Tour the World of Veronica Mars, and the Surprising Home of the Designer Behind It

Production designer Jeff Schoen spills the beans on the new Neptune he created for the movie, and on the woodsy world he created for himself.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars, and Ryan Hanson as her semi-friend Dick Casablancas, discuss production with creator-director Rob Thomas, on the "Gia's Loft" set, which proved to be the most challenging of all.

If you think redecorating your living room or choosing a new color for your powder room is tough, imagine the challenge of designing 40 spaces from scratch with a miniscule budget, to be used in a mere 22 days. Sound nearly impossible? “It was a wonderful challenge,” says Jeff Schoen, production designer of the new Veronica Mars movie.

The film reunites all of your favorite characters from the TV series, played by Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Krysten Ritter, Tina Majorino, Percy Daggs III and most of the rest, bringing them back to the fictional California beach town of Neptune for a class reunion, and, oh yes, to solve a murder.

The particular challenge of this film is that it was mostly funded by a Kickstarter campaign, so the budget was extremely limited — under $6 million. Gritty Long Beach, Calif., was chosen to fill in for Neptune, rather than a more glamorous beach town like Laguna or Malibu, because filmmakers wanted a more “playful noir” effect, sort of an “Edward Hopper feel, dark with rich colors,” according to Schoen.

He was charged with finding existing homes and buildings in the area so multiple sets wouldn’t have to be constructed. Some locations, like the Craftsman they used for the home of Veronica’s dad (played by Enrico Colantoni), were a snap. “There are some great old Craftsman neighborhoods in Long Beach, and they’re perfect for living and for filming,” says Schoen. He notes the advantages of porches where people can gather and talk, and interior open floor plans. The crew shot inside and outside the house, and all over the block. While they used the existing interior, they brought in their own, well-worn looking furniture and accessories.

There are also plenty of gleaming, modern beach houses in the area. Schoen selected one in Playa del Rey, right off the marina, for the cool bachelor pad that Logan and Dick (played by Dohring and Ryan Hansen) live in.

Gia’s loft, however – that was a tough one. So much happens in and around that location and they couldn’t find anything that suited them perfectly, so they had to build that set from scratch in an abandoned warehouse with views. They wanted to make the place look like a chic designer flat that wealthy parents had bought for their daughter (played by Ritter), but were on a super-tight budget. They ended up using the same space, completely transformed, for the offices of the Mars detective agency.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Schoen Who would have thought that the true passion of accomplished Veronica Mars production designer Jeff Schoen is this original Swedish settlers cabin built in the 1860s, just outside of Minneapolis. Schoen and his wife raised their two daughters in the home, which he lovingly calls "No Harm Farm."

You can’t help but wonder what a resourceful designer like Schoen, who has also worked productions like HBO’s The Newsroom and Enlightened, A Prairie Home Companion, and the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man, does with his own personal living space. It’s no surprise that he has a hip bungalow on the Venice canals, to live in when he’s working in California. What will surprise you is his main residence where he and his wife raised their two daughters, just outside of Minneapolis.

Dubbed “No Harm Farm,” the Schoens have multi-purposed their everyday dwelling as an animal rescue refuge. It’s currently home to creatures from horses to peacocks to emus – yes, emus.

The house itself is an original Swedish settler log cabin, built in the 1860s. “The only problem with it was that it was small,” Schoen recounts. “A farmer down the way had one from the same era and he was going to tear it down, so he gave it to me, and log by log we moved it onto my property so we could build an addition.”

You’ll probably never see another house like it in the world – except for some similarities to the Dybik’s house in the schtettle in A Serious Man. Schoen used his own, hand-hewn log walls for inspiration, further demonstrating that home is where the art is.

Veronica Mars opens Friday, March 14, 2014 simultaneously in theaters and for rent or purchase at home. This marks the first time a major studio, Warner Bros., has released a film in theaters and for home viewing on the same day. 
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