De Souza’s script was accepted by Paramount, and they hired Steven Herrick (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) to direct the movie. “Scripter Steven de Souza is writing the live-action pic,” Variety reported on April 13th 1999, “which focuses on the exploits of Lara Croft, the buxom, tough-as-nails cyber-explorer with a following of millions of mostly young male fans.”
De Souza: And then two months later, the whole things changed. Because Larry had a movie come out called Mystery Men for Universal and the movie underperformed. This was one of the early gold rushes for comic book material, because they go ‘comic books like Michael Keaton’s Batman make money, let’s get a comic book’. But Mystery Men is a cult comic book. And they expected Tim Burton Batman money, and what they got was Mystery Men money.
With Mystery Men under-performing at the box office, Paramount hired in Patrick Massett and John Zinman to write a new draft with the task of reducing the budget. When that script was rejected, they turned to Mike Werb and Michael Collery (Face/Off) to work on the Massett and Zinman draft.
Collery: One of the first meetings we had with Paramount, someone stood up and said, ‘we don’t want this to be James Bond’. And Mike and I looked at each other and thought, ‘they don’t want this to be the most successful movie franchise of all-time?’
But with the pressures of cutting the budget continued, one person decided to leave the project.
Collery: We both felt at the time it was a good thing and a good mix of people who all wanted to make the same movie. And when we were leaving, Stephen took us to one side and said, ‘look everything you guys have said is good, but I’m leaving’.
De Souza: I’m not privy to how it happened, but I was told it was creative differences. And creative differences can never be worked out, because that way they don’t have to pay you. If your movie is cancelled, it’s a different story. If they change their minds, they still have to pay you.
Collery: After Stephen left, [Mike and I] were told by the studio to go and write a more specific take on what we would do. We had a very clear mandate. We weren’t told to ‘start over’, we were told that we had to work with this script.
Werb and Collery worked on their script in December 1999 and handed their draft in just before Christmas.
Collery: [producer] Larry Levin called and he was ecstatic. They called us over the Holidays and said they had a list of actresses calling them to get the script. And that included Angelina, and this was before she won her Oscar. It was Kate Beckinsale and Catherine Zeta Jones. And there were a lot of directors who wanted to get it too. Renny Harlin was on the list. I mean it was a big movie, who wouldn’t be interested?
West: I turned the film down two, three maybe even four times before deciding to do it, and I knew about the video game but they weren’t quite as “cool” as they are now.
Collery: The draft we wrote which got Simon interested and got Angelina interested also please the video game company. They read the script and they said, ‘this is a Tomb Raider movie’. So they let Paramount have the rights for longer – so mission accomplished.
West: I think when I signed on there were around four or five scripts by different writers and writing teams and they were all very different, but had been adapted from each other. They’d all been given different commissions and they’d all taken different stabs at it.
Collery: When Mike and I were first hired, we had a lot of meetings and contact with the studio. And we had contact with a guy named Don Granger, who never bogged us down with notes and he always kept our meetings in mind with what the studio wanted. But when Simon came on, Don Granger stopped coming to meetings and it was just us. No one from the studio was there, and that’s where the film fell apart. The studio abnegated themselves of their responsibility.
West: If a movie is based on a book I go back and read the book and if a script is based off a draft I go back and read all the other drafts. So I asked to read all the other drafts, and there was one by the team of Massett and Zinman, and that was the draft I actually liked the most. It had a lot of good ideas in it and I liked the tone of it and I liked the guys, so that was the one I based my version off.
De Souza: The first thing he did was come in and say the script was rubbish… what he’s done is that he’s come in and knows he’s the white knight saving the project for Paramount and he’s on a very tight schedule. And he says that he wants creative control and a fresh start.
West: Basically I laid out the story, and [Massett and Zinman] – the proper writers – would write them as scenes. At some point I did end up being a bit of an editor between ideas and drafts. And to be honest, it’s how a lot of Hollywood films are put together. People are horrified when they see five or six names attached to the writing credits, but when you think there are five hundred other people making the film as well, it is a team effort. And that goes for every department.
Collery: They just let the director run amok.
West: When I did Con Air, there was one writer – Scott Rosenberg – but Jerry Bruckheimer wanted to see if there were any avenues we hadn’t explored in the script. And quite a few writers came in to have a look at the film and see if they could add any lines in here and there. In fact, Dick Clements and Ian La Franis came in and threw some lines in. And even a young J.J. Abrams came in and wrote a joke – he has one line in Con Air and got paid for that one line the same amount I got paid for the whole film. It’s the Hollywood method. They’re not afraid to have a lot of writers handle a script. And then you end up picking up the best bits and hopefully it comes out as one film and not many voices.