Australia’s busiest screenwriter, Andrew Knight, will receive the 2017 Australian Writers Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his exceptional work across both film and TV, including Fast Forward, SeaChange, Rake and Hacksaw Ridge.
The overdue career recognition follows his 2015 Longford Lyell Award at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards recognising his body of work.
He told IF he was still unsure how to react to such awards.
“Winning the AACTA one three years ago was a big shock to the system, on two accounts,” he said.
“One, that people, actually knew I was still alive, and two, obviously [they thought] for not much longer. My son rang afterwards and said ‘Have you got cancer or something?”
“But the short answer is this is a big honor.”
Knight’s latest project, the Australian romantic comedy written with Osamah Sami, Ali’s Wedding, will be released theatrically later this month via Madman. He has a litany of projects on the move, including new series of Essential Media’s Rake and Jack Irish, an as-yet announced US film with Hacksaw Ridge producer Bill Mechanic, a UK film with The Railway Man’s Jonathan Teplitzky, another film with Ali’s Wedding director Jeffrey Walker, The Dressmaker director Jocelyn Moorhouse’s next film, produced by Martha Coleman, and another series for a streaming platform.
Knight’s greatest achievement is constant employment across more than three decades.
“It’s certainly the greatest surprise to me,” he said. “Ever since I started with John Clarke when I was 24, the only breaks I’ve had have been for health or my wife abusing me [to take a break]. I’ve just gone from one project to another and it’s quite a privilege.”
“You can never lose sight it’s someone else’s money. I don’t know whether that’s my Presbyterian background talking but I can never forget that I’m using millions of somebody else’s money. It’s a privilege.”
Knight established his name in comedy, firstly writing with John Clarke the crime comedy series The Fast Lane, then working with The D-Generation, writing the 1992 movie staring Anthony Hopkins and Ben Mendelsohn, Spotswood, before writing for the hit Seven series, Fast Forward.
Knight appreciates some current TV comedy including “the audacity” of The Katering Show and A Moody Christmas although he said the genre was being hurt by television’s unwillingness to risk with new comedy talent.
“The real problem is everybody’s doing short series now,” he said, recalling Fast Forward’s 26-hour seasons.
“What it does is blood comic talent. It was a real shame Foxtel did that sketch show (Open Slather) and it had some of the best young talent I’ve seen but it would have been more effective giving them a low budget and letting them go.”
“You’ve got to blood talent, and sketch shows were so good for that. Look at all the strong talent around now, at least around my age like Santo (Cilauro), Tom (Gleisner) and Rob (Sitch) now doing (ABCTV’s) Utopia. They all grew up on sketch comedy.”
“It’s a good world for me at the moment because they’re just doing limited run series, eight episodes, which means most end users won’t take a great risk on new talent,” Knight said. “It’s too much money and too short an exposure to risk new talent.”
“The way for comedy to get really good – because there’s plenty of talent out there – is to give them timeslot and let them run amok. Let ‘em get it up, fuck it up, start again and get better from it. The problem is we’re not prepared to go through a bad patch to get to a good patch.”
Knight appreciates Foxtel’s commercial mission now doesn’t allow the kind of risks he and Steve Vizard were allowed when they ran the Comedy Channel. “The ABC should be doing it as much as anyone and that’s who I want to pressure,” he said.
As for writing advice from a career achiever, Knight joked he was the wrong person to ask.
“I don’t work like other writers; I’m not the least bit systematic,” he said. “If the impulse grabs me at 3am, I’ll get up and start writing. I hate plotting meetings, I find them pointless. I kind of work on impulse. I don’t start a script in any logical place, I usually start in the middle where I can locate characters and drive back. I drive other people mad because I don’t work in a conventional way.”
He laughed that on a recent drive across the US, his son told him: ‘I’ve heard you talk about your process and give lectures, but I’ve lived with you for 20 years and I never saw any fucking process!”
The Australian Writers’ Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award is sponsored by Foxtel and will be presented at the 50th Annual AWGIE Awards in Sydney on Friday 25 August.