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Rob Thomas on Veronica Mars, Party Down, and Kevin Hart

Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas Photo: Michael Buckner/2014 Getty Images

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of both the launch and swift funding of the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter campaign. The theatrical fruits of that shockingly successful labor arrive at cineplexes and on VOD today, and Vulture used the opportunity as another excuse to talk with Rob Thomas, the 2004-7 UPN/the CW detective show’s creator who also directs the movie. We asked him to reflect on the Kickstarter madness, what he’d do differently, whether it will lead to a Party Down movie, and why Kevin Hart will always be the one who got away.

As you were about to roll out the Kickstarter campaign a year ago, what was at stake for you?
I think a couple things would have happened if we had failed. I think the big risk for both Kristen [Bell] and me was just the public humiliation of it and we were both keenly aware of that. And it’s one thing for a writer to be humiliated, because it’s not really a referendum on your popularity; it’s a tougher thing for an actor. So I think Kristen was pretty brave to come onboard, be the face, put all of her weight behind it, because if we had done this and no one had shown up, it would have been embarrassing for us and not good for her. But the other thing it would’ve done, and this might’ve been sweet relief in some way: Every interview that I’ve had in the last seven years was asking about the possibility of more Veronica Mars and every fan that I’ve met wanted to know if there will be more, so if we failed, the one upside is we would’ve stopped talking about it. I think the question would’ve been answered and the people who said there shouldn’t be a Veronica Mars movie would’ve been right. I would’ve just had to learn to live with that.

Were you prepared to toss in your own money to make up any shortfall if it had looked like the movie wasn’t going to get funded?
Well, I don’t have that much money. I could not finance a movie on my own. Frankly, I could not even afford to take a year off. I, like most people in America, need to keep making money.

The film’s success can already be measured by its very existence. But beyond that, how are you charting success?
Here are the things that I want to hit, and sort of in order. I want the fans to be happy. I’ll know a lot of that from my Twitter feed and from the Kickstarter page and I feel like I know it from being at these first couple of premieres. And then I want the movie to make money. I don’t mean to sound crass, but we are a guinea pig for a whole new way of making movies, and if we lose money, then it will be a failure, and I feel like there won’t be more down the pipeline. I’m feeling bullish about that because the bar isn’t all that high for us to make money. I can’t say that I know exactly how much money Warner Bros. has put behind the marketing and distribution of all this, but I want to make money, so that the epilogue is that we were a success. And then finally, I would like it to be certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. If I can get those three things, then I’m happy, and anything else is gravy. I would be lying to you if I didn’t say, and I wish that we have Blair Witch–style success and that we’re the lowest-budget movie ever to make boatloads of money, but just being in the profit would be great.

Now that you’ve screened the movie and Veronica Mars fans have responded well, you’re not nervous at all, right?
I’m plenty nervous. I will be so distracted by all the news this weekend and seeing how it does. It’s the first movie I’ve directed and it’s my passion project. And so, yeah, I will be wanting to be constantly updated. I have a feeling it will be like the day we launched our Kickstarter campaign when I just can’t take my eyes off of it. I’m on pins and needles about it. The big question is: Does it have any crossover appeal to non-fans?

How much of a concern was that when you were putting this together?
At the beginning, it was almost no concern. I set out to write a movie that would make the fans happy. I figured it was fan-financed and we were going to keep the budget low enough that I felt like we could have a successful release of the movie even if it was for the 2 to 3 million people who watched the show regularly. But as it evolved, suddenly we were at Comic-Con and on the cover of Entertainment Weekly and the studio started talking to me about what can we do to make it a little more accessible to people who aren’t familiar with the show. And we did make some moves in that direction. The movie opens up with a two-minute primer on Veronica Mars — like putting the Spider-Man origin story at the beginning of the movie. And then there were some decisions in the editing room when I was asking myself, “Should I give this extra line of exposition to help newbies along?” So I did, in the back half of the movie, start making some decisions based on trying to get new people in the theater.

Cue the James Franco cameo!
We thought that would help as well. That was a fun gift for us.

