go to Neptune High), the much-talked about reunion brawl, Kristen Bell dancing, dodging gunfire and having a memorable encounter with Madison. At the end, Martin Starr (who plays a new character, Cobb Cobbler) banters with Hansen (his “Party Down” co-star) about growing his hair out to “Dick status.” The crowd loves it all.

11:30 a.m.: Cast intros: Capra, Colantoni, Daggs, Hansen, Majorino, Chris Lowell (who enters wearing a Team Logan shirt and makes a joking gesture about the notable lack of applause), Dohring (who is then wearing a Team Piz shirt), Rob Thomas and Bell, smiling and waving. “Looking good, Hall H,” she says, knowing which side her bread is buttered on.

11:32 a.m.: What can Rob say about the story and the plot of the movie? “I can tell you that it sort of has – and this is a weird reference – a ‘Godfather III’ vibe to it.” He admits “Godfather II” is a better movie, but the idea is that Veronica hasn’t worked as a private detective since the end of the TV show. “Part of the movie is her getting pulled back into this life that she thought she’d left behind.” Is it difficult balancing giving fans what he wants and telling the story he wants to tell? Thomas says the story he wanted to tell is the one the fans wanted to see: getting the old gang back together. “I’m a fan of the show, I kind of know what the pleasure zones are for ‘Veronica Mars’ viewers, and I wrote to those.”

11:33 a.m.: What does Bell remember of the day she found out the series was canceled? She confesses she has a bad memory and doesn’t remember that moment. But then recalls that she got the news the day before the scene in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” where Sarah finds out her show has been canceled. Says it was easy to get emotional in that scene as a result. She describes the first day of filming this movie “a lot of excitement and a lot of unknown jitters.” Her first scene was with Dohring, and they stared at each other wondering, “Are we really here right now? Are they allowing us to do this?”

11:35 a.m.: What was Bell’s first line back as Veronica? “Charming drink names. I can’t decide between a Beast With Two Backs or a Donkey Punch. Oh, do you think they would let me order a Virgin De-Virginator?”

11:36 a.m.: Capra says he never expected the show to come back. Says after he heard about the Kickstarter campaign, he sent Thomas a series of hyperventilating emails. Bell wants to pause a moment so we can praise MAjorino’s sexy new fauxhawk. Majorino then says her first day back was great, because all her old friends started wandering into the makeup trailer one after another. “It was the most exciting day. And it happened the whole day, and every day for me on the set has been so appropriate.” She compares experience of the high school reunion with the reunion she had with her co-stars.

11:37 a.m.: Capra says, “I felt like I fell off the face of the planet” after the show ended. Worried he wasn’t going to be asked. “I thought you guys didn’t know who I was anymore.” Many awws, Colantoni rubs his head.

11:38 a.m.: Daggs jokes the first part of his preparation for the role was many perfect push-ups. He laments the fact that the shoot was so quick, because he wanted to spend even more time with his old friends.

11:39 a.m.: Was it easy for Colantoni to slip back into chemistry with Bell? “Kristen and I hang out at hockey games together,” he explains. “I think Rob intentionally waited for the Keith Mars character to come after the second and third week. Let all them have fun, and then daddy comes home.” He adores Bell. “It’s easy to just look at her and have this paternal thing for her. Now that she’s a mama, we have more to talk about.” Hansen shouts out, “MILF!”

11:40 a.m.: The Kickstarter launch video was homemade. Bell’s boyfriend Dax Shepard built the puppet theater, and Thomas’ puppeteer costume was Bell’s ski gear. Thomas is quite a bit larger than Bell; it was not comfortable. Bell recalls going through airport security and the TSA agents being puzzled by the puppets in his carry-on bag.

11:42 a.m.: Given fan reaction to Piz, what have Lowell’s interactions with them been? He says he wore the t-shirt to avoid being shot. When Thomas told him he was bringing Piz back, “I said, ‘The death threats had almost stopped!'” He admits he’s had some funky fan interactions, because he was “‘responsible'” for breaking up Logan and Veronica, and was treated by some like he had broken up their own relationships. Also says that when you have a character named Piz, “It sticks with you.” His friends once tried to rip the R and U off his Prius and turn the S upside down so he would be driving a Piz.

11:44 a.m.: What has the “Veronica Mars” experience meant to Dohring? He calls it fun, loves hanging out with Hansen (then tells Hansen to shut up when he tries to interrupt the monologue). He recalls early days of filming the series, going to malls in San Diego where shoppers would cheer for Weevil, “And I would go stand in the corner.” But they were all really invested in the show, which is why they wanted to come back this way.

11:45 a.m.: Fan questions! An Englishman asks Bell if she did anything special on set yesterday to celebrate her birthday. She says they shot until 5 a.m. on Wednesday night into Thursday, and at 12:20 or so, “Rob made an embarrassing announcement and had the whole crew sing. It was lovely.”

11:46 a.m.: How does Kristen jump back into the role of Veronica if she’s not a private eye right away? “I was nervous about it,” she admits, but didn’t struggle with it. “Part of the weird magic of the show for me is there’s a very strange connection between Rob’s brain and my brain. I have never had a problem memorizing his dialogue, ever.” She’s never had that experience anywhere else. “Something about her voice has always been really easy for me to jump into.”

11:47 a.m.: Brandon Hillock, who played Deputy Sacks on the show, is at the mic (without his mustache), says everyone on the panel are the sweetest people on the planet.

