Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My report card for 2011: Part Two

Near the end of every year I set myself goals for the twelve months ahead, as a means to focusing my efforts forward and not getting distracted by shiny yet irrelevant opportunities. Setting goals is good, but you also need to check their success or failure for them to have any real meaning. So, what were my key objectives for 2011?

1. Write a new calling card TV drama script.
2. Get at least one new commission for Doctors.
3. Secure a commission for children's TV.
4. Write a feature screenplay.

1. Write a new calling card TV drama script. Yes, I did this. It's called The Specials and focuses on special constables in Edinburgh, exploring why anyone would volunteer to help the police. Public service is the commonly stated reason, but what really motivates someone to risk their life for little reward and plenty of hassle?

I started on this in August 2010, but got no further than a draft scene by scene before paying jobs swamped the project for six months. I returned to The Specials in March this year and produced a decent first draft. Lots of unresolved issues, a bit all over the shop in tone, no obvious A story, but still a decent first draft.

Having gathered feedback, I started the second draft in October - but the offer of a commission to write my fourth ep of Doctors took precedence [along with end of term marking duties at my part-time teaching job]. I'll be spending the rest of this year [all 11 days of it] and the start of 2012 writing and polishing the second draft.

It'd been a long while [too long] since my last original, 60-minute TV drama pilot so I'm very happy with the way The Specials is progressing. I don't expect it will ever get made, but I'm working hard to make this script the best possible showcase of what I can do as a writer, pushing myself to dig a bit deeper. Hopefully it shows.

2. Get at least one new commission for Doctors. This proved a lot harder than I had expected. At the start of 2011 I had a bunch of story pitches awaiting consideration at Doctors. Some had been there a while, so I wasn't busting a gut to add to them, especially with numerous other active commissions keeping me super busy.

Then my story pitches started getting read - and rejected. One after another they got nixed, until I only had two left on the pile. I added a fresh candidate and it fell as well, unhappily duplicating the plot of an ep already commissioned. [Such is life.] I was starting to despair of ever getting another story pitch banked.

I arrived in New Zealand for three weeks' holiday to an email from my lovely script editor to say one of my two remaining pitches had been rejected - but the other had been banked. Get in! That eventually led to this month's commission for an ep due to be broadcast in May 2012. Took a while, but I definitely nailed this 2011 goal. Phew.

3. Secure a commission for children's TV. This was a bit of a cheat. At the end of 2010 I was verbally offered five eps of Nina and the Neurons, so having this as a goal for 2011 was a bit cheeky. But verbal offers and actual commissions are two different things, as bitter freelance experience has shown me over the years.

Happily, the verbal did turn into a commission in this case. I heartily recommend working for CBeebies. Not the best paid work in the world [especially for in-house productions], but the staff are so friendly and helpful. This is another goal soundly achieved, and writing for Nina gets me kudos with nieces and nephews. Bonus!

4. Write a feature screenplay. Sigh. Epic fail on this front, for the umpteenth year in succession. I've been not writing a feature for what seems like forever. I even enrolled on a feature film writing night class at Screen Academy Scotland this year to ensure I stopped putting this goal off - but the class got postponed to 2012.

It's not that I'm short on ideas for features. I've got two very different concepts that have haunted me for years, itching to be written. But there are more obvious career benefits to creating a new TV drama calling card, so the feature urge gets sidelined for more pressing goals. Yet again, this task is a rollover. Tsk, tsk.

Final judgement: three out of four ain't bad. I achieved a lot of other things as well, even if some of them didn't turn out as expected [or wanted]. But three of my four goals were met and matched, that's a decent effort. So, what goals do I wish to pursue in 2012? Let's start with the obvious, my rollover objective from 2011.

1. Write a feature screenplay. The night class mentioned above in due to start in January, so I should have a first draft feature screenplay by September. Not sure whether it will be Red Room or M. Foxglove [both working titles], but one of them will be at least 90 pages of screenplay before the end of 2012.

2. Submit at least six new story pitches to Doctors. This BBC drama series doesn't guarantee commissions, not unless you're a core contract writer [which I'm not]. So I can't say I'll definitely get a new commission in 2012 - that's beyond my power. But I can improve my odds my submitting lots of new story pitches.

3. Develop a new TV drama calling card script. Still need to finish draft two of The Specials, and my old calling card deserves one final rewrite. Throw in the planned feature, pitches for Doctors, sundry unforeseen projects, and it's quite a full slate. But I need to start a new calling card, at the least. These things take time.

4. Pursue opportunities in children's TV. This lacks specifics, but I'm at the very early stages of a collaboration in this area that might bear fruit. Plus there could be another series of Nina in 2012 I might squeak myself on to. And I've a neglected project called The Silly Ayles that needs some development care and attention.

5. Pitch two radio drama projects. I've never been active enough pursuing openings in radio drama. It's a brilliant medium, one where I've made a few minor in-roads. And I've got two ideas that could make interesting, yet very different radio drama projects. So that's my final goal for 2012 - turning those into worthwhile pitches.

And that's more than enough goals for 2012. History suggests I won't nail all of these, but I won't be happy with achieving less than three out of five. And who knows how real life and unknown opportunities will intervene over the coming twelve months. But that's my plan for the coming year. Now to make it happen. Onwards!

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