Exclusive: 'Veronica Mars' creator Rob Thomas on the wildly successful Kickstarter movie campaign
What comes next for the campaign? How big can the movie get? And whither Piz?
Let's talk about $2 million vs. $5 million vs. however high it goes. You're still making money, but the pace has slowed since you hit the initial goal. How would you pitch it to people to encourage them to keep donating? What would be different about the movie you can make if the campaign were to end this second, as opposed to if it gets significantly higher over the remaining 29 days?
Rob Thomas: Here's one example: There's going to be a big high school reunion set piece in the middle of the movie. In my perfect version, there is a brawl that takes place there. A brawl is an expensive thing to shoot. That's days of shooting. I shot a fight sequence in season 3 of the show, where Veronica was in a dorm room with the rapist. That sequence was 27 shots. One page took us an entire day of shooting. If the funding were to stop now, I promise you that that high school reunion will be "Terse words are exchanged." It will be an argument between Veronica and others. And that's fine. In some ways, that's the bread and butter of "Veronica Mars." We can make that work. But it would be more fun, it would feel more like a movie than a TV show, if we could have something bigger and cooler than that.
And what was the budget for an episode of the show?
Rob Thomas: It was $1.8 million.
So now that you're at about $2.7 million as we discuss this, what's your dream goal for the campaign?
Rob Thomas: It's one of those questions where I think, 'Only an asshole would answer that question.' But I'll be an asshole anyway! In my mind, I think that at $5 million, I start feeling like that's the tipping point. And I'm not even basing that on what I think the budget of the movie could or should be, but on what my expectations and hopes were for the amount of money we could raise on Kickstarter. We put a bigger dent in that than I could have hoped for in the last two days. We'll certainly spend that money. We'll find cool stuff to do if we go over it.
The nice thing is that we never wanted to be perceived as a charity. We always imagined that we're putting up a Kickstarter page, and we're selling real product at real prices to fans. It's not like a pledge drive where you pledge 100 dollars and get a 4 dollar tote bag, where it's done out of the goodness of your heart, and for charity. We wanted to created packages where people look at what they're getting and think, 'Wow, I got a script and a digital download and a t-shirt for $35. I would pay that!' So all those people worrying that we're aksing for this money to make our movie, we're selling you a product. Think of us as a store, not a charity. And I think it's very above-board, what we're doing here. It's one of my hopes for why I think it can keep going, is that if you look on that website, you think, 'Hey, t-shirt and a movie and a DVD and a script for $50, I'm in.' Hey, I would sign up for the "Deadwood" version of this.
A lot of people are very excited about this, but others have been critical of it. They're asking what business Warner Bros. has asking fans to give them money to make a movie, and saying that Kickstarter was meant for independent projects for people who don't already have means or access.
Rob Thomas: We don't have the means or the access to get the money any other way either. I've tried for a very long time to get "Veronica Mars" made by traditional means. Like those indie filmmakers, I also couldn't get this financed through traditional channels. If I could have, I would have. I certainly tried very hard to do that. Like them, I am searching out an alternative method to getting my movie made. And I think the way to look at it is, all Warner Bros. is doing is pre-selling the product. I realize that people have an emotional reaction to "Veronica Mars," and one I'm grateful for, but we're trying to give good value for the money. We're asking you to pre-buy the products to prove to the studio that there can be money made. If they sold you the t-shirt and download later, they're making profit then. No one cares that they're making profit then. This just ensures the interest level. And I think "Veronica Mars" fans have proved there's enough interest to make this size of a movie viable for them.
For tens of thousands of people who care about this project, you've already sold them a copy of the movie, in one format or another. How much concern is there for you, or for Warner Bros., that by the time the Kickstarter campaign is over, everyone who's interested in seeing the movie will have already paid for a version of it?
Rob Thomas: I think the hope — and I don't want to say there's not concern on that — is that these "Veronica Mars" fans are still going to enjoy, if it's playing in their area, going to the movie theater and watching it with a crowd. Things that I'm a big fan of, I enjoy that experience, and we think that a lot of people, even if they pre-paid for a digital download of the movie, we hope they are still going to want to go to a theater and see it. But more to the point, it's okay if, to a degree, that's the case, and I'm sure it will be to some degree. I hope it's small. The upside and the way I view it — and the way that, to a degree, Warner Bros. views it — is all we've done is sold it to you before we made it. We're okay with that.
Is the entirety of the Kickstarter money going to production and to fulfillment? If the campaign gets high enough, is there a chance any of it would be left over?
Rob Thomas: No. Kickstarter money will not exist beyond the cost of the movie.
All of your high-end rewards — the speaking role, naming a character, the private screening in your hometown — were already snapped up. I know you've said you want to add more of those, but how quickly will that happen?
Rob Thomas: I think it's going to happen fairly quickly. There are certain things we want to open up today, or else tomorrow. (NOTE: After we spoke, the campaign announced additional premiere events in New York and Austin, as well as more spots for background extras.) We know we need to get some more higher-end items in there. Although from the beginning, we've structured it with the belief that the bread and butter of the campaign will live and die at the $35 and $50 level. Those are the price points that the bulk of the backers will pledge at. That has proved pretty true, I think. Those other ideas are fun, and they keep people talking, but I don't think that's where the bulk of our money If you did a diagram of where our money is coming from, it's in those $35 and $50 tiers, and the rest are fun. That $10,000 for that speaking role is a drop in the bucket, but it's been fun and there have been so many references to it in the press about the campaign.
Have you read the interview with the guy who bought the speaking role?
Rob Thomas: I did! It's so intriguing that he's not even a big "Veronica Mars" fan, but just a fan of Kickstarter in general.