Geneva Robertson-Dworet Talks Tomb Raider, Action Sequences, and Captain Marvel
Even though the embargo just lifted, I had a chance to see Tomb Raider back in mid-Feburary. As someone who grew up playing video games and watching movies non-stop, video game movies have never worked for me. I have sat through so many failed attempts to turn a popular video game into a big budget blockbuster. Films like Super Mario Brothers, Double Dragon, Warcraft, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Assassin’s Creed and even the first two Tomb Raider films did nothing for me and failed to be successful adaptations.
To be 100% honest I had completely given up on the idea that there could ever be a good video game movie and when I heard that Tomb Raider was being rebooted, I just shook my head and wondered why. Upon seeing the film, I went into the theater and braced myself for the worst. To my complete and total surprise, I really liked Tomb Raider and can say without any hestitation that Tomb Raider is the best video game movie ever made. Even if you aren’t a gamer and have no clue what Tomb Raider is, I still think you can enjoy this film if you are in the mood for a fun bid budget action adventure.
In addition to attending the Tomb Raider press conference, I had a chance to interview Geneva Robertson-Dworet, who wrote the film. Geneva and I got to not only discuss writing this film but what is was like to write action sequences, work with Alicia Vikander, and work with Marvel Studios and Brie Larson.
Geneva: Hi Scott. How are you?
Scott: Good, how you doing?
Geneva: Good, I’m good. Thank you.
Scott: Have you been busy?
Geneva: Yeah, I have been a little busy but, it’s all good. It’s all very exciting.
Scott: Good, I am glad to hear it.
So, I want to tell you that I saw the movie already and that I grew up playing video games. I’ve watched so many video game movies and I wanted to say thank you for actually writing a video game movie that works but also feels like an actual movie as well as video game movie.
Geneva: Oh my God. That’s a really great compliment. Thank you so much.
I was a gamer as a kid. I loved Tomb Raider more than anything but I also have seen some of my favorite games from when I was a kid turned into very weird movies like Prince of Persia which totally missed the mark of what was kick-ass about the game. So, I hoped to give this justice and give fans something that had all their favorite elements of the game but also works as a non-interactive narrative.
Scott: I think it really works as a standalone film if you don’t know anything about the video game, I think it still works as like an action adventure. And if you know about the video game, those people are going to really appreciate a lot of the sequences that you wrote into the script.
Geneva: Well thank you. The reason that the game is exceptional was because there were so many spectacular and spectacularly creative and imaginative pieces of action in it. In places, we were like why would we throw this out. I mean this Is kick-ass. Let’s use this.
Some of my favorite sequences in the movie are very inspired by the game. Like obviously the water fall and the plane sequence that are in the game. So, yeah, definitely hat’s off to the really creative people who created the reboot of the game. They’re geniuses. So we didn’t want to throw out what they created for Tomb Raider and made it so awesome.
Scott: I got an interesting email this morning and I have to ask you about it because I’m curious. I looked at your credits and I’m like holy crap this woman is writing a lot of major movies but I quickly realized that your career just started. And I got an email today from MGM basically explaining how they discovered you.
Can you talk a little bit about that? It seems like a very interesting story.
Geneva: Yeah, I’m very grateful to Cassidy Lange at MGM. She was the first person to hire me for a major piece of IT and so, that was really important to my career.
Before that I had written a movie that Roland Emmerich is producing that became my writing sample that I got hired for Tomb Raider off of but, I also had just come out of the Transformers writers room which I don’t know if you know much about writer rooms but basically, on some major pieces of IT the studio will bring together a team of writers to work, almost like they would work in a television writers room, where you work collaboratively with other writers and you come up with ideas. Maybe on one movie, maybe for multiple spin offs off of a piece of IT, which was the case for the Transformers writers room.
But, I really feel indebted to that writers room because I learned so much from the older writers and more experienced writers who were there. People like Zak Penn and Jeff Pinkne but also Lindsey Beer who’s my age and is a fantastic female genre screenwriter. Just learning from them, I feel that was great preparation going into Tomb Raider and probably gave MGM a little more confidence in hiring me but, I definitely need to thank Cassidy Lange. I feel like making the jump from small projects to recognizable IT can be really hard for writers and it was Cassidy who gave me that opportunity and really fought for me.
Scott: Oh that’s awesome. I think if this movie is any indication of your career, you don’t have anything to worry about. This is a great starting off point.
Geneva: Oh, that’s incredibly kind. Thank you.
Scott: I will say and I’m not bullshitting. I know you probably talk to a lot of people and people tell you stuff all the time but this is hands down, if not the best video game movie, one of the best video game movies.
Geneva: Oh, cool. Thank you so much.
Scott: So, you should feel proud.
Geneva: Thank you.
Scott: In terms of when you write something like this and you kind of see it being made and you see who they get to bring your project to life, how do you feel knowing that someone like Alicia Vikander is attached to your movie?