11:50 a.m.: When the actors revisit the show, what are their favorite scenes? Thomas says when he started writing the movie, he’d get on the treadmill each day and watch an episode, went through all of season 1. When he got the first Veronica/Logan kiss (audible squeals), “I rewound it, then rewound it, then rewound it – and my wife entered, and I had tears in my eyes. It was an embarrassing moment. I’m watching my own work, a kiss. It just felt so earned to me. I don’t know if I was proud of us, or touched by the story, but my wife caught me crying.”

11:51 a.m.: Hansen unbuttons his shirt to reveal a Team Dick t-shirt underneath. Says his favorite moments were anything with Jason, “Not with Chris!” (Lowell: “Get in line.”) Bell asks him to recite his first line ever on the series, and he does a perfect douchey surfer boy “Logan!”

11:52 a.m.: Daggs notes 90 percent of his work on the show was with Bell, “which was a blessing.” The Snickerdoodle episode also made him sick. Colantoni’s fondest moment as a fan was when he was watching the show with his daughter, who was at the age when she began looking at the Keith/Veronica relationship and then would look at her dad, “and then back at Kristen, and it was just a wonderful moment for me. And she’ll never, ever have a dad like Keith Mars.”

11:53 a.m.: Only two filming days left, with the shoot wrapping on Monday. It’s a 23-day shoot total, and it’s all been brisk. Thomas says they knew the budget, and said they could have either done an Agatha Christie “everyone in a house” movie with very few sets and very few additional actors. But instead, “We made an incredibly ambitious, sprawling, low-budget movie.” They had to move fast all the time. Couldn’t have done it if this was the first time working together, but the actors all knew their roles. There was only time for 3 or 4 takes of a line reading, because there was so much to incorporate. “Every day, we’re racing the clock. We never get to luxuriate in a scene.”

11:54 a.m.: If Jensen could write them a check for a million dollars, what would be in the movie now that wasn’t before? Thomas just wants more shooting days.

11:55 a.m.: A fan asks if any other Echolls family member will be in the movie. Dohring says no. Thomas notes that most of the Echolls are dead, and Trina didn’t make the movie, despite their love of Alyson Hannigan. But there are other casting surprises that Dohring says will be cool for those guys

11:56 a.m.: A $500 Kickstarter backer thanks Bell for being such a great role model for his teenage daughter. He asks Thomas if this was always his dream cast, leading to jokes about who he would’ve had ideally put in these roles. Colantoni: “What was Stanley Tucci doing in my trailer?” Thomas remembers his days as a high school teacher in Texas, and he would wonder how much bad entertainment product got made. “After I made the move to Hollywood and started working in the business, I had such a greater appreciation of what a minor miracle it is when you get it right.” Says that’s why they never gave up hope on reviving the project. “I can’t tell you how often you do work that you don’t even watch on TV and it’s your own thing. This, I was always proud of. This may be on my tombstone.”

11:58 a.m.: Given the chemistry between the characters, do the actors ever improvise together? Thomas: “They better not!” And who taught Jason how to smolder? Bell: “The heavens?” Daggs says he only got his role because of the chemistry he had with Bell. He was nervous before his screen test, but then Bell came in and had a normal conversation that really calmed him down and allowed him to do well in the audition. And Bell says improv is wonderful, “But I think that there needs to be more credit given. A really good writer is allowed to be militant about his words. Rob is a really good writer, but he’s also a word Nazi.” She says when she reads his words on the page, she can imagine exactly how he wants the line delivered.

12:00 p.m.: Capra says he used to try to improvise as Weevil, “Until I realized I just need to go to this man and just ask him what I need to do. It just made the job so much easier, and it’s the reason you guys love the characters.” Even on the movie, he could just go to Thomas if he felt confused about a character choice. “It’s like auto-pilot.” Daggs admits that he was uncomfortable with some of the slang he had to say (like “a pocket protector full of pimp juice”), but Thomas was insistent, “And it came out good.”

12:02 p.m.: Will missing and/or dead characters like Duncan and Beaver be mentioned? Thomas says probably not. The movie will have plenty of Easter Eggs for the fans, “but I didn’t want to put a lot of the old mythology – references to Lilly Kane, the season 2 mystery or any of that – because I wanted people who are coming fresh” to understand. He wants the movie “to be the start of something,” so they had to go big. All anyone needs to know is that when Veronica was a teenager, she had a weird part-time job as a private eye. But fans of the show will see many references that will make them happy.

12:03 p.m.: Last question: a girl who was only 10 when the pilot aired says it was and still is her favorite show. She says she was bawling her eyes out when they reached the Kickstarter goal, and thanks them all. If the actors could play any other character on the series, who would they pick? Lowell shouts out “Logan!” over and over again. Majorino would play Dick. Hansen? “Dick.” Dohring: “Dick.” Daggs: “Weevil. I always wanted to ride a bike, and he looks pretty cool.” Capra picks Wallace, and Daggs gives him a hug. Colantoni: “Vinny Van Lowe!” Bell: “Mmm… Dick!” Thomas: “Principal Clemens.”

12:05 p.m.: Thomas says the movie will come out early in 2014, “we hope.” He explains that he signed a book deal for two new Veronica Mars books, the first of which will come out shortly after the movie. “It picks up where the movie left off. For years, I wanted to get the Veronica Mars books done as young adult novels, but we sold them as adult novels. So it’s Veronica at 28.” Does he want to do more movies? “Oh, yes I do! I want to be a Bond franchise.” With Kickstarter, or traditionally next time? “I hope we make a ton of money with this one and get to do it via the normal channels.” He loved Kickstarter, but doesn’t think it’s meant to fund huge hits. “Next time, maybe the studio will just give us the money.”

And that’s all, folks… Back in a few hours with “The Walking Dead.”