Andrew Knight’s “insane” year: Hacksaw Ridge and writing Rake on planes
Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge.
If there was an AACTA award for Australia's busiest screenwriter, Andrew Knight would take the prize in a cakewalk.
Last year the veteran of Seachange and Full Frontal worked on three films and two television series.
In between trips to LA and London (where he's developing a film with Jonathan Teplitzky, Shakespeare in Love's David Parfitt and Essential's Ian Collie), Knight managed to churn out a new season of Rake and another Jack Irish, the latter of which premieres this Thursday on the ABC.
"It was just insanity", Knight said.
"I'm taking a huge break at the moment. I don't know how long, but I'm taking a long time off. I'm off to India shortly with my wife".
"I was writing Rake scripts on planes, and producing Jack Irish with [Ian] Collie. The year's a blur for me. I think the public's going to be well and truly sick of me, so I'm going to have a very quiet year".
2014/15 also saw Knight bounce from Russell Crowe to Mel Gibson.
"It was slightly surreal. The Water Diviner wasn't the most fun I've had. I actually quite liked working on Hacksaw Ridge. It was confined, and I got along with Mel".
"I thought he might have been a nightmare, but I actually found him passionate and interesting".
Knight found the two superstars different in their approach behind the lens.
"Russell wants to own entirely a film, and I get that. You do it, but then it's his. Whereas Mel loves lots of opinion. He'll reject it, he'll argue against it, but he loves hearing it. Very different beings. It surprised me actually, because they're both brilliant actors".
Knight came onto Hacksaw Ridge after being contacted by the film's producer.
"Bill Mechanic had seen some of my stuff before, and then he read The Water Diviner script. He didn't like the film, but he loved the script, and he said – 'that's what I want'. I had a couple of meetings with him, didn't think it was ever going to go anywhere, but I really liked him. Then he rang me up and asked me to come in and do a little polish on the [Hacksaw] script. I went in, spent a few days with Mel and Bill in LA, and it became obvious that they wanted quite a bit changed".
Knight was surprised by Gibson, whose 2006 epic Apocalypto he calls "one of the most extraordinary films I've ever seen".
"He doesn't own his stardom like others do. I visited his place in Malibu and he said: "Do you want a cup of tea? I'll get you a cup of tea!"
"With Mel, I know there's a million bits of madness about him, but I work in an industry that's largely mad, so that doesn't frighten me. He works in the same way I do, but a thousand times better. He works from within a scene. He doesn't really care where it comes [in the script]. At the initial point he's not so interested in the structure. He's interested in making the frame or the scene intense. He wants to put passion in it".
"He's much cleverer than I thought he would be. He's incredibly well read, incredibly good on history, incredibly smart. For somebody who talks like an ordinary bloke – there's a brain going there. It's a tortured brain but a really interesting brain".
Knight was tasked to work on a screenplay originally written by Braveheart's Randall Wallace and later by The Pacific's Robert Schenkkan.
"Schenkkan's a great writer", Knight said. "I just didn't think it was intense enough".
"Part of the problem with doing a story about someone like Desmond Doss [who refused to bear arms on religious grounds but saved seventy-six men as a medic during the Battle of Okinawa] is that the great moment of his life was this one day, this one afternoon. But you can't make a whole film about that. The rest of his life, he was a sedate Seventh-Day Adventist farmer. You have to find something in his life that's interesting, that might propel him and might surprise an audience".
"What was incredible was Doss' arguments with the army. He was so resilient. They imprisoned him, they did everything they could to get rid of this guy".
"It was just a struggle to get a balance on the story, really. I'm fascinated to see what it looks like in the end, because I'm sure Mel will change a whole lot on set, too. Because he doesn't work like most directors".
Hacksaw Ridge shot in Sydney while another Knight project, Ali's Wedding, was being filmed in Melbourne by director Jeffrey Walker. Hopping back and forth between cities, the writer still managed to squeeze in a visit to Hacksaw's shoot at Bringelly and Fox Studios.
"I went up for a couple of days. Mel's very collegiate, and has enormous respect for crews. He was perfectly pleasant to me, but I was irrelevant. He loves what a grip does, what a lighting guy does. He's always asking what they think. I wish I spent more time with him, because he's an engaging chap".