SXSW: Director Rob Thomas Predicts Nancy Drew-Like Future for ‘Veronica Mars’

"Veronica Mars" writer-producer Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell on stage at Variety's Breakthrough Awards.
Isaac Brekken/Getty Images

The first day on set of the “Veronica Mars” movie, director Rob Thomas was so excited to get started that he called “action” before the cameras had even begun rolling. Kristen Bell and Jason Dohring, who play the namesake character and her former and future lover, respectively, giggled hysterically. Especially when, on the second day on set, Thomas did the exact same thing, this time in front of Jamie Lee Curtis. The entire production crew subsequently broke out in laughter, Thomas told Variety.

The film, a revival of the CW’s Network’s detective show that was cancelled in 2007, was greenlit after 91,585 fans contributed $5.7 million to a Kickstarter campaign — $3.7 million more than the director asked for. The first $2 million was raised in roughly 11 hours and broke Kickstarter records. That fan dedication also swayed Warner Bros. into agreeing to distribute the film domestically.

“Veronica Mars” premiered in at SXSW in Austin on Saturday afternoon to a packed house at the Paramount Theater. Variety caught up with the 48-year-old director Sunday morning to talk about the life-changing mouse click, why even he can’t escape the snappy interaction of planet Mars and how he’s planning on usurping Nancy Drew.

Variety: Because the fans bankrolled part of this film, how beholden did you feel to them when you were making this film?

Rob Thomas: We really stripped down to the core of what fans like. They like Kristen playing Veronica and the snarky dialogue and those are the things we do well. And we just keep trying to play to those strengths. There are some things we wanted to do different, to make it look more filmic with big set pieces but we know what we are. I rejected a couple of ideas floating around in my head because they didn’t feel like they incorporated all the things fans wanted to see. I came up with an F.B.I. version of Veronica Mars, but I couldn’t figure out a way to weave her friends into a F.B.I. case. We wrote the story we did to give an opportunity to bring every fan favorite onto the screen.

This film is a first for a big studio, releasing day and date in theaters and on video on demand. How long have you known that was the plan?

I guess maybe I’ve known for 6 weeks now. We are trying this experiment because we promised fans digital downloads when the movie came out, and the theater chains are dead set on screening with exclusive window, which put it in strange place and it’s why Warner’s is renting out AMC theaters. Necessity is the mother of invention, and I have a strong belief that VOD doesn’t cannibalize that much from theatrical release. “Mars” fans cared a lot about a show, I can’t imagine them staying at home to watch the movie. But we’re a bit of a guinea pig in the way we made the film and released it.

What were your big moments on this film? For something that you so highly anticipated, what stays in your mind?

There were a few big moments in there, one of the hugest was the moment I got to click on the button that said “project launched,” getting to that moment was an odyssey. It was 100 phone calls, a ton of meetings with Warner’s, getting backers and a reward plan and everyone to sign off on it. Right up until the last moment, I had doubts, but once I hit the launch button I knew that nothing could stop us. I hit that button and I made the movie.

Are you sick of Veronica Mars yet?

I’m not in the least sick of her yet, maybe because of all I did outside of her. If I had just done “Veronica Mars” and didn’t have many other things going, it would be different. But Veronica is like putting on comfortable clothes — it feels good.

You’ve got two novels coming out set after the events of the film, are you also accounting for a sequel?

I think the public will tell us when they are done with Veronica. Kristin loves doing it, and I see this as sort of a low budget James Bond franchise. In the next two to three years to send Veronica on another adventure, we’ll be completely game for doing that. Maybe we can have a Netflix R-rated version. I’m ready to take that call as well. It would make me incredibly happy. We’ve got the books coming out and then the Ryan Hansen spinoff. Nancy Drew has had a corner on the market for the last 70 years, I would love if Veronica got next 70.