Why are you still trying to make Piz happen? Asking for a friend.
Ah, here’s the deal. When I was conceiving of the movie, I wanted Veronica to have a New York boyfriend. I wanted her to have to give up a lot to have to end up back in Neptune. My favorite endings are bittersweet endings, and I wanted there to be a healthy dose of bitter in that bittersweet. So I wanted her to have to give up a great, solid boyfriend and a great job and the possibility of putting Neptune behind her, and [risk] disappointing her father. I wanted to put all those things on one side of the ledger. And so if I was going to give Veronica this New York City boyfriend — and I knew that we weren’t going to get many pages out with him — it could have been a fresh guy. And I thought about that. Just some new actor that we cast that would then be tossed away. Or I could bring back Piz to be that person. Chris Lowell is an actor that I really like, and I think he represents a safe and steady nice-guy boyfriend. To me, it was more fun to bring back a character than to just put some random dude in there. I tried to make the point in the movie that Veronica had left Neptune and Piz behind [following season three], but that they just ran into each other in New York a year ago and had been dating for like a year.

Okay! I’m so glad you put Martin Starr in the movie. Although he and Ryan Hansen didn’t get any lines together.
I know, and I regretted it later because they are sitting down together for, like, one moment, but they never have a line together. Martin and Ryan, we loved writing them together in Party Down. The blind optimism of Kyle Bradley and the total cynicism and misanthropy of Roman DeBeers.

I have an opinion about Ryan Hansen. And that opinion is that he should be in everything.
Ryan Hansen is my favorite person on the planet. He is my discovery. I’m so proud of him. He had one word in episode two of Veronica Mars, and that the word was: “Logan.” We hired him because we liked his look; he looked like a blond California surfer boy. So a couple of episodes later I had a two-word role, but this time it was a joke. [A teacher asked], “Veronica, what’s your position on this?” and Dick sort of blurted out, “All fours.” And he so scored that line that suddenly every writer wanted to write for that fun kid who [we discovered almost by accident].

Dick Casablancas is a constant joy. Have you gotten into the web series yet?
We haven’t, but we think we’re going to shoot it middle of the summer. It will be Ryan Hansen playing a version of Ryan Hansen who is struggling to get a Dick Casablancas Veronica Mars spinoff show off the ground. So he’s going to his friends to help him write and shoot his own mini-pilot for that. It will probably be closer in tone to Party Down than Veronica Mars, and will be very self-reverential and meta.

Do you think you’ll use Kickstarter for the Party Down reunion project?
We are working on seeing more Party Down and we’re going down a couple avenues, and I would not write off Kickstarter because maybe we would do that someday. But we were already approached a little ways down the path with a production company that wants to make more Party Down, so we’re going to go down the traditional routes first. Part of the big struggle with Party Down is that all of our very talented actors have gone their separate ways and have these amazing careers, and trying to get them all in the same room again is as big a challenge as figuring out what avenue new Party Down’s might come out in.

Yeah, it’s kind of like Arrested Development at this point.
I love Arrested Development. But I don’t think we could do the thing they did [with season four] and shoot them all separately. We need all of our actors in the same room.

Does Starz still own the rights to the pink ties?
Yeah. They also own the name Party Down and we would have to have their permission to take it out and sell it anywhere else. But they’ve given us permission to try to shop it as a movie, so I don’t think they will stand in the way of it.

If you were to go with Kickstarter for either Party Down or another Veronica Mars installment, is there anything you’d do differently?
I know that I would make the number of posters that we had to sign be smaller. That was the biggest mistake in all of this.

Wait — how many do you have to sign?
We’re having to sign close to 6,000. We thought we would have a little party at the end of the show and knock them all out in one day. But it’s, like, a three-day job, and now we’re in this odyssey of trying to get it done. I thought I was done a couple of weeks ago, and then I found out there were nine more boxes over at Kristen Bell’s house that I hadn’t signed. Now I’m going up to Canada to direct a pilot and just the logistics of poster-signing has been eating up more time than you can believe. I think there are 4,500 that are completely done. These last 1,500 have been tricky.

It’s the hangover after a year of Kickstarter drunkenness.
Yes, it is. Time to pay the piper.

My final question is about Little in Common. Do you wake up sometimes and go, “How the fuck did Fox pass on a sitcom starring Kevin Hart?”
That is so funny. Yes, I do. I do so often. You know, I don’t think we had an A+ pilot and I understand that their big hit was New Girl and they were going to kind of build in that direction and we had kind of a family pilot. But I did know what Kevin Hart was going to become, and Rob Corddry was great in it, and, yes, I think the pilot was maybe a gentleman’s B when it needed to be an A. But I keep thinking I should have some of Kevin Hart’s money right now. [Laughs.]

Rob Thomas on Mars, Party Down and Kevin Hart