Sooo, I just finished my first novel writes Exec / Series Producer Mark Aldridge.
The small group of friends and trusted colleagues who have read it, really rate it. I hold the 292 pages of manuscript in my hands like it’s a new baby. It’s warm, it’s got a nice smell. It’s not exactly cuddly and adorable but it’s much loved all the same. There’s over nine months of development there and … Yeah, that’s enough of the baby similarities I think. Having finished the obligatory tweaking, proofing and editing, I send it over to my agent. Warren’s been reading it as we go along, full of his usual encouragement, but I’m looking forward to his opinion on what I consider to be the finished article… But that feedback will have to wait a couple of weeks.
I’m a father of 8-year-old twins and they were front-of-mind when I took a sideways step with my career. Perhaps inevitably, stepping sideways also means taking a hit with your income. I made a deal with my partner, we agreed I could do the book for a limited period of time, in our case a year. I just made it.
Now, it’s all about finding a job back in TV. I’ve had a steady stream of freelance work that’s fitted in around writing the book, but now it’s finished, I need to get back to the day job. So, the next few weeks are all about re-establishing connections and getting myself back on people’s radars as an Exec / SP in Production or Development.
I’m a story-teller. In the end, isn’t all TV about telling a good yarn? So, if anyone’s reading this who’s on the lookout, I’m combining my EP experience with my writing and looking for development roles, as well as broader EP or SP gigs. The storytelling was front and centre when I developed Channel 4’s ‘Utopia’ and I recently put it into action again working with the ‘Simon’s Cat’ team at Endemol Shine. But I’ve also applied storytelling on a wider scale. With ‘Rooftop Rainforest’, we told a compelling tale that ran right through the backbone of Sky TV. We built a living, breathing rainforest, with over a thousand plants and trees, on top of the Westfield shopping centre. The story encompassed Sky’s rainforest charity, gave the CEO an ideal location to address the great and the good and, of course, delivered two hours of high-end documentary to SkyOne.
So, whilst I wait for the response to putting the TV wheels in motion, I thought I’d note down some lessons I’ve learned over the year.
When You Actually Want Your Career to go Sideways…
If you’re considering a sideways step, be prepared to start near the bottom. You may be a hotshot in your established career, but you’re a noob in the other one. Sure, there will be a ton of transferable skills, but you will be competing with those who are already established.
Before you begin, set yourself a timeline for how long you (and family) are prepared to give it. Real change, change for good, change for the better, takes time. And your new career choice will have consequences for those who around you. They will need to be flexible too.
If you give yourself twelve months, like I did, know that you have a great deal of time there for development. If you stay focussed, you are going to be improving dramatically in that time. For me, the important thing was simply to get going. Then it got better. What was really curious was looking back at those early first steps and seeing how my writing had evolved over the year.
There’s another benefit too, this one’s probably the best one, your year of going sideways will certainly put what you did before into perspective. You’ll be able to see all the plus points and identify some of the negatives from your previous job. That can help guide you going forward. Hell, you’ll probably find what you’ve learned over the year supports your original career and that can only be a good thing.
I’ve set up a site, manwithseveralhats.com, that’s me. Two of the hats have gone sideways from TV production. Consultancy is one. Writing is the other.
So, I’ve got three hats right now. That’s enough. Any more and I’d be spread too thinly. As I say on the website, I’d be a very skinny hat, I’d be a Beret.