Crashburn: articles

Break-up drama in the making too

"ANDREW, it's your fault," says the composed, mock-frowning Deborah Cox when I ask whose idea was Crashburn.

Deb Cox and Andrew Knight don't just write together, they're in a writing relationship. They bounce off each other, they argue, they go off and have writing affairs with other partners.

But in the end, they keep coming back together, as the team that met on a Channel 7 soapie and went on to create some of Australia's best television (SeaChange and After the Deluge being recent successes).

With their new series Crashburn, they're writing about a romantic relationship—its beginning, its end, his story, her story and what really happened. It's fiction, of course. But you wonder how much of their writing relationship, its tensions and joys, made its way into the series.

Only Cox and Knight know. And according to the tall, talkative, goatee-bearded Knight, he came up with the series seed all on his own.

"A group of women were sitting round a dinner table and they were dumping on this woman that wasn't there," he said. "They were saying, 'she's an appalling bitch, I don't know why we include her in anything'.

"One of them said, 'I don't know how Simon puts up with her'. Then another woman arrived and said, 'Oh, Simon's left her for someone else'. And in a moment the entire table went, 'Jesus, what a BASTARD he is!'"

Knight laughed out loud. "Having gone through a divorce myself, I've seen this," he says. "You can experience the same thing but not see the same thing."

He went to Cox with an idea. A non-politically-correct look at a break-up, where both sides are right and both wrong, both lie and manipulate and the audience puts the truth together at the end.

Cox told him it was an OK idea but it would be too hard to write. "The concept had more weight than the practicalities of writing the damn thing," she says.

"I took that as a yes," Knight says.

They sold the idea to Sue Masters at Channel 10, and found themselves committed to the most difficult project of their careers.

One tough aspect was writing about a long-term relationship. The standard dramatic form is the unrequited love, a romance in the air that keeps the audience on will-they-won't-they tenterhooks.

Much harder a series that answers the question straight away: yes they did, and it didn't work.

Long-term relationships are rare these days—except on TV. "In my kids' classrooms, half the class are from broken homes but no one's really talking about it," Knight says.

"But if we looked at the break-up point and went on from there, there would be nothing, we would be searching for plot," Cox says. "That's when I came in and made it even more complicated."

She suggested flashbacks. The first episode would combine the moment the couple decided they couldn't live with each other, with the moment they first met.

The series would plot the whole relationship and weave it into the post-break-up present—which would be shown from various points of view, split between several contrasting couples.

Sound difficult? It was.

"With SeaChange and others, we could write purely on instinct," Cox says. "With this we always had to change hats between instinct and analysis, thinking, 'OK, this moves me, but where does it fit in?'"

They lost count of the number of drafts written by themselves and other writers. They ran out of money to pay the other writers, and had to forge on by themselves. Even when the series was being shot, they were rewriting to the eleventh hour.

It wasn't helped by the fact that they live 1000km apart, and have very contrasting writing styles. Cox draws graphs and diagrams, makes notes and has meetings. Knight has never broken from his sketch comedy writing background that tells him to ignore everything that's said in a meeting, go off and write a scene at random.

"In the end, we went back to instinct, and that's when it worked," Knight says. "When we've shown it to people they react to the very things we thought of at the start."

Cox reluctantly agrees. "It all got so chaotic, I said 'OK, let's do it your way, let's just go and write scenes'," she says. "For now, anyway."

Their contrasting styles meshed, and the series was made. And they have their relationship to thank for it.

"It's so difficult to write alone," Cox says. "You need a sounding board, you need to speak to someone."

Knight agrees, for a completely different reason. "We've found that it's much better to act as a force together, because you are assailed by opinion everywhere. Deb's is the only voice I really listen to."

By Nick Miller
July 30, 2003
The West Australian