Exclusive: 'Veronica Mars' creator Rob Thomas on the wildly successful Kickstarter movie campaign
The "Veronica Mars" movie Kickstarter campaign was an instant, runaway success, raising the $2 million minimum to make the movie in under 12 hours, with the total continuing to climb. (It passed $3 million earlier this evening.) But the process to get to this point took much longer for the show's creator, Rob Thomas. He had all but given up on getting a "Veronica" movie made, even cheaply — "Warner Bros. is typically in the business of making big-budget movies," he explains. "'Small' for them is a $30 million movie, and I understand why the 'Veronica Mars' movie didn't fit into that paradigm" — until his friend, Cotton Mather lead singer Robert Harrison, suggested he try Kickstarter.
That was more than a year ago, and Thomas came very very close to convincing Warner Bros. to give him permission to try it at the time, in hopes they would film during Kristen Bell's hiatus after the first season of "House of Lies." But studio executives backed off, preferring to have their attorneys go over the possibilities with a fine-toothed comb to ensure they weren't exposing themselves to legal action by teaming with Kickstarter.
Finally, though, approval came, and then the money started to flow in, and the movie has already been greenlit by Warner Bros. The only questions now are how big the budget will be — keeping in mind that a percentage of the Kickstarter funding will go towards providing the posters, t-shirts, DVDs and other prizes that fans bid on — how many actors will be available to film in between when Bell is recovered from having her baby and when she has to report to work for "House of Lies" season 3, and other matters of scope.
I spoke with Thomas this afternoon about where the project stands now, what value there will be in fans continuing to donate, his response to criticism that fans shouldn't have to be giving money to a big conglomerate like Warner Bros., and more.
How were you feeling Wednesday morning as you were waiting for the campaign to begin? What were your expectations for how successful it might be, and how long it would take to hit the target goal?
Rob Thomas: I have been stupidly optimistic. I have been preaching with such fervor about how big this is going to be. In talking to (fellow "Veronica Mars" producer) Joel Silver, who said, 'Maybe we can put together a couple of million to make it; we won't have to get fans online.' I said, 'It's more than the money, it's being out of the box. It's the promotion that will come with it.' I had this vision that people would really respond. Dan (Etheridge), my producing partner and I, were fantasizing that on Thursday, every writer/producer in town is going to be going to studios and going, 'Why aren't we doing this?' It would be at least a mini-revolution. I was full of all this optimistic fervor about it. And then on Tuesday afternoon, Kristen and I released those little teasing tweets, and here's the thing: there were probably a couple of hundred retweets, and probably some people were excited, but it was so much more tepid than I thought it was going to be that I went into a spiral. It was sort of unraveling me. I thought, 'Oh, shit. If there's even a whiff of a Veronica Mars movie, it'll light up like a pinball. She has a million followers. It shouldn't be 200 people that are RT'ing, it should be a couple thousand.' So on Wednesday morning, I went from this crazy optimism to suddenly, incredibly concerned.
But even at my most wildly optimistic, I did not think we'd make 2 million in day one. There was no world for that. In my mind, I was thinking, 'Oh, if if we could do 5 million, that would be great,' but I thought even with that total, a good first week would would be a million and a half or 2 million. I was certainly hoping for more than our Kickstarter goal, and optimistic about it. But it still blew my mind, watching that total go up and up yesterday. There was nothing like it. I was on an endorphin high. My attention span was not longer than 4 seconds. Every tweet that was coming at me, every email, every phone call, watching that total go up, it's the most mesmerized I've ever been by a computer screen. And there was a documentary film crew, making a film about the making of this movie and the campaign, in my face for 8 hours yesterday. So on top of that, I was also hyper-self-aware. It was one of the freakier days of my life.
When you started out on this project, the assumption was that Warner Bros. would not kick in any money for production, and that you would have to make it work on whatever you raised from Kickstarter. Has that changed at all, given the success and all the attention the campaign has received?
Rob Thomas: Warner Bros. has not promised us any amount of money. There is a chance where, if we needed something, and there wasn't enough money in the budget, like one more actor deal, they've talked like they're a partner, and (said) 'We'll make sure we'll make a terrific movie.' But there's absolutely no doubt that the more money we make, the bigger and better movie it's going to be. I just don't think they would have let us make a cheap movie. I stop and think that if we had just made $2 million, after we paid for t-shirts and processing, it would have been a $1.4 million movie. That would've been really hard, and a really scaled-down movie. I don't think we're going to be in that position. Warner Bros., they're certainly handling all the other big ticket expensive items, like distribution and promotion. So they're pulling their share.
It sounds like you've made the calculations about how much it will cost to provide people with the t-shirts, the DVDs, etc., that they've paid for with their Kickstarter bids. I've seen some blog posts suggesting that that's often a very big challenge for a large-scale, successful Kickstarter campaign. How on top of this are you guys? How prepared are you to make sure everyone gets what they paid for?
Rob Thomas: This is one of the ways that we are working hand-in-hand with Warner Bros. They are tracking costs on this, they're dealing with fulfillment centers. I'm so happy that I am not having to track the profit margin of t-shirts. I get these things on reports: "At this price point, this is what we'll spend on fulfillment, and this is how much we'll actually make." But fortunately, there are Warner Bros. project people who are helping us out with that.