Geneva: Oh, it’s amazing and Alicia deserves so much credit for the creative vision of the movie that we see on screen. Before that it was very much an action-comedy and more like Indiana Jones in tone. And Alicia came in and she really felt that it was important that it was more grounded and realistic in tone. And so we changed the tone of the script around her vision for it. She had a huge influence on it and it’s very much her movie. I think its exciting and empowering to see actresses having more creative control over their projects.
Scott: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
In terms of the actual scenes in the film, the video game has scenes, like you were talking about the airplane scene earlier, but that one that really stood out to me and where I felt like I was watching a video game was the scene where Lara was in the cave near the end and it was like crumbling apart and she was running and she had to run and duck from those rolley things with the spikes on it. Did you write that or is that something that was added in later on?
Geneva: The crumbling of the tomb was introduced in my draft and through many iterations of the tomb raid. The scene was a collaborative effort between me, Roar and several discussions with the studio about what was financially feasible. Because it can be really easy to get carried away writing something that would cost one hundred billion dollars to create and would only last about ten minutes.
But Roar and I went through about ten different versions of the tomb raid. There were versions where, well actually I’m realizing I’m about to give away spoilers but I feel like I shouldn’t say what I’m going to say. But yeah, very different iterations in terms of structurally, why was she going in? Was she being forced in? Was she going in of her own accord? Was it a rescue? Was she going solo to catch up with the others or was she going in as a group? There were just so many different iterations and then of course there’s the mechanic of the tomb raid itself.
But, I think Roar did a really great job. We always talked about movies like The Revenant which for me are the movies that I like the action in the most because I feel like I’m experiencing it with the character. Just look at a great action movie from the 90’s like the Last of the Mohicans, it’s beautifully shot but you feel like you’re watching the action. And something that I feel very strongly about is you know that people like me are an audience member, I want to feel like I’m in the action. So whether it is the action of The Revenant or the incredible visceral sequences in Gravity even though they aren’t exactly action sequences, I think that’s the kind of filmmaking that people are excited about now. Or, at least I’m excited about now as a viewer.
I was really excited that Roar and I had a lot of discussions about that and I thought it was really well executed on screen by him.
Scott: Yeah, I think there’s another interesting point to be made about this movie. And that is Roar, who has mainly done smaller independent films prior to this, and then a big studio coming along and backing him and saying here you’re going to get a big potential franchise film. And then having you kind of write this movie without a lot of previous films under your belt. I feel a lot is being said of the amount of trust that Warner Brothers and MGM put into you guys.
Geneva: Yeah, for sure. It was interesting too that total shift from action-comedy was mainly Alicia but was also partially Roar. A lot of the Norwegian smaller budget movies are very grounded and have a realistic gritty tone. And like a movie he made before called Escape it was something that we talked a lot about. Bringing aspects of that sort of feeling into this movie. So that was definitely something we talked about a lot, which was Norwegian films.
Scott: Interesting.I would say that it really worked out. So, I have to ask because I would be very upset if I didn’t and I’m sure this is another thing that a lot of people have already asked you about. I’ve been a Brie Larson fan-boy since Short Term 12 and United States of Tara, so I’m so beyond excited to see her in Captain Marvel, which you are also writing. I know you probably can’t tell me too much about it but, if you could tell me a little bit about what was the process was like writing that and then the reaction you must have felt when Brie got cast to play Captain Marvel.
Geneva: Well, Brie was already cast when I was hired. And I’ve been a Brie fan-girl since 21 Jump Street where I thought she was hilarious in it and so charming even though it wasn’t a starring role in the movie. She really stood out to me even back then. She is fantastic. It was really exciting working with her. She’s a director in her own right, now as well, and a producer and has a fantastic creative vision basically for whatever project she comes on to.
But, the creative process at Marvel is kind of like a dream come true. There are a lot of movies and series where you don’t have the luxury of everyone being together in the same room talking about what we all want the movie to be like in the very early stages.
What happened, for example, on Tomb Raider as with most movies was more staggered. Like Roar and I were working together and then Graham King came back from making another movie and was like oh, you’re two drafts in and I want certain changes. So, the movie pivots then Alicia came on a couple of months after that and the movie pivots again.
With Marvel and what was amazing about the process, which is a dream come true, was we could all sit in the same room and talk about what do we want this to be? And that was just so fun to be part of a killer team. I had an absolute blast on it and of course, I’m very proud to work with a female director. Anna Boden is one half of the team on it and Ryan are the directing team on that one. It was fantastic to work with her and hear all of her insights of what she wanted to bring to the character.
Scott: Awesome, well thank you very much. I know you have to run and I am sure you have been busy all day but, I appreciate you taking a few minutes out of your time to talk to me today.
Geneva: Well thank you so much for your interest in the movie. It’s always great to talk to another fan of Tomb Raider. I really care what the fans think because I was a fan, am a fan. So, I really appreciate hearing your thoughts on the film.
Scott: Yeah, no problem. I’m sure I’ll see you or talk to you again in the future for Captain Marvel.
Geneva: Great, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.
Scott: Have a wonderful evening.
Geneva: Great. Thank you. You too.
Scott: Alright. Take care. Bye, bye.
Tomb Raider opens in theaters on Friday, March 16, 2018