Monday, February 28, 2011

Progress check: two months into 2011, plus other Febs

Well, that was unexpected: I had the weekend off. I'd been expecting to be cramming to hit deadlines for two different projects, the computer game I've been writing solidly since mid-January, and my last script for Nina and the Neurons, the CBeebies science show for preschoolers. But instead I got signed off on both. Result: free weekend.

So I went into Edinburgh and wandered round some shops, blinking and trying to remember what to do in polite company [it's been a while]. Came home and watched some Six Nations rugby, plus a bunch of new DVDs that turned up in the post: Despicable Me; The Social Network; and the first series of Downton Abbey. Plus the pilot of Hill Street Blues.

Of course, having been working non-stop since xmas, it proved kind of hard to switch off completely. So I commissioned an artist to provide a cartoon visual for a new CBeebies pitch I'm developing. Spent a few amount of time thinking about the new calling card script I resume writing tomorrow. And checked my email far too often [force of habit].

Things I have done since xmas: written five eps of Nina and the Neurons. Vast screeds of text for computer strategy game Fate of the World. Scripted an issue of comic book Fantomen, featuring costumed hero The Phantom. Met with an independent producer to discuss various ideas. Hooked up with a director for a potential short film project.

Agreed to provide text for a new edition of The Complete Inspector Morse, to be published this autumn by Titan Books. Written a new story of the day pitch for Doctors. Been teaching a brand new post-grad module on writing for graphic fiction. And taught MA Creative Writing 2.5 days a week. So it's been reasonably busy.

Having come to the end of both major projects that have occupied most of my time, creative energy and brain space, it's time to think about the path ahead. Whenever I need to ponder the way forwards, I like to look back and see what lessons I can learn from past successes, failures and missteps. Learn from your personal history, it helps.

Five years ago I was still in year one of my part-time MA screenwriting studies. I'd been commissioned to write my first radio play [Island Blue: Ronald, tx June 2006]. Went to my first Adrian Mead screenwriting seminar and learned a lot. Heard how to break in at BBC Scotland's continuing drama River City and decided to have a go.

Four years ago I was nearing the end of my screenwriting MA. I was writing Danny's Toys, a short film script that's opened several doors for me since. Thanks to the Scottish Book Trust, I was being mentored by Adrian Mead in screenwriting for TV. I was also taking every related short course known to man, or so it seemed at the time.

Three years ago I successfully completed a trial script for Doctors, but was told in no uncertain terms it could be months [or more likely years] before I got my first commission - if I ever did. My script Danny's Toys had won an award in Los Angeles, and I was meeting with an animation producer, trying to get it made as a short film.

Two years ago I was still banging my head against the wall at Doctors, trying to get a story of the day pitch banked, let alone commissioned to ep. I'd taken a part-time job with a new creative writing MA at Edinburgh Napier University. And I was part of a team-writing TV drama workshop scheme run at the Lighthouse Arts Centre in Brighton.

One year ago my first TV drama was broadcast, an episode of Doctors called A Pill For Every Ill. Katie Williams at Blake Friedmann became my agent. I was working on my second radio drama commission, Legacy. I was teaching 2.5 days a week. And the executive producer on River City said I had been on her radar for a wee while.

This year? My third ep of Doctors will be broadcast on March 18. One more ep and I'll have two hours of TV drama credits, which elevates me [contractually, at least] to the level of experienced. I'm under no such illusions and am painfully aware of how much I've still got to learn and develop. Like all writers, I'm a work in progress.

I've got five eps of Nina and the Neurons on the go for broadcast later this year. Writing for a younger audience is new for me, something that's only arisen thanks to a writers' lab run by the Scottish Book Trust and CBeebies Scotland run last summer. One thing led to another and now I'm exploring the world of children's TV writing.

I'm still knocking on the door at River City, five years on from my first attempt. Every now and then I feel like I'm getting close, but regime change sweeps through the production offices at Dumbarton and I'm back to square one. Nevertheless, it's an area I'm still pursuing. Sheer bloodymindedness triumphs eventually, that's my policy.

When I chose to study for an MA in screenwriting, I knew it would be expensive. Not so much the course fees [though I was entirely self-funding], but the loss of income from setting paid work aside to study. But it felt necessary. I wanted to write for TV, I knew I could tell a story, but I didn't have the craft skills or contacts to succeed.

So I took an MA to hone my craft skills, and a plethora of other schemes, workshops and opportunities to improve my prospects. Slowly, painfully, it's paying off. I was making a healthy living from the media tie-in hackwork before starting my MA. Nearly six years later, my earnings are just about back to where they were in summer 2005.

There are no guarantees. February 2012 could see me reflecting on a barren year during which I got no new commssions - it happens. But it won't be for want of trying part. I don't claim to be hyper-talented, but I put in the effort and pursue a sound strategy. My favourite mantra is simple: talent + effort + strategy = success. Onwards!

1 comment:

Chris said...

Inspiring stuff David!