WRITERS' ROOM Q&A: KRIS MRKSA
Kris Mrksa’s screenwriting credits include Underbelly, Devil’s Dust, The Slap, The King (with Jaime Browne), Requiem and The Murders at White House Farm. He has won multiple Australian Writers’ Guild and AACTA Awards for his work.
Who are your heroes in writing?
I’m in awe of Damon Lindelof, because he creates shows that grapple with really big questions, as eloquently as a serious literary novel.
For breadth of ability, Jesse Armstrong. This guy co-wrote and co-created Peepshow, which is a cracker of a minimalist, character based comedy. Then he came up with Succession, which is...well, it’s Succession. For me, the best show on TV.
Armstrong and Lindelof now get to make their shows with massive budgets and incredible resources. Most Australians don’t, but they still do an amazing job with what’s at hand.
Tony Ayres has worked with big budgets and small, and is not so often credited as a writer these days, but he has generated and steered more successful TV series than anyone else in Australia, by a country mile. A truly creative producer. And, for a writer, a joy to work with.
Mind you, Sally Wainwright has also done alright with more modest UK style budgets. For example, Happy Valley. If you've never seen it, remedy that immediately.
Favourite piece of screen dialogue?
There are some things that get me all emotional and teary every time I hear, see or read them. Nick Drake’s Fly and A Small, Good Thing by Raymond Carver, for example. The end of Chinatown does that to me also. Every time Jake's associate says "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown", I choke up. Futility of the human condition etc.
Clever quips and witty repartee can be great, when they’re in the service of character (see Succession), but for me, it’s the ability to bring everything back to one elegant, succinct line that is most impressive.
Best excuse you’ve used (or heard used) for missing a deadline?
Guy I know claimed serious illness, while he was actually partying on a literal tropical island. And posting about it on social media. For sheer audacity that would take the cake.
Worst note you’ve ever received?
I hate all notes equally. I'm quite even handed in that respect. Unless the note said "this script is perfect, don't change a word", and even then I'd probably wonder whether I was missing some negative subtext.
When I first get notes I always storm around the house, cursing and lamenting how uniquely stupid they are. Then, after a couple of days, I calm down and start to realise that most of them are okay. Indeed, some of them are very good. But it's a journey.
Even given all this self-generated drama, my favourite note of all time was one I got on a way-out sci-fi/horror sit com I was developing for the ABC (it was to star a certain Adam Zwar and Jason Gann, who would have been quite good in it, I think).
The note was "please make the jokes funnier".
As if I hadn't thought of that. Funny jokes?! Egads, what an idea!
You just had to admire the purity of that note. I was basically being told "make it better".
Sadly, I did not successfully action the note, and they passed on the show.
What song best represents your career?
Stairway to Heaven. Not because of the lyrics, but because it starts off slow and relaxed, takes a really long time to get going, then suddenly turns fast, frantic and urgent. Which is, sadly, how I approach every script I write.
Favourite cinema hero and villain?
Hero or villain, I love doomed characters who nonetheless struggle against their inevitable fate.
Like Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby. Or Donald Sutherland’s character in Don’t Look Now. He’s a nerdy art historian who gets to do the best sex scene of all time, with Julie Christie, then dies a futile death without really learning or achieving anything.
Imagine the notes you’d get if you tried that now.
But my favourite is Rutger Hauer's Roy in Bladerunner. To me, he’s hero and villain, and delivers a death soliloquy which should be pretentious, but he totally sells it and instead of sounding silly, it’s so beautiful.
If only more actors would do that with my scripts!
If not a writer, what would you be?
Unemployed? I studied philosophy at uni so if the script writing racket dries up, I really am doomed. But still struggling against my inevitable fate, I hope.
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