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  • The Age Old/Old Age Question

    January 8th, 2010

    I was recently asked by one of the writers in my seminar – “Am I too old to be writing screenplays and trying to break in to the business? Am I too old to get hired?” And my short quick answer was NO! However, the longer answer is a bit more involved and not quite as inspiring.


    Of course you are never too old to write – even if you’re too old to hold a pen, you can still write. And there is no age limit on creativity. A writer can be prolific at any age and if you’ve been writing for 30 years, you’re probably a lot better then you were when you started. But writing isn’t the same thing as breaking into the film industry. There is no question that Hollywood is an ageist industry. If you START writing screenplays when you’re 60, you’re going to have a harder time than those trying to break in at 22 or 25 years old. This business is run by billionaires over 60 and executives under 35.  In most industries, the older you are, the wiser and more experienced people think you are. In Hollywood, the older you are, the more detached from the prime demographic you are thought to be.


    There are a few reasons why being older makes it harder to break in (though definitely not impossible).  First, as you get older, chances are your connection to what’s “hip” and what can sell gets that much more removed. Do you know the hottest TV shows, movies, books, music, actors, internet sites, words, phrases, lingo, etc.? Probably not.


    Writers write what they know or what they would like to go see themselves. The problem with this is that if you’re over 50 or so, chances are what you like to see isn’t the same as the prime 18-49 demographic. Most writers over 60 that pitch to me have either written a period piece, an autobiography or story about something that happened to them, or a family drama that suspiciously sounds like their own family. And these aren’t what sell. You know how when you go over to Grandma’s house, sometimes she wants to whip out the old home movies…well…if your grandkids don’t want to watch them, why would kids all over the country? It’s just about connecting with what sells (see my previous articles on the period piece and autobiography for more on this).


    Second, because executives are usually 25-35 years old, sometimes it’s hard for them to give notes to their grandparents. And speaking from experience, the older one is, often the more “stuck in their ways” they can become and to succeed in Hollywood, you have to be incredibly collaborative, malleable and willing to completely change everything. In other words, don’t be that old curmudgeon on the porch who screams and rants about “those crazy kids.”


    Lastly, and this is going to sound harsh, but if you’re first breaking in at age 65, then an agent or manager has to look at how many productive and creative years they have left to work with you. Most agents look for clients that they can have a long, productive and profitable relationship with. And five or ten years isn’t that long if you’re still working on only your second script.


    Something I’ve discovered is that everyone wants to leave a legacy. Everyone wants to leave their stamp on the world in some way (other than just having children) and screenwriting is a great way to do that. I think this is why so many people, upon retiring from their different chosen profession, choose to start writing. The day job is over and now they can write and tell their story, express themselves, etc. It’s the legacy they want to leave. If you get a movie made, your name is forever and always on that project in the history of Hollywood (for better or worse). And this is completely understandable and commendable. However, I will point out that Jay Leno had a chance to be remembered as one of the great late night personalities of all time, and now he will be remembered as the person who not only killed NBC, but perhaps killed primetime.


    Now before all you AARP members throw your Final Draft CD away and come after me with pitchforks and torches, I want to give you the upside. Companies are so hungry for new, original, well-written material that they don’t care who or where it comes from. A couple years ago, I was queried on and I asked to read the script. It was a young, female-skewed romantic comedy. I loved it, my boss loved it and we optioned the script. Six months later, the writer, who lived in the Midwest, made a trip to LA and we finally met – and he was a tall, older man – easily in his 60s with pants higher than my grandfather’s. Ya know what? It didn’t matter. His script was great. I connected him with a manager, who got him an agent and he has gone on to write numerous projects for Hallmark Channel and is now writing full time.


    Screenwriting contests and query websites are completely anonymous. No one knows how old you are or where you’re from. They only know if you can write and tell a good story. If you are a finalist in the Nicholls or Disney Fellowship or some other prestigious contest, you’re going to get representation and meetings no matter how old you are. So, at the end of the day, while it is harder, you can absolutely still break in at an older age. You may just need to go about it a different way and you need to pay attention to the marketplace and pop culture even more than your younger competition so that no one can say that you’re out of touch. Now let’s go grab that early bird special and get to work!


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