Veronica Mars: The Making of a Movie

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March 14, 2014 by Jason Seligson

A long time ago, Veronica Mars was just another cult show that got canceled—but that’s not where the story ends. Nearly seven years after going off the air, Mars has been resurrected as a much anticipated feature-length film. On Friday, March 14, 2014—one year after the historic Kickstarter campaign launched—the film will finally be released. Thanks to the contributions of thousands of fans, the legacy of Veronica Mars will continue, but it wasn’t an easy road to get here.

The seven-year journey that creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell embarked on to revitalize Mars was both harrowing and complicated. After the series’ cancellation in 2007, Thomas and Bell made several attempts to continue the story in a movie format. The two made a pitch to Warner Bros., but were ultimately rejected. In the studio’s eyes, the show wasn’t exactly a ratings juggernaut, and DVD sales had been modest at best; not the most lucrative business investment.

Fortunately, the dream didn’t die there. Thomas always wanted to make a Veronica Mars movie, even as he created new shows, pursued other projects (like the critically acclaimed but equally low-rated Party Down). Fast-forward to 2012. Thomas had first heard about the website Kickstarter from a friend who was using the platform to sell a music album. He was soon struck with a seemingly outrageous thought: could he use Kickstarter to fund a Veronica Mars movie the same way?

At the time, the highest Kickstarter goal was set at $900,000, but Thomas knew they were going to need to ask for at least twice that. He went back to Warner Bros. yet again to pitch a movie funded by the fans through Kickstarter; he and Bell even filmed a funny video explaining what they would be undertaking. But even after they had the initial idea to use Kickstarter, Warner Bros. still wouldn’t bite. Thomas and Bell were devastated—it didn’t seem like it was ever going to happen—for them, or the fans. There was still doubt that a Veronica Mars movie could be a success. That doubt would soon be put to rest.

Despite their lofty aspirations, Thomas kept faith that it would succeed; but his attitude remained far more cautiously optimistic than arrogant (he hadn’t even finished writing the script when the campaign launched). Still, it was clear that he was pouring everything he possibly could into making this work. Thomas knew that this was it—the last chance to see the Veronica Mars story continue. If they failed to meet their proposed goal, he would at least be able to throw in the towel with some peace of mind. “It would have been put to bed,” Thomas explained in an interview with the Nerdist Writers Panel podcast. “It never would have happened, and at least I could sleep soundly knowing ‘hey, I gave it my best shot and it wasn’t meant to be.’” Even Bell and other cast members couldn’t get very far without circling back to that question that kept popping up over and over: What’s happening with the Veronica Mars movie?

The Kickstarter campaign, of course, succeeded. But the remarkable thing was in how fast it reached its goal. In less than 24 hours, it had surpassed the proposed $2 million mark, and the donations were still pouring in fast. The campaign closed with a total of $5.7 million raised. Thomas later said that $5 million was a magic number that had been floating around in his head, but that he dared not dream that big before the campaign had even launched.

Anyone familiar with Kickstarter knows that these campaigns aren’t easy to create or manage; it’s not as simple as coming up with an idea and asking for money. Thomas compared it to running a mini-business. In addition to finishing the script, wrangling up former cast members, and prepping to direct, he had to manage all the rewards for the “backers”—the people who made donations to finance the film. This was no easy task, but Thomas and his team handled it with real aplomb.

Naturally, critics and creative types paid close attention to the whole endeavor as it unfolded for the world to see. If it failed, no one would attempt something like it again. But if it succeeded—more projects like it would surely follow. The past year has already seen others try the same tactic as the Mars team did. Actors Zach Braff and Melissa Joan Hart both created Kickstarter campaigns to finance films of their own; Braff’s was successful, Hart’s wasn’t.

Crowdfunding isn’t something that would work for every movie—but that’s not a bad thing. Hollywood has been experiencing a surge in franchise revivals as of late: 2013, saw the return of Arrested Development on Netflix, Disney Channel announced the upcoming Boy Meets World spin-off, Girl Meets World; Entertainment Weekly had a recent issue that delved into these shows, Mars, and a whole lot more. While there is an abundance of cult favorites that many fans would want to see reborn, the Kickstarter model probably wouldn’t work for all of them. Take Firefly for instance. The big-budget sci-fi show—which already had one kind of revival in the form of feature-film Serenity—would require a vastly higher goal than Mars’ modest $2 million. But Veronica Mars, a low budget TV noir mystery, is the perfect candidate for this model.

Thomas and the cast filmed the Veronica Mars Movie in June over just 23 days. The entire cast appeared at San Diego Comic-Con to a sold-out panel, where they previewed the first footage from the movie, and met some of the people that helped make it all happen. Over the past year, Thomas has kept backers involved in the entire filmmaking process—from shooting, to editing and post-production, right down to selecting the music for the soundtrack. This weekend, fans are finally going to get the movie that they’ve waited for.